THEME: Idolatry Then and Now
This week’s lessons describe Joshua’s last address to the Israelites, which emphasizes their need to determine to choose each and every day to serve the Lord.
Paul wrote that no one does good and no one seeks after God. That’s the way God sees the human heart. And if, when God looks down from heaven upon the heart of man, all He sees is that the heart of man is only deceitful and practicing wicked all the time from His perspective, how could God possibly find a little bit of human faith upon which to build unless He Himself had first put it there? This, of course, is what He did in the case of Abraham. Abraham was an idol-worshipper like all the others who lived in Ur. But God appeared to him, and revealed Himself to him. God then placed faith in Abraham’s heart and brought Abraham out of that idolatry and set him upon a path, which in God’s own providence and by God’s own power eventually produced the Jewish nation.
It’s exactly the same with us. We’re inclined to look to our past and say, “Well, you know, it’s rather a distinguished past.” Just as the Jews would have said, “Well, we’re descended from Abraham, you know. That’s something important.” But God says, “If you really want to go on in the Christian life, if you want to make progress, you have to begin with the fact that you are nothing apart from my grace, and start there, and obey me because of it.” You know how the Apostle Paul describes us at the beginning of Ephesians 2. He’s writing to Gentiles, people like us, and He says, “And as for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins when you walked according to the power of the prince of the air and were by nature children of wrath, even as others.” That is the condition of every one of us apart from Christ. But God, because in the great love that He has for you, revealed Himself, and brought about salvation, and called you to Jesus Christ. And what we now are is not because of anything in us or what we have done, but because of Him.
So when Joshua preached this sermon to the people in what we would call a relatively early period of the history of true religion, he did it by referring them to some of the most basic theology of the entire Word of God. He talked about the sovereignty of God in salvation, and our sinful and utterly helpless condition unless God first reveals Himself to us.
I notice one other thing here that’s worth commenting on, and that is the persistence of idolatry, even many years after having been called by God. Sometimes when I’m preaching about Abraham and his ancestry, and the fact that there was no good in Abraham, I stress the point by saying that the presence of idols among Abraham’s descendants persisted even to the third generation—even after God had called him and he had received the knowledge of the true God. I illustrate that by the fact that Abraham had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob. Eventually Jacob went off to live in Haran, where he married Leah and Rachel. And when he had to leave Haran and make his way back to his own land because of troubles with Laban, Jacob’s wife, Rachel, stole the household gods from her father and brought them along. Three generations along the line of the patriarchs, but the idols were still there. That’s a horrible thing!
But how much more astounding is the fact that even after all these years have gone by—after Israel’s captivity in Egypt, and after the long period of wandering in the wilderness, and after the hard years of conquests—Joshua still needs to give instructions about the people’s idolatry! All this time, God has been revealing Himself in a marvelous way to the people. Yet even at the end as Joshua is about to die, He says, “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river and in Egypt and serve the Lord.” I think Joshua said this because he knew there was a problem there. He had seen the idols after all this time in Israel, after all these demonstrations of the power of God. He’s saying, “Get rid of them. Get rid of them and serve God.”
You say, “Well, we don’t have idols.” That’s true, at least not in terms of literal idols that we can see. But there are things that occupy the position of idols in our lives—things we don’t want to give up, things that are more important to us than the law of God. That might be our own plans for our lives, or what other people think of us, or material things—all those things that seem innocent enough but which come up between ourselves and God. We can find ourselves clinging to them, and reluctant to give them up. We say, “Yes, some of that might be true, but I’ve been a Christian for many, many years.” Yes, perhaps you have. But Israel had experienced the grace of God for many, many years, and the idols were still there.
The doctrine of total depravity maintains that sin has affected every part of who we are, and that, left to ourselves, we are unable to respond in faith to the gospel apart from God’s sovereign grace. What are some reasons people give to argue against this teaching? What does Scripture say about human ability and how God’s grace is given?
Why do you think idolatry was still a problem for the Israelites, even in the time of Joshua?
Is there anything in your life—whether material things, goals, work, people, or perhaps something else—that is competing with your love for, and commitment to, God? In what ways is this idolatry harming your discipleship? What steps do you need to take this week to remove it?