Knowing that the generation that had seen the exodus and the miracles God performed in bringing Israel into Canaan was about to pass, Joshua gave a speech at the end of his life that rehearsed the history of Israel and called the people to remain committed to the Lord after he was gone. Today we will look at this speech, which is recorded in the final chapter of the book of Joshua.
Joshua leads up to the call for commitment by rehearsing in brief the story of Israel. If the people are to remain faithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel, after Joshua’s death, they must remember His great acts of salvation. Indeed, the same is true for us. We cannot remain faithful to the Lord for long if we forget what He has done to save us from sin. Joshua’s summary of Israel emphasizes God’s grace and power. He begins with Abraham’s call out of Ur, where the patriarch was worshiping foreign gods (Josh. 24:1–3). Abraham is our father in the faith not because he was deserving, for he started out in paganism. Like the rest of us, God graciously called him to salvation.
God’s grace, Joshua says, continued after Abraham as the Lord was with the people of Israel, sustaining them in Egypt and beyond. He stresses how God showed His power in saving them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea and in delivering them from the Amorites and from the peoples in Canaan. Israel could take no credit for her rescue, for God saved the people from their enemies (vv. 4–13).
Such great acts demand a response, and Joshua calls the people to serve the Lord. If they choose not to serve Him, they should choose another god—it does not matter which one, for all other gods are equally no gods at all. But Joshua reiterates his commitment to serve the Lord (vv. 14–15). The people confess their willingness to serve the one true God of Israel (vv. 16–18), but then Joshua warns them that they are unable to serve Him and that God will not forgive them when they stray (vv. 19–20). This seems like an odd statement at first, for we know God is merciful (Ex. 34:6). However, we have to realize that what Joshua is doing is reminding the people that the God with whom they are dealing is not One to be trifled with. “This God plays for keeps,” as Dr. R.C. Sproul frequently said, and we cannot pledge ourselves to Him half-heartedly and think that we will be able to persevere. Thus, the sin that He will not forgive is our impenitent abandoning of Him to serve other gods (Josh 24:20). If we leave Him for good, there is no recourse for forgiveness.