The Godly Father (Joshua 24:14-18)
Someone has written: “By the time a child is ten he is either a Christian or a pagan. If he is a pagan, he has been greatly sinned against. His parents, his neighbors, his teachers and his playmates have done him a great harm.”
It is very true that children learn very early in life the values that will govern the rest of their lives. As you explore the kings of both Israel and Judah, you readily notice that kings passed on their attributes to their children. Often, you will read that a good king walked in the godly ways of his father or vice versa. It doesn’t always happen that godly kings have good sons who succeed them, but that’s often the case.
Because children learn so much so rapidly, it’s vitally important than we train our children appropriately. The Israelites were to put blood on their doorposts every Passover as an object lesson for their children to learn about the Lord: “When your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses'” (Ex 12:26-27). We parents still have a solemn obligation to train our children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
In this morning’s text, Joshua speaks about “The Godly Father” and the way he trains his children.
This morning’s text is Joshua’s farewell address. Joshua knew that he was about to depart this earth, and there were important lessons he needed to impart to Israel before he met his end.
- Joshua recounts all the goodness that God had displayed to Israel and speaks of “The Godly Father’s Motivation.”
- Because of God’s grace, Joshua encourages the Israelites to put away their idols and he thus speaks of “The Godly Father’s Modifications.”
- Joshua puts a decision before the Israelites and he speaks of “The Godly Father’s Multiplicity.”
- Joshua finally speaks of the need to lead one’s family and he speaks of “The Godly Father’s Management.”
Together, let’s explore this passage and learn how to become “The Godly Father.”
The Godly Father’s Motivation, vv 12-13
God had been so very good to the Israelites and Joshua, serving as God’s spokesman, reminds the people of God’s great mercy. “I sent the hornet before you, which drove [the Canaanites] out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; 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.”
The LORD had been so very good to Israel. They had done absolutely nothing to deserve Canaan, but God gave them the land anyway. All the Israelites had to do to conquer Jericho was to march around the city in God’s prescribed manner. Over and over God worked comparable feats throughout Canaan and gave his people the Promised Land. As a result, the Israelites lived in cities they had not built. They had conquered the land’s former inhabitants and they now lived in their cities and homes. They ate of vineyards they had not planted. You recall that when Moses sent spies into Canaan, they cut down a cluster of grapes and that cluster had to be carried on a pole between two of them (Num 13:23). The land was so, so rich and the Israelites simply walked in and claimed the land.
What motivation to bring up one’s child to know the Lord! God had blessed the Israelites without a single act of obedience on their part. The Lord promised to bless Abraham before the patriarch left Ur in reply to the Lord’s command (Gen 12:1-3). In this passage, the Israelites are told to put away their idols – they are eating of the bounties of the Promised Land before they obey.
That does not negate the Israelites’ need for obedience. Disobedience would cause the Lord to throw the Israelites out of the land (Deut 29:16-28). When the Israelites rebelled against God, he sent the Northern Kingdom captive into Assyria and the Southern Kingdom into Babylonian Captivity.
Is it not the case that God sent his Son to die for man before man obeyed? “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).
Again, this does not at all mean that God will save me regardless of my obedience or lack thereof. Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:9). However, God set all things in motion for my salvation long, long before I obeyed him.
Is that not a wonderful motivation to lead my children in righteousness? God sent his Son to die for me while I lived in great sin. How can I not want to obey a God who loves me that much? God stands ready to forgive my children when they need his grace. What a great God to whom I can lead them!
The Godly Father’s Modifications, v 14
God’s mercy prompts “The Godly Father” to modify his life. Joshua calls upon the Israelites to make “The Godly Father’s Modifications” when he declares: “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.”
The Israelites, if they were to become “The Godly Father” needed to fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.
- To “fear the LORD” means to honor him. It was Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac that allowed God to know that the patriarch feared him (Gen 22:12). The Lord knew that Abraham feared him, for he was willing to put God in front of his only son and honor the Lord to the point of sacrificing that son.
- To “serve” the LORD primarily has the connotation of worshipping before him. The Israelites were not to serve idols but only the Lord (Deut 4:19). Thus, Joshua calls upon the Israelites to worship the Lord.
- The Israelites are to fear and serve the LORD in sincerity and faithfulness. They are not to render to the Lord half-hearted service, but they are to give him their whole lives. God has always required such service from his people: When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, the Lord answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).
