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What does 'as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD' (Joshua 24:15) mean?

Joshua's powerful proclamation, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15), is a beloved verse of many. Generally speaking, the phrase expresses their devotion to the God of the Bible and to raising their family to be similarly devoted to Him. As with all verses, it's helpful to look at the surrounding context to understand its meaning.

After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they spent forty years in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. That generation was barred from entering the Promised Land because of their disbelief in God (Numbers 13—14). Instead, they would spend forty years in the wilderness, and their children would be the ones to conquer the land under the leadership of Joshua.

Joshua had been Moses' assistant. He was technically part of the unfaithful generation, as was Caleb, but the two had been in the group of those who spied out the Promised Land. They brought back a good report and believed God would give the Israelites victory as He had promised. So those two men were part of the conquest of Canaan. Joshua's declaration that "as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" comes as a sort of farewell to the Israelites before his death.

Joshua 23 provides Joshua's words to "all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers" (Joshua 23:2). He told them they'd seen how God fought for their sake and how the land had been allotted as inheritances to the various tribes. Joshua told them that God would drive out the nations yet to be driven out from the Promised Land. He encouraged them to stay faithful to the Book of the Law of Moses, to refrain from mixing with the pagan nations and their gods who would otherwise become a snare and a trap for them, and to be careful to cling to and love the Lord. Joshua says, "And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you" (Joshua 23:14–16).

Joshua 24 shows the tribes of Israel and their leaders presenting themselves before God. Joshua spoke to the people with the words of God. God reminds them of their history. He goes back to the time of Terah, Abraham's father, who lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. But God called Abraham from there and led him through the Promised Land, promising to make his offspring many. God mentions Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. Jacob and his children went to Egypt. God says, "And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out" (Joshua 24:5). He speaks of the crossing of the Red Sea, the battle with the Amorites, Balak and Balaam, Jericho, and other Canaanite enemies over whom He gave the Israelites victory. "I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant" (Joshua 24:13).

God had certainly been faithful to Israel. Joshua tells the people, "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:14). But this is a choice to be made by the people. Joshua says, "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" (Joshua 24:15).

In short, God's faithfulness has been established. He has proven Himself to this people, both historically in His relationship with their ancestor Abraham and in these specific peoples' recent memory. He has given them good things. Joshua says their response should be to serve God. They could chase after pagan gods if they wanted, but he would not be doing that. God was his God, and he would live that way.

The people agreed: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we will serve the LORD, for he is our God" (Joshua 24:16–18). The people recognized who God is and knew that He was their God. They wanted to serve Him.

But Joshua understood more deeply who God is. He told 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. 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" (Joshua 24:19–20). The people reaffirmed their commitment to serve the Lord. "So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem" (Joshua 24:25).

Israel would fail to keep their commitment to serve the Lord. But God knew that all along. Joshua understood the holiness of God. The covenant God made with Moses, that we see Joshua renew with the people before his death, was one that simply could not be kept by fallen humans. We, too, are incapable of keeping it. But Jesus Christ did. He fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17–20) and ushered in a new covenant (Hebrews 9:11–28). Just as God defeated Israel's enemies and placed them in a land on which they had not labored and gave them fruit they had not planted, He gives us blessings we do not deserve. "Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5–7). All who put their trust in Jesus, who died as payment for our sins and rose back to life victorious over sin and death, are forgiven of sin and given new life (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 1:3–14).

Jesus calls His followers to abide in Him and obey Him (John 15:1–17). Those who have trusted in Jesus are children of God (John 1:12) and have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14). The Israelites recognized that the LORD was their God. He is our God, too. And He is the only one worthy of serving (John 6:66–69; 14:6). "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" was Joshua's confident declaration in the faithfulness of God and in his commitment to God. It should be ours as well.

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