Joshua 23-24, Acts 17
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. – Acts 17:24-25 ESV
As Joshua prepared for his own death and departure from the people of Israel, he wanted to give them one last word of warning. He was determined that they understood fully that their entire existence as a people and their presence in the land had been completely God's doing and not their own. He went out of his way to make that point abundantly clear.
And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. – Joshua 23:3 ESV
The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. – Joshua 23:5 ESV
For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. – Joshua 23:9 ESV
One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. – Joshua 23:10 ESV
…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. – Joshua 23:14 ESV
God had been intimately and powerfully involved in their lives since the day He had called Abram out of Ur. It had been God who made of Abram a mighty nation. He had rescued the descendants of Abram when they found themselves enslaved in Egypt. He had brought them through the wilderness, providing for their every need along the way. He had brought them to the land He had promised to Abram, and gave them victory after victory over their enemies. God confirmed His role in their existence by reminding them, “…it was not by your sword or by your bow. 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 24:12-13 ESV). The whole point of Joshua's charge to the people was to remind them of the non-negotiable reality of God in their lives. They couldn't deny it. But they could certainly ignore it, and that was Joshua's greatest fear. He knew his people well. He was well aware of their tendency toward unfaithfulness. Which is why he warned them, “Now there fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14 ESV). He challenged them to “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” (Joshua 24:15 ESV). Even when the people swear their allegiance to God, Joshua had to warn them to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23 ESV).
Joshua knew that idolatry and spiritual adultery were going to be a constant temptation to the people of Israel – in spite of all that He had done for them. And Joshua wanted them to know that faithfulness to God was going to be difficult. “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” (Joshua 24:19 ESV). This is not teaching that God is unforgiving, but that He cannot abide unfaithfulness. His holiness demands allegiance and requires that He punish unfaithfulness.
What does this passage reveal about God?
When it comes to idols, God is anything but tolerant. He is far from politically correct. As the sole creator of the universe and the sustainer of all life, God has no reason to put up with the worship of gods who do not even exist. And yet, false gods have been a part of human existence ever since the fall. Those gods have taken all kinds of forms. Some have been literal statues, totems, figures and man-made representations of various animals. Some have been more sophisticated god-replacements, such as money, power, entertainment, health, military force or political influence. Anything we turn to other than God for our protection, provision, peace of mind, sense of fulfillment, or cause for joy, is nothing less than a false god. These God replacements have always been around. When Paul arrived in Athens, he couldn't help but notice all the idols and religious shrines located all over the city. He even told the citizens of Athens, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22 ESV). He noted that they even had an altar dedicated “to the unknown god.” And in the spirit of Joshua, Paul makes a clear and compelling argument that there really is only one God. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:24-28 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
For Paul, there was only one God. He may have been unknown to the people of Athens, but before Paul was done with them, they would have an undeniable understanding of just who He was. Men tend to make gods who exist for their own well being. Yes, we want gods who are powerful, but only when it comes to their ability to accomplish mighty acts on our behalf. We want gods who are powerful enough to protect us and provide for us. Our gods are where we turn in times of need. If the rain fails to come, there must be a god to go to for help. If the enemy shows up at our borders, there must be a god to ask for assistance. If our wife is unable to bear us a child, we must have a god who will intervene and do the seemingly impossible. If we are poor, we want a god who will make us rich. If we are rich, we want a god who will keep us that way. If we are sick, we want a god who will make us well. If our enemy is well, we prefer a god who will make them sick. But Paul told the people of Athens “we ought not to think the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art or imagination of man” (Acts 17:29 ESV). No, God is not the fabric of man's fertile imagination. He wasn't made up or manufactured. No, the one and only God “commands all people to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV). God doesn't exist for man's convenience or to accomplish man's will. It is the other way around. Man exists for God's glory and to do His will. Man exists by God's doing and is meant to live according to His divine standards.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
There are two constant temptations for all men. First, we can try and deny the very existence of God, but inevitably we will have to manufacture a replacement for Him. We have a God-shaped hole in our very being that demands to be filled. So we will come up with a substitute. We may end up placing someone or something else on the pedestal of our lives, or we may simply resort to worshiping ourselves. We can just as easily put ourselves at the center of our universe and make ourselves the sole arbiter of our fate. The second temptation will be to acknowledge the existence of God, but to try and shape Him into the mold we prefer. In other words, we try to make God look like what we want. So we form a version of God that is inconsistent with Scripture. We make Him all loving and refuse to accept the idea that God might have standards or prove to be intolerant. We manufacture a God who is little more than a doting grandfather in the sky, doling out gifts to his grand kids, oblivious to their sins and shortcomings. The temptation is to make of God a god of our own choosing, which is to have no god at all. If we refuse to see God as a judge or try to deny that His holiness demands a righteousness based on His standards and not ours, we end up having an unknown god. But God has made it possible for us to know Him intimately and completely, because of His Son's death on the cross. God is not far from us. He has made Himself known to us through His creation. But He has made Himself knowable and approachable through His Son's sacrificial, sin-cancelling death. I have a relationship with the God of the universe because the Son of God paid the penalty for my sins on the cross. He did what no false could ever do. He made possible what had been impossible for me and every other human being who has ever lived. It is in recognition of that fact that we should “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23 ESV).
Father, You are the only true God. There are no other gods. But I know that I attempt to worship other gods all the time. I can make money my idol. I can make power or position my savior. I can turn to someone other than You for my satisfaction or sense of worth. I can easily seek consolation or solace in something other than You. Help me to constantly remember that You alone are God. You have given me everything I need, from the very life I live to the salvation I so desperately needed. I am nothing without You. Amen