From the commentary of Matthew Henry on Joshua chapter 24.
14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
Joshua thought he had taken his last farewell of Israel in the solemn charge he gave them in the foregoing chapter, when he said, I go the way of all the earth; but God graciously continuing his life longer than expected, and renewing his strength, he was desirous to improve it for the good of Israel. He did not say, “I have taken my leave of them once, and let that serve;” but, having yet a longer space given him, he summons them together again, that he might try what more he could do to engage them for God. Note, We must never think our work for God done till our life is done; and, if He lengthen out our days beyond what we thought, we must conclude it is because He has some further service for us to do.
15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; wheher the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
He here puts them to their choice, not as if it were indifferent whether they served God or no, or as if they were at liberty to refuse His service, but because it would have a great influence upon their perseverance in religion if they embraced it with the reason of men and with the resolution of men.
He brings them to embrace their religion rationally and intelligently, For it is a reasonable service. The will of man is apt to glory in its native liberty, and, in a jealousy for the honour of this, adheres with most pleasure to that which is its own choice and is not imposed upon it;
therefore it is God’s will that this service should be, not our chance, or a force upon us, but our choice. Accordingly,Joshua fairly puts the matter to their choice, v. 15.
Here, He proposes the candidates that stand for the election. The Lord, Jehovah, on one side, and on the other side either the gods of their ancestors, which would pretend to recommend themselves to those that were fond of antiquity, and that which was received by tradition from their fathers, or the gods of their neighbours, the Amorites, in whose land they dwelt, which would insinuate themselves into the affections of those that were complaisant and fond of good fellowship.
He supposes there were those to whom, upon some account or other, it would seem evil to serve the Lord. There are prejudices and objections which some people raise against religion, which, with those that are inclined to the world and the flesh, have great force. It seems evil to them, hard and unreasonable, to be obliged to deny themselves, mortify the flesh, take up their cross, and so on. But, being in a state of probation, it is fit there should be some difficulties in the way, else there were no trial.
He refers it to themselves: “Choose you whom you will serve, choose this day, now that the matter is laid thus plainly before you, speedily bring it to a head, and do not stand hesitating.” Elijah, long after this, referred the decision of the controversy between
Jehovah and Baal to the consciences of those with whom he was treating, 1 Kings 18.21.
Joshua’s putting the matter here to this issue plainly intimates two things:- First, That it is the will of God we should every one of us make religion our serious and deliberate choice. Let us state the matter impartially to ourselves, weigh things in an even balance, and then determine for that which we find to be really true and good. Let us resolve upon a life of serious godliness, not merely because we know no other way, but because really, upon search, we find no better. Secondly, That religion has so much self-evident reason and righteousness on its side that it may safely be referred to every man that allows himself a free thought either to choose or refuse it; for the merits of the case are so plain that no considerate man can do otherwise but choose it. The case is so clear that it determines itself. Perhaps Joshua designed, by putting them to their choice, thus to try if there were any among them who, upon so fair an occasion given, would show a coolness and indifference towards the service of God, whether they would desire time to consider and consult their friends before they gave in an answer, and if any such should appear he might set a mark upon them, and warn the rest to avoid them.
He directs their choice in this matter by an open declaration of his own resolutions: “But as for me and my house, whatever you do, we will serve the Lord, and I hope you will all be of the same mind.” Here he resolves, First, For himself: As for me, I will serve the Lord. Note, The service of God is nothing below the greatest of men; it is so far from being a diminution and disparagement to princes and those of the first rank to be religious that it is their greatest honour, and adds the brightest crown of glory to them. Observe how positive he is: “I will serve God.” It is no abridgment of our liberty to bind ourselves with a bond to God. Second, For his house, that is, his family, his children and servants, such as were immediately under his eye and care, his inspection and influence. Joshua was a ruler, a judge in Israel, yet he did not make his necessary application to public affairs an excuse for the neglect of family religion. Those that have the charge of many
families, as magistrates and ministers, must take special care of their own (1 Tim. 3.4,5): / and my house will serve God.
“Not my house, without me.” He would not engage them to that work which he would not set his own hand to. As some who would have their children and servants good, but will not be so themselves; that is, they would have them go to heaven, but intend to go to hell themselves.
“Not I, without my house.” He supposes he might be forsaken by his people, but in his house, where his authority was greater and more immediate, there he would over-rule. Note, When we cannot bring as many as we would to the service of God we must bring as many as we can, and extend our endeavours to the utmost sphere of our activity; if we cannot reform the land, let us put away iniquity far from our own tabernacle.
“First I, and then my house.” Note, Those that lead and rule in other things should be first in the service of God, and go before in the best things. Third, He resolves to do this whatever others did. Though all the families of Israel should revolt from God, and serve idols, yet Joshua and his family will stedfastly adhere to the God of Israel. Note, Those that resolve to serve God must not mind being singular in it, nor be drawn by the crowd to forsake His service. Those that are bound for Heaven must be willing to swim against the stream, and must not do as the most do, but as the best do.
The matter being thus put to their choice, they immediately determine it by a free, rational, and intelligent declaration, for the God of Israel, against all competitors whatsoever, v. 16-18.
Here, They concur with Joshua in his resolution, being influenced by the example of so great a man, who had been so great a blessing to them [v. 18): We also will serve the Lord.
See how much good great men might do, if they were but zealous in religion, by their influence on their inferiors.