And Joshua said to the people, You cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God…
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF SERVING GOD. "Ye cannot serve the Lord." It was a staggering admonition. It embodied what theologians have called the doctrine of "moral inability." The seat of the disorder is in the will. There is the conflict. Till that is established in the choice of holiness it will still be true, as in the case before us, that one can not serve God. "Ye cannot" should still read for many, loath to abandon practices and ideas and hopes which He condemns, "Ye will not."
II. THE CONSCIOUS ABILITY TO SERVE GOD. With much vehemence the people asserted that they would, and therefore could, be true to their promise. They realised that no more was demanded of them than was within the range of their powers to do. Their tribute to the righteousness of their Maker is the universal testimony as well. From the shrine of the most besotted savage to the latest Christian altar we see the multiplying tokens that each and all might have heeded and wrought that full measure of righteousness which their God prescribed. Everywhere, on all the recognised possibilities of a human soul, is plainly imprinted, and none can honestly exclaim against it, "This is your reasonable service."
III. THE SOLEMN PROMISE TO SERVE GOD. The transfer of estates, the giving in marriage, the parting with a child — these chief acts of our lives are trivial and ordinary compared with that in which a heart yields itself for ever unto Him who has sought it from its first conscious moment. It is serious business we transact with Him. He hears, too, each voice among the myriads as though it were the only one, and receives each uplifted spirit as though no other had come.
IV. THE ABIDING WITNESSES OF THE PLEDGE TO SERVE GOD. As our memorials and statues are eloquent of former scenes and persons, to those who will pause a little to listen, so this column in the spot of sanctuary told to children's children that their fathers were given here and for ever to the Lord. Every individual, too, that stood near any who there uttered his "credo" had stamped upon his memory his neighbour's act, to be made to glow as secret tracings when heat is applied. But are men aware of the numerous objects which have heard and may testify to their former promises to do the will of God? It was in some severe sickness, when the spectre of death seemed to draw nigh, when, begging for reprieve, you said: "If I am spared I will dedicate myself to Him." And the walls of your chamber listened, and now and then repeat it in the stillness of the night. They who watched heard it, and are wondering yet if you have forgotten. Or it was when some sudden horror of doom flashed on you, and you proffered all you had for your life, while billows or tempest or hurrying car or roadside fences heard your cry and occasionally remind you of the pledge! Or, as you sat under the moving influences of the Spirit, and you were sure the acceptable time for turning to God had come, did you not say: "When I have made my fortune, or gained this office, or reached that age, I will"? And now the fortune is yours, the office has been held, the age has been passed, but your heart is not yet in the Lord's keeping. It is easy to mortgage the future, so unknown, so full of plausible chances and opportunities. Be as fair, friend, with the Lord as with your neighbour, whom you are proud always to have satisfied, for He has waited longer, till you shall pay your vows to the full.
(De Witt S. Clark.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.