1 A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2 Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:1–13 ESV)
Joshua’s valedictory — his final message to the people he was called and chosen to lead — is a reminder: It is the Lord your God who fights for you. Israel can only stand against Canaan, take this land, because God is fighting for and with Israel.
One man beats a thousand not because of Israel’s strength, or purity, or righteousness, but because the Lord God of Israel fights there, with Israel.
(This is the faithfulness of Joshua’s namesake who gives himself up to death to take away the sin of the world.)
But we have a promise here too that if Israel turns its back on its God, fails to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” God will stop fighting for Israel. God won’t abandon Israel. God will just stop fighting for Israel.
Note well what sin is at stake here — idolatry. An idolatry made flesh in the form of the Canaanites remaining in their midst. An idolatry made real in the tempting flesh of those very same Canaanites, who loom as a threat to Israel’s “rest” and well being. Everything that will put Israel at risk, that will eventually make Israel “perish from off this good ground” begins with idolatry. With the gods of Canaanites and with the Canaanites own fleshy existence.
Everything begins with idolatry.
This biblical story is a metaphor for us, a way for us to understand who we are, our history, our present, and our circumstances. The church in West faces an enemy not in Islam, but in the very modernity and enlightenment we birthed. The decline of Christendom — in all its forms — is a judgment upon the church, for our faithlessness and our idolatry. For our failure to love the Lord our God with hearts and souls and might. For our trust in these very fleshy and corporeal gods beside us, gods who promise us reason and answers and enlightenment.
But as much as we want to read this history as giving us a way out — that this time, we can obey — we cannot read Joshua’s warning without knowing and understanding what comes next: Israel does not love God mightily with hearts and souls. Israel clings to Canaanites (in part by enslaving them), to their gods. Israel is given an if/then, else/then, but there really is no successful outcome. There’s just a falling away.
So, if we think that somehow we can love mightily with hearts and souls, we are mistaken. This history tells us who we are — people who cling to false gods out of of lust, love, devotion, compulsion, power, the desire to dominate. Israel is not saved because a tiny remnant of Israel is faithful; Israel is saved because God hears, knows, and remembers, and is faithful to his promises.