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by Rosco Brong

Personal Obedience
Joshua 24:1-7, 13-15, 24

Ultimately every rational individual soul must render an account for himself to God. Deliverance of a nation from danger or oppression in this world does not mean individual or spiritual salvation before God for all the people of that nation. Moreover, succeeding generations of individuals must answer for themselves to their Creator: a spiritual heritage from earlier generations is not enough to insure the continued blessings of God.

Here is or should be the emphasis of this lesson; it is certainly the emphasis of the Scripture included in the lesson. We may note further that though the ten commandments were received from God by Moses and delivered to all Israel, they were to be applied and obeyed by individuals: the pronoun "thou" in each commandment is singular.

For each of us, therefore, the most important question is not whether the nation in which we live is "Christian" or unchristian, nor is it whether our parents and grandparents were saved or lost; the most important question for each of us is our individual relationship to God.

Outlining the lesson, we note:

1. Audience, Joshua 24:1.
2. Ancestry, Joshua 24:2-4.
a. Fathers fallen, 2.
b. Fathers faithful, 3.
c. Fathers favored, 4.
3. Accession, Joshua 24:5-7.
a. Persecutors plagued, 5.
b. Persecutors pursuing, 6
c. Persecutors punished, 7
4. Abundance, Joshua 24:13.
5. Appeal, Joshua 24:14-15.
a. Challenge to change, 14
b. Challenge to choose, 15
6. Agreement, Joshua 24:24.


AUDIENCE, Joshua 24:1.
Before the invention of radio and television, the only way for a national leader to address an entire nation was through its local and tribal or family leaders -- "the elders...heads...judges, and ...officers." Joshua therefore "gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem," where the leaders "presented themselves before God" as an audience to receive and transmit the divine message "unto all the people."

ANCESTRY, Joshua 2-4.
Human nature is such that, given half an excuse, we tend to be proud of our ancestry. We can usually manage this by forgetting the worst limbs of our family tree and remembering the best. The natural descendants of Abraham were normal enough in their ancestral pride, but their divinely inspired written history is different from all histories of merely human origin: it tells the truth about them, good and bad.

Fathers Fallen, 2.
So God reminded Israel that after all they were of heathen origin; without mentioning earlier generations they needed to go back no farther than the father of Abraham to find ancestors who "served other gods." Our fathers too were of a fallen race; their failure to serve their Creator should be a warning to us.

Father Faithful, 3.
If Abraham was a great man of faith (as he was), it was because God took him "from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan." If Abraham had a huge number of descendants (as he did ), it was because God "multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac."

Fathers Favored, 4.
Notice how completely dependent on God were the ancient fathers, even as we are in every generation. If Isaac had twin sons, it was because God gave them to him; if Esau possessed mount Seir, it was because God gave it to him. And though it is not so stated her, we know from other Scripture that if "Jacob and his children went down into Egypt," it was because God overruled the wickedness of Joseph's brothers and through Joseph provided a refuge for the family in a time of famine.

ACCESSION, Joshua 24:5-7.
Continuing the summation of national history, God reminded the people of His mighty works in past years through which He had protected and delivered them from their enemies, even though they had "dwelt in the wilderness a long season" because of their own unbelief and disobedience. Still He brought them to the borders of the promised land in spite of themselves.

Persecutors Plagued, 5.
Moses and Aaron were great leaders because God sent them, and they were successful in their mission of deliverance because God "plagued Egypt." It is a truth too profound for professional pacifists to comprehend that in a wicked world it is sometimes necessary to destroy some people in order to save others.

Persecutors Pursuing, 6.
Greedy oppressors never willingly let their slaves go free. The plagues in Egypt were not enough to persuade Pharaoh and his host to let God's people go. Again and again the Egyptians suffered the judgments of God and in time of judgment pretended to relent; again and again when the judgment was past their hearts were hardened against God. Even the death of their firstborn humbled them for only a short time; after telling Israel to go they again changed their minds and pursued "with chariots and horsemen unto the Red Sea."

Persecutors Punished, 7.
Like many other nations and individuals, the Egyptians were stopped in their persecution of God's people only by death; but God knows how to inflict that punishment also. The Israelites had witnessed with their own eyes this destruction of the Egyptians host in the Red Sea.

ABUNDANCE, Joshua 24:13.
Deliverance from bondage would seem to be blessings enough to call for eternal gratitude, but God's blessings for His people included abundant provision for present and future enjoyment: "I have given you a land for which ye did not labor, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat."

APPEAL, Joshua 24:14-15.
Having given Israel this reminder of how much the people owed to the goodness and grace of God, Joshua appealed for appropriate consecration of individual lives to the service of God.

Challenge to Change, 14.
True, their ancestors had served other gods in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, but whatever recollections they had of such gods should be put away. The God to fear and to serve was the God Who had saved them out of Egypt and had given them the promised land. As a nation or as individuals, in religion or in anything else, if we have been wrong we ought to get right. Change is always good if it is for the better, as it is always bad if it goes in the other direction.

Challenge to Choose, 15.
To fail or refuse to choose is itself a choice, and a wrong choice. When we are faced with a clear choice between good and evil, between right and wrong, between God and idols, there can be only one proper decision, and that as soon as the issue is clear. Then delay is wrong in itself.

Note again that the choice is an individual matter. Though others choose wrong, we dare not. Joshua knew his family well enough that he could speak for himself and them: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

AGREEMENT, Joshua 24:24.
Intervening verses do not read like a modern "invitation." It seems almost as if Joshua were daring his people to attempt the impossible. At least we are safe in saying that he did no minimize the difficulties in living a life of obedience to God. Yet the people were sufficiently convicted to pledge themselves in agreement with Joshua to serve the Lord their God and to obey His voice.

CONCLUSION [Joshua 24:31]
Faith is relatively easy and sure when based on personal experience and observation, or even on firsthand testimony. A nation is composed of individuals, and so Israel as a nation "served the Lord" so long as it enjoyed the living testimony of a sufficient number of individuals "which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel."

In the New Testament we find one disciple, Thomas, who would not accept even the firsthand testimony of his brethren, but insisted on personal observation before believing the fact of the resurrection of Christ [John 20:24-29]. Jesus pronounced a greater blessing upon a better quality of faith: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

Weak believers too often join mocking unbelievers in demanding signs and miracles. God's written Word is sufficient ground for the faith of genuine children of God. Let us thank Him for whatever manifestations of divine grace and power we may experience, but before and beyond all else let us simply believe His Word, and serve Him accordingly.

[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, September 20, 1974, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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