If the men standing before Joshua truly feared the Lord, they needed to make modifications – “Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” That the Israelites needed to put away their gods greatly implies that they had them. How could they rid themselves of idols unless they were serving idols? In order to lead their families in what is right, these men needed to rid themselves of the sin in their lives. One cannot lead his family in righteousness if he himself is living in sin. Repentance is necessary if we have sin in our lives. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov 28:13). What modifications do you need to make in your life?
The Godly Father’s Multiplicity, v 15
“The Godly Father” has multiplicity in deciding what god he shall follow – he has a multitude of choices: “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.”
The people of Joshua’s day had a “multiple choice” when deciding what god to follow. In fact, many of the Israelites struggled with idolatry. On the way to the Promised Land, they bowed down and worshipped a golden calf. After they arrived in the Promised Land, they would bow down to Asherim and Baal. Joshua tells his hearers that they can make up their own minds and worship whatever god they desire.
God has always been a God of free will. God has never been One to force people to do right. In the Garden of Eden, God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to give Adam and Eve a choice. From whence comes sin? Is it not my own desires? “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Js 1:14-15). God plays no role in the “tempting process,” but it’s my own desires – my own will – that leads me into sin.
Yet, I believe there is a far more pertinent lesson in this passage for our own day – We can raise our children to know the LORD in a pluralistic society. We are living in an ever-increasing pluralistic society. Our children are sent to school and taught that we all evolved from a single-celled organism, that Jesus was simply a philosopher not much different from Muhammad or Confucius, and that we should do whatever makes us feel “good.” We live in a society where pluralism no longer means choosing between various denominations and truth but even choosing between Allah or Buddhism and truth.
How do we raise our children in such a pluralistic world? Understand this: Truth has always triumphed in a pluralistic world! The Jews here are being forced to choose between the LORD and the pagan gods of their fathers and neighbors. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the golden image erected by Nebuchadnezzar, even at the risk of their own lives. Paul encountered numerous idols in Athens. We read: “While Paul was waiting for them [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Paul preached at the Areopagus about the true and living God. About the conclusion of Paul’s sermon, Luke records: “Some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).
There is no reason to despair! When truth and error are placed side by side, honest hearts will opt for truth. The challenge then becomes not “How can we raise children in a pluralistic world?” but “Are we placing truth in front of our children?” “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Ps 119:9). Let us never be lax in making sure that our children know the truth of God!
The Godly Father’s Management, v 15
Joshua pledges himself to managing his family and he declares: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Notice that Joshua promises to serve the Lord himself before he pledges to lead his family. Of course, Joshua cannot lead his family in doing what’s right unless he himself is doing what’s right. There is the important principle that in order to lead others righteously, we ourselves must be right before God. The elders of a local church needed someone to teach a class full of kids. They asked the congregation that if anyone were willing to teach the class to please see them after worship. One sister approached the elders and said that, although she was relatively new in the faith, she would be more than happy to teach the class. The elders, of course, wanted to question this new convert rather closely before allowing her to teach. The pastors carefully asked her about doctrinal and practical issues. They liked what they heard, but they asked her one final question. Her answer to that question kept them thinking for a long, long time. They asked her, “What is the most important responsibility of a Bible class teacher?” She said, “The most important duty of a Bible class teacher is to save herself.” Joshua is here demonstrating that his most important responsibility as a parent is to save himself first.
We find that principle throughout Scripture. To the Ephesian elders, Paul declares, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).
Once Joshua himself is on the right path, he will guide his family in the right. Notice that Joshua doesn’t open his family’s spiritual future to discussion. Joshua understands that as a man he has the responsibility to lead his family.
God has given men the responsibility of leading the family. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:22-23). “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Col 3:18).
In this day of women’s liberation, some strongly object to saying that the husband has authority in the home. Notice very carefully how Joshua is using his authority. He’s not using that authority to order his wife and kids around. He’s using his authority to help his family move closer to heaven. Regardless of how much women lib activists might fuss, many wives and children will be around the throne of God in eternity because husbands properly used their authority.
What about your wife and children? Have you made it your priority to save yourself? Are you, therefore, leading your family in doing what’s right?
Dr. James Dobson said, “The Western world stands at a great crossroads in its history. It is my opinion that our very survival as a people will depend upon the presence of absence of masculine leadership in millions of homes . . . I believe, with everything within me, that husbands hold the keys to the preservation of the family.”
Do you need to come this morning and begin leading your family in righteousness?