“Then put away the foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the LORD, the God off Israel.” Joshua 24:23
In the context of this verse the Joshua has just gathered the people and reminded them of all that the Lord had promised and how He had now fulfilled those promises by bringing them into the promised land. The people respond in this moment by saying that they will now serve the LORD. Joshua gives them a warning that they are not able to serve the LORD and that when they break their vows the LORD will do harm to them and consume them. Yet, despite all of this the people again promise that they will serve the LORD. So, Joshua then Joshua says to them, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Joshua has been very honest with the people that day. He has called them to choose whom they would serve, he has warned them about the consequences of failing to fulfill their vows, and he has told them exactly how they need to respond. He does not hear their promise and begin the celebration. He tells them exactly what is to be expected. They are to put away the foreign gods and incline their heart to the LORD.
As I consider this verse I always seem to spend a lot of time thinking about his command to put away the foreign gods. Recently I listened to a lecture about the people that lived during the reign of Edward VI, Elizabeth and Bloody Mary. During the short reigns of Edward and Elizabeth the land saw a great reformation. Puritanism grew and the preaching of the day was tremendous. The pulpits were filled with sermons concerning the gospel and the need for the heart to be drawn to Christ. For two decades there was great progress in the understanding of the scriptures and in the reformation of the church.
However, Edward became sick and died at the age of 15. His cousin Elizabeth was quickly installed as the next leader because she was a protestant but the nation wanted someone who was in the immediate blood line of Henry VIII. They chose to have Mary as the queen rather than Elizabeth. Dr. Michael Reeves then mentioned that many in the churches also wanted Mary to be queen. Little were they aware of the persecution that would begin as a result. Almost immediately the reforms that had begun began to cease and the churches were again filled with icons. Two decades of reforms were turned back and the progress that had been made was lost.
This story saddened me. This story also convicted me. All of those reforms and all of those good sermons seemed to have done so little in so many people. Dr. Michael Reeves said that almost overnight all of the things that were supposed to have been destroyed came back into the churches as if they never left.
We may come to a passage like Joshua 24:23 and read, “Then put away the foreign gods…”, and not realize just how hard this is to do. Is it any wonder that Joshua warned the people by saying, “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.” (24:19)
All of this has made me ask myself what I have done with the foreign gods in my life? Have I identified them and sought to remove them from my life? Have I really destroyed them or have I just set them aside for some future day. Have I set them somewhere within arms reach so that I can quickly turn to them at a moments notice?
Joshua also tells them that they are to incline their hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel. I have often wondered if the progression here is of any significance? In other words, do we have to put away before we can incline our hearts? Or is the heart changed, then the foreign gods are removed, and then inclination of the heart is made more certain. I think the latter is probably more true. Joshua has already told them that they cannot do this. God must be working in the heart for this to be done. Religion has a form of godliness but no power. It is only through a relationship and dependence upon God that we experience true godliness. When God is present we can be sure that these idols can be truly removed and that our hearts will be inclined towards Him.
Recently I deleted my Facebook account. I had previously deactivated the account but it was too much of a temptation to return. The lecture and this verse have shown me that I really needed to delete the account. I needed to totally remove it so that I would not feel the habitual pull to return to it again and again. Since I deleted my account I have found that the pull to return to it is almost non-existent. The draw for me to be on Facebook is gone.
I have learned from this that in putting away these idols and foreign gods we need to find a way to delete them and not excuse the fact that they are still somewhere near by. We also need to watch for what our heart will be drawn to after these things are gone. Someone asked me yesterday if I have more time? Yes, but I still am either filling them with good things or things that are equally just as bad as Facebook. We can put away our idols and replace them with new ones. Or we can remove these idols and incline our hearts to the LORD.
Consider also that Joshua is not attempting to make this people more religious. He is not simply trying to change the culture of the people of Israel. He is dealing with the heart. He says, “...incline your hearts to the LORD.” In our sanctification we do a lot of things. We remove ourselves from a lot of the things that can bring about temptations and sins. But none of this is truly beneficial if our heart is not inclining itself to the LORD. This is so important. During the reforms under Edward a lot of external changes were made; but there were a lot of hearts that did not change. As a result, over 300 protestants whose hearts had been changed were burned at the stake. Sad.
It is also encouraging to see that our hearts are to be inclined to the LORD. We are to incline our hearts to the Living God, the strong redeeming God of Israel who fulfills His promises by the power of His might. We must look to Him and not think that being preoccupied with self is the answer. The psalmist often confessed, “I am poor and needy”; and that is what we are. We are poor and needy. I can be poor and still be ok. But to be poor and needy is to be in a desperate situ