Choose this day whom you will serve… As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (cf. Jos. 24:15)
I think that Joshua has plenty of positive applications for men. But I think there’s something very misguided about quoting this partial verse. This (edited) verse serves as an announcement that our purpose and our intention is to put God first. It’s a resolution of sorts, an act of defiance against a world system that elevates pride, material gain, power, fame; namely, self, over and above God.
Having said that, why would I think that using this verse as a proverbial line in the sand is misguided? Because the context in which the verse is found is anything but promising to the aspiring man and father. The book records the people’s response to Joshua followed by Joshua’s response to the people, and it isn’t very optimistic:
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods… Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” (Jos. 24:16-19)
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 2:11-13)
But take a look at the reason why Joshua said they were not able to serve the Lord: “for he is a holy God.” Why would God’s holiness prevent them from being able to serve him? Because they, like us, were sinners. God, as the Bible describes him, does not appeal to our sinful human nature. We want to serve a God who serves us, or at least allows us to live as we please. We would certainly not want to serve a God whose standard of holiness surpasses what we can muster.
The problem with quoting that abbreviated verse is that it fails to take into account the truth communicated in the rest of Scripture: human beings are incapable of serving God. Our own sin gets in the way again and again. That’s why we have to always look to Christ. It is in Christ that God’s holy requirement was met and his wrath was satisfied. It is in Christ that we receive forgiveness of sins and the grace we need to live for him. Therefore our hope as men and as fathers does not depend on our ability, since that would mean total failure as the Isrealites discovered. Instead it depends on the redeeming work of Christ in and through our lives.
This is actually freeing, because instead of arrogantly stating that we will serve the Lord, we can make a humble confession that we are inadequate and we are looking to Christ as our source of manhood and strength in our families:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)Joshua was right.The very next book in the Bible records what happened after Joshua died: