I ran across a book the other day that intrigued me: “Why, Oh Why, My God? Meditations on Christian Faith and the Meaning of Life.” It was written by a man named Abbe Pierre who was a French Priest who founded the Emmaus movement, a ministry focused on serving the poor and refugees after WWII. The book was written when he was 102 years old and by that time had become one of the most popular figures in France.
Because of his life and reputation for loving the poor and loving God, the 64 page book was a big sell because everyone wanted to glean one final bit of wisdom from this Godly man.
The final chapters of Joshua are just that: the parting words of an icon. Joshua had been Moses’ servant through the 40 years in the desert. He had valiantly led the Israelite’s into the Promised Land and faithfully loved Yahweh. When I read these final words, I could imagine every man, woman and child hanging onto every word of this dying man. These words should bear weight on us.
The first 14 verses of chapter 23 is an ode to the first commandment (I am the Lord your God and shall put no other gods before me). Joshua references God 23 times in the first 14 verses. Make no mistake people of Israel: God has fulfilled his promises, God has given this land, God has rescued us, God fights for you, God has performed the miraculous.
And after all this celebration and acknowledgment the Father, he silences the crowd with this: “If you break the covenant of the Lord your God by worshiping and serving other gods, his anger will burn against you and you will quickly vanish from the good land he has given you.” (16)
What’s Joshua’s fundamental point? It’s less about the complexity of commands to follow and obey as it is the idolatry that will bring people down. In Creation, chaos gave way to order. There was a proper place and rhythm and order for all living creatures. That order established a melody, a groove, a pattern that was right, and good, and in tune with our Creator. When the Fall occurred, order gave way to chaos and all of a sudden everything no longer led towards worshiping the Creator, but instead, towards worshiping Creation. So when the Ten Commandments were established to create order again, the first 3 were dedicated to idolatry, or putting gods or things or people or ourselves above our Creator.
So let’s keep it honest. This happens all the time in our lives and according to Joshua and, well, God, this has enormous implications in understanding the condition of our hearts. What is at stake is not begrudging submission to his commands. What’s at stake for us is our joy.
Joshua is saying: Remember who has done all these things. If not, the proper order of things will give way to chaos, brokenness and pain.
This is not a cheerful goodbye. It’s a very loving warning.