What Does Joshua 24:15 Mean?

This article is part of the What Does It Mean? series.

“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.”

Moving On or Moving In?

Joshua 24:15 is what we might call a kitchen calendar verse. It’s short, pithy, inspiring, and it’s God’s Word. On the one hand, we might lift this verse from the context of the book and attempt to live on it devoid of its broader story. Alternatively, as we grow in the knowledge of the Scriptures, we might “move on” from such famous phrases into the deeper things of God.

Perhaps there is a better way than either living on or, alternatively, moving on from verses like this. How about moving into them? Verses like these are a doorway into the message of the book, an entry at a high point of the story with all its tension and drama. So, let’s walk through the door of this verse to witness God’s grace to us in the story of Joshua, for it is, after all, the story of our salvation.


Trent Hunter

Connecting the story of Joshua to God’s larger promises, pastor Trent Hunter offers readers rich insights into the book’s overarching story of salvation and helps them apply its message to their lives today.

This verse comes to us in the course of Joshua’s final speech before he dies, a speech given to the whole congregation of Israel. A high point indeed! What did this passage mean for the original hearers? What did it mean for the original readers? What does it mean for us?

A Call to Serve

On the surface, Joshua issues a call to his hearers to serve the Lord in the land by means of his own example and resolve.

Service is, after all, the goal of the exodus, expressed many times over in Moses’s confrontation with Pharaoh. We’re familiar with the first part of his charge, “Let my people go,” but must remember what he said next: “. . . that they may serve me” (Ex. 4:23; 7:16; 8:1). What is more, Joshua’s generation lives not only on the other side of the Red Sea but in the land promised to Abraham.

Thus, the people standing before Joshua have every reason to serve the Lord. Not only have they seen his wonders, but Joshua has recounted and interpreted these wonders for them. As sure as they stand in the land, they stand in the sovereign grace of God, their covenant Lord who has done all to bring them to this momentous place. He took Abraham when Abraham was worshiping his gods, he gave him Isaac when he had no children, he sent Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, he brought the people out of Egypt, and he delivered the inhabitants of Canaan into their hands (Josh. 24:1–13).

Israel had every reason to serve the Lord, and she knew it. “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD who brought us and our fathers up” (Josh. 24:16–17).

But there’s more than sunshine in the land and in the hearts of these people on the occasion of this speech. Clouds on the horizon cast an ominous shadow through Joshua.

A Cynical Speech

Not so subtly, Joshua’s parting speech is marked by cynicism. If the original hearers didn’t quite get it, the first readers could not have missed it.

Joshua’s response to Israel’s commitment to obey is shocking: “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. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good” (Josh. 24:19–20). He sounds like his predecessor, Moses, who predicted the same long-term problem. The people would not keep covenant and they would be exiled from the land for it (Deut. 29:21–27; Deut. 30:6; Deut. 31:14–18).

Thus, this high point in the book of Joshua portends more than a low point to come, but a continual descent into rebellion. Joshua was not an unhappy old man who had lost his edge. He saw clearly and he spoke prophetically. His words are a roadmap for Israel’s next 500 years of stubborn rebellion.

Jesus is our new Joshua, a better Savior who brings a better salvation.

The back and forth is indicting. The people insisted, “No, but we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:21). Joshua replied, “You are witnesses against yourselves” (Josh. 24:22). They said, “We are witnesses” (Josh. 24:22). Joshua continued, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD” (Josh. 24:23). The reply was, once again, self-assured: “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (Josh. 24:24).

Joshua is a book overwhelmed with fulfillment, but Adam’s shadow looms. But his is not the only shadow. For, while the people cannot and will not listen to the Lord or obey his voice, Moses spoke of a greater prophet to come, to whom the people would listen (Deut. 18:15). That greater prophet would not be Joshua, but he would bear Joshua’s name, a name which means “The LORD Is Salvation,” the name given to the Lord Jesus (Num. 13:16; Matt. 1:21).

A Summons to Choose

Joshua’s call to Israel was urgent: “choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). For us today, this remains an urgent and timely summons to choose the Lord.

What’s the difference between them and us? Do we have any hope of choosing the Lord?

Because of Jesus, yes, we do. Joshua brought the people into the land of God’s presence, but he could not bring them out of rebellion. Jesus is our new Joshua, a better Savior who brings a better salvation. He does so through a new and better covenant, a covenant by which he gives to us a new heart for true service and willing obedience—all by grace (Ezek. 36:26; Jer. 31:31–34; cf. Deut. 10:12–14).

Our new Joshua has made us willing and able to hear his call to serve. And so, we say with Israel of old, “We will serve the Lord,” except this time, by the grace of God and through faith, we mean it. More than that, by God’s grace, albeit imperfectly for now, we keep it.

Trent Hunter is the author of Joshua: A 12-Week Study.

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