God has done so much for his people! Look at the verbs in v2-13; almost all of them speak of the actions of God on behalf of Israel (I took, I led, I gave, I sent, I brought etc.) As God’s people, we need to know where we have come from, and how we came to be where we are now. The Lord reminds Israel of how they had experienced his salvation and protection (v7, 10) and that the land in which they were now living was not the result of their efforts, but of his gift (v12, 13).
Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, Joshua calls upon them to ‘fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness’ (v14). In order to do that, they need to make sure they worship only the Lord. Every other ‘god’ would have to go (Luke 4:8) – whether the traditional gods of their ancestors, or the contemporary gods of the land in which they were living. The well-known words in v15 ‘choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve’ are actually addressed to those to whom serving the Lord seems undesirable. If you won’t serve the Lord, says Joshua, then choose which ‘gods’ you will serve. ‘But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
There follows in v16-24 a dialogue between Joshua and the people. They proclaim their intention not to ‘forsake the LORD to serve other gods’, but to ‘serve the LORD, because he is our God.’ Surely Joshua affirms and encourages them in their choice? Actually, in v19, 20 he appears to be doing the opposite! Why? He is setting before them (and us) the need not to make this choice lightly. We must not think we can casually drift into a relationship with the Lord. He is a holy and jealous God; he will not share his people with any other god or idol. We must remember how rebellious and sinful we have been (and can still be!) We must not presume upon his forgiveness; it is not given automatically, at the press of a button. Following Christ is not something we can dip in and out of, depending on our moods or emotions. It involves ‘yielding our hearts’ (v23) to him, and following him even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable or painful.
In v25-27, Joshua leads the people into renewing the covenant with the Lord, and he sets up a stone of witness, to remind them that they are bound to the Lord, and he is bound to them. He is their God, and they are his people.
Similarly, every Sunday, our New Covenant Communion celebration reminds us that our gracious Lord has bound himself to us as our God, and that we are bound to him as his people! (v24) And the people said, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.’