On a Sunday in 1910 in Spokane, Washington, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in church and decided that fathers needed a day of their own. Eventually, this day was set aside nationally to honor fathers in the same manner that Mother’s Day is set aside for mothers – at least theoretically, anyway. Fathers often seem to be an afterthought compared to mothers in terms of the respect they get for their role in modern society. But Scripture presents fathers in a very different light. Let’s consider an important statement made by God’s man Joshua, one that he makes as a father.
In Joshua 24, the great leader of Israel is giving his farewell address to the nation. He was an old man who could already feel the cold hand of death upon him. It was, therefore, important that he give the people guidance on how to continue on without him. He recounts the history of Israel, attributing their prosperity to God. If the people forget that, he warns, they will be defeated and doomed; in fact, they are in danger of forgetting it. Some of them are drifting away from the worship of the Lord, turning to the service of the false gods of their new neighbors in Canaan.
Against this background, Joshua makes his appeal. Like all of us, Joshua wears more than one hat. He is the leader of Israel. But he is also a father, a grandfather, the leader of his family. And Joshua makes this statement as much as a father as a national leader. He summarizes everything God has done for them, I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.In light of that, he says, 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. 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. (Joshua 24:13-15)
Joshua could not bear for the people to be indecisive. He had led them for many years and would continue to lead by example even after he was gone. So he wanted to make sure they understood the consequences of the choices they made. Essentially, he was saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do about it – you haven’t picked a side.” Some were evidently even leaning toward the wrong side. “But I know what we are going to do. We will serve the Lord.”
Great people of God have always been people of decision. Able offered God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. Because of that decision to follow God, though dead, his faith still speaks
Or do you remember Elijah on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18? He asked Israel how long they would halt between two opinions, between serving God and Baal. There was a showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. And just as Joshua’s stand saved his nation from utter corruption, so too did Elijah’s. He was all alone at the climactic moment, but he decided for God anyway, with serious repercussions.
What about Paul, as he was ready to be put to death in Rome? Remember, Paul entered into his ministry knowing what awaited him: beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, deprivation, and ultimately death.
The list could be a long one, like the hall of fame in Hebrews 11. Abraham, who chose to leave the greatest civilization of his day at God’s call. Moses, who decided serving God was better than the pleasures of Egypt. In fact, our first glimpse of Joshua is him choosing to serve God in the face of complaining Israel in Exodus 17. The Israelites whine that Moses has led them out in the wilderness to die of thirst, so God has him bring water from a rock. They name the place Meribah on account of the quarreling of the people because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”(Exodus 17:7). But Joshua had no such doubts; the very next scene shows him going out to fight with Amalek and defeating him. And probably the most famous story we remember about Joshua, in Numbers 13-14, is his trust in God despite the report on Canaan from the 10 faithless spies. It was not easy to choose for God then – it almost cost him his life – but Joshua never wavered.
Too often, we focus on our problem in life to the extent the paralyze us. This is especially dangerous when it comes to deciding for God. Some fail to obey the gospel because they fear they aren’t good enough. Some fail to give as prospered because they are afraid they can’t pay the bills. We don’t tell others about Jesus because we fear rejection. So many times, like Israel on the border of the Promised Land, we look at our problems and then do nothing. What was the result for them? An entire generation left their carcasses in the wilderness.
Our problems are real. But instead of fixating on those, let’s see the possibilities that come through trusting God. Are we ready to stand with Joshua? With Elijah and Abraham and Paul and the rest? Will we serve the Lord?