It’s been a bit since I last blogged any devotionals based on readings from Joshua, and I was so close to finishing! So, here we go, last stretch.
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:14–18 ESV)
What struck me about this passage, from Joshua’s long valedictory speech (he dies at the end of this chapter), is Joshua’s command to “put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” I would have thought that by this point, with Israel long into securing the land of promise — or, ahem, taking possession of the land the Lord God is giving them — would have long given up the gods, the rituals, the worship of Egypt. Left them behind, drowned, in the Red Sea.
After all, aren’t these God’s people, pure and sinless, worshiping the Lord God alone, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Have we not renewed the covenant between God and his people several times in this land of promise? Have we not seen the new generation circumcised? Have we not celebrated the passover as we waited outside Jericho?
With all of that, why warn Israel about those annoying false gods of faraway Egypt? Unless, for some strange reason, they were still a temptation?
It’s like the Saudi clerics who regularly issue warnings to good Saudi Muslims not to congratulate non-Muslims in the kingdom on Christmas and Easter. No one would be issuing warnings unless good Muslim shopkeepers were telling their Christian customers, “Merry Christmas!”
All this time, all of this space between Israel and Egypt, the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, and Anubis, Osiris, and Amen Ra are still interesting. Still compelling. Still being served. Still the objects of fierce devotion.
The gods of neighbors. Of conquerors. Of those who enslaved. Still an attractive nuisance. Even after the generation which saw slavery in Egypt has gone. This devotion, handed down, it has survived in the midst of Israel. Despite all that God has done.
Oh, Israel confesses it will follow the Lord God who called Israel, freed Israel, and gave Israel the gift of this land. But like every confession Israel makes — “Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you.” Only they didn’t obey Moses… — this seems half-hearted, a thing Israel knows it’s supposed to say so it can look good before God’s anointed before getting back to the serious business of groveling before statues and sacrificing small children in fires. I’m not sure Israel means it. Not really.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter what Israel means or says. God is still with Israel whether Israelites dance around Asheroth poles or bow down to Anubis or not. Joshua says he and his will serve only the Lord, and we have no reason to doubt that. But even idolatrous Israel is still God’s own people. The failure to worship the Lord God alone will not be a reason for God to abandon his people. Leave them to wallow in their crapulence, deal with the consequences of their idolatry, yes, God will do all of that and then some.
But God never abandons his people. Even as some may have worshiped the gods of Egypt, God still fought for them, took the land for them, drove out the Canaanites and delivered them into the hands of Israel. Israel is not the people of God because of anything they have done — they are the people of God because God gathered them, formed them, blessed them, favored them.
This is God’s doing, and not ours. We cannot undue it. No matter how much Egypt we carry with us into the land of promise.