GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS
Joshua 24:14-24 CSB
Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. 15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship—the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.” 16 The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery, and performed these great signs before our eyes. He also protected us all along the way we went and among all the peoples whose lands we traveled through. 18 The Lord drove out before us all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will worship the Lord, because he is our God.” 19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you.” 21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the Lord.” 22 Joshua then told the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you yourselves have chosen to worship the Lord.” “We are witnesses,” they said. 23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”
Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at some of the good habits of the victorious Christian. We can find those habits described in the New Testament – like the habit of letting God renew your mind, or passing on your faith. But there are also some good habits described in the Old Testament – like returning to the LORD.
Today’s habit is described in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua 24 records a crucial moment in the history of the Jewish people. They had entered into the promised land, and had settled there. But their fighting was not over. No, Joshua told his people that they had a choice to make – and a choice to keep on making.
Like those Israelites, you and I have the same choice to make. We can delude ourselves into thinking that idolatry is an ancient temptation, and that we are beyond it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, we are living in a generation profoundly polytheistic. You only have to look at the news headlines and social media posts to see that people are following numerous paths, and all those paths compete for our attention and allegiance. The gods of this generation may not overtly name themselves, or demand sacrifices or ritual ceremonies, but those gods are very much alive. They are reflected in the number of their adherents.
It is precisely for that reason that this text can speak to us this morning. We face the same choice that these Old Testament Israelites faced. We would do well to look at the choice they had to make, and see what choice they made, and why it was important that they make it. The habit they needed to develop is the habit of getting rid of foreign Gods and staying true to the one true God.
Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods and serve the Lord exclusively (14-15).
Moses had instructed the Israelites not to “worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NIV). He told them to “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NIV). A few chapters later, Moses repeated himself, saying “Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21a NIV).
Jesus had the very same attitude. Some people today talk about Jesus as if he would accept anybody’s religion as long as they were devout. But the Jesus we read about in the New Testament quotes Moses when he says “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV).
Joshua encouraged his people to serve the LORD exclusively, but it was not a simple choice for them to make. Opposition gods are everywhere. Here is a short list of Egyptian gods and goddesses.
AMUN-RA: the King of gods
MUT: the Mother Goddess
OSIRIS: The King of the Living
ANUBIS: Protector of the Dead
RA: God of the Sun and Radiance
HORUS: God of Vengeance
THOTH: God of Knowledge and Wisdom
HATHOR: Goddess of love and beauty
These are just a few of the major deities of the Egyptian pantheon. These gods and goddesses had been part of everyday life for the Israelites when they were slaves. They had been born into a culture that venerated these multiple gods.
Joshua’s instruction for his people was to “Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt” (14). Now, why did he have to say that? I mean, didn’t the Israelites leave Egypt? Didn’t they cross the Red Sea on dry land? Didn’t they wander in the open country for forty years, and then cross the Jordan into the promised land? Yes, they left Egypt. But the problem with getting out of Egypt is that Egypt does not automatically leave you.
The Israelites had lived in Egypt for over four centuries. They had learned to walk like an Egyptian, talk like an Egyptian, think like an Egyptian, worship like an Egyptian. They needed to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices and allow God to transform them by renewing their minds. But as long as they held on to those Egyptian gods and goddesses, their worship of the one true God would be unacceptable.
It is one thing to destroy an idol. You can do that quite easily. It is another thing to stop trusting in the god that inhabits that idol. You see, if you don’t dump the god or goddess that that idol represents, you are liable to get sentimental and remake the idol. All it takes is a bit of wood or stone. In my travels, I’ve seen the poor make idols out of cement, or use a plastic baby doll. So Joshua challenges his people to get rid of – not just the idols, but the foreign gods.
Now, let’s look at the “gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15). Some of the Israelites were probably not tempted to worship the gods associated with their slavery in Egypt. But they would be tempted to worship the shiny new gods of the land of Canaan.
Here are some of the gods and goddesses who opposed him in the promised land.
Baal Peor (Moabites)
Baal Zebub (Philistines)
Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods – old and new – and serve the Lord exclusively
The Israelites know that only the Lord has shown himself powerful enough to save them (16-18).
Notice how the Israelites respond to Joshua’s challenge. They said “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!” (16). They knew that to follow any of the other gods would be to abandon the one true God. He is owed exclusive allegiance.
But they go further than that. They know that following God exclusively is necessary because he has shown himself powerful enough to save them.
First, he miraculously saved them from slavery in Egypt. They said “ the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (17).
Second, he showed his power by undeniable miracles while leading them.
Third, he miraculously protected them through the entire generation of wandering and the next generation of conquest.
Fourth, he drove out before them “all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land” (18).
So, the Israelites were convinced that their God alone was worthy of worship and was powerful enough to eliminate the need for any “plan b.” They didn’t need any other gods to fall back on.
They had made an important declaration. Now it was Joshua’s turn to warn them that following the one true God in a polytheistic environment was not going to be easy.
Joshua reminds the Israelites that serving the Lord requires firm commitment (19-22).
Joshua warned them that they “will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins” (19).
If you transgressed under the other gods, there were ceremonies and rituals and sacrifices that would automatically set things right. You could pay a priest or shaman and they would get you forgiveness. But Joshua warns the Israelites that they have to dump that whole process because the true God is jealous and would not forgive someone who stayed connected to those other gods.
Not only would such a person not be forgiven, he would invoke the wrath of God. God would harm him – even destroy him (20). Serving the Lord requires firm commitment. He will not tolerate hypocrisy.
Joshua and the Israelites agree to get rid of all their foreign gods (23-24).
So, Joshua tells the Israelites to “get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (23). They agreed to do so. They said “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (24).
That was not the end of the story. Idolatry continued to plague the Israelites throughout their history – eventually leading to their exile and captivity among the Gentile nations.
What I see in today’s text is a general principle from Scripture which is just as true today as it always has been. God’s people will always be tempted to add other gods to our pantheon. We will always be tempted to take on some priority other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to habitually fight that temptation.
Our advertisements reveal that we are enamored with the pagan god SELF. We are commanded to take care of SELF, to treat SELF well because SELF deserves a break, to respect SELF, to pamper SELF, to make SELF first priority.
Meanwhile, our Lord told us that if we want come after him, we will have to deny SELF, and take up our cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24).
The apostle Paul taught that we should be bearing the weaknesses of those without strength, not concentrating on how to please SELF (Romans 15:1).
James taught that we should be humbling SELF in the presence of the Lord (James 4:10).
Peter taught that we should submit SELF to human authorities because it is God’s will (1 Peter 2:13-15).
When our LORD left us to return to heaven, he gave us one great commission – to make disciples for him. There are a whole lot of others things that will compete for our time and energy, but we need to seek first his kingdom and righteousness. When something else jockeys for the top position, we need to put that god back in its place, because he told us “Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 CSB).
Folks, we have to dump those idols. We have to keep dumping, demolishing, burning, and getting rid of those gods. If we want to live in victory today, and be a part of his coming kingdom, we have to remove every commitment that challenges our Lord’s primacy.