And if it seem evil to you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom you will serve…
First, Joshua took it for granted that a nation must have a religion of one sort or other. His whole address is built upon this principle; and if there had been a middle way between serving the God of Israel and serving other gods, his discourse would have been inconclusive. Some have pretended that a society of atheists might be tolerably good, and regulated by humane motives, by present rewards and punishments, by shame, disgrace, fear, honour, good-nature, reputation, and self-interest. But this cannot be. Take away religion, and you take away with it the influence of conscience and the strongest motives to social duties. Nothing remains on which mutual reliance can be firmly grounded. All will be done in compliance with external power, and every law will be disregarded, when it may be done with secrecy or impunity and with any present pleasure or profit. Religion, then, is a matter of deliberation and choice. Amidst the diversity of opinions and of worship which divide the world, to walk at hazard in the first path that lies before us, and to which birth and education direct us, and to continue boldly in it without any sort of conviction that it is the right way, this is not the behaviour of rational agent. God will be loved freely and unconstrainedly, and served by choice and preference. He requires a reasonable service, and man being a rational, a free agent, ought to be able to give some account and some reason for his belief and his actions, and to be afraid to compare truth and falsehood, God and an idol, and to examine which deserves the preference, is doing wrong to God and to His truth. A third remark is upon the time when this is to be done. There is an ago of life, and there are occasions, when every one should resolve and make his choice. "Choose you this day," says Joshua. To-day, with every person, is the time when his understanding is mature and opportunities offer. In a Christian nation everything invites us to remember our Creator — the voice of conscience, the example of the wise and good, and the public religion. Here is another thing observable in the text. Joshua supposeth that the Israelites might be weary of serving God, and think His laws to be an unsupportable burden. If it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, how can it seem evil to any rational creature to serve the true and the living Lord? But consult experience and matter of fact, and you will find that men have often been disgusted at truth, and weary of a reasonable service. Thence the inconstancies, rebellions, idolatries, and apostasies of the Jewish nation. True religion hath its difficulties and its dark side, and in some respects may be disagreeable. False religions have in some respects more allurements, are more easy, and more accommodated to indolent inattention, to carnal and corrupted minds. And yet, notwithstanding these advantages of error, no reasonable person can make it a doubt which ought to be preferred. Religion hath its difficulties relating both to faith and to practice, both to the understanding and to the heart. As to faith, it contains things hard to be received by worldly-minded persons. I observed before that false religions may in many respects be more agreeable than the true one to persons of a carnal and sensual temper. Joshua supposed that the religion of the Chaldeans or of the Canaanites might appear such to the people of Israel, when he said to them, "If you will not serve the Lord, choose whether you will serve the gods of your forefathers or the gods of the nations where you now dwell." Here, then, were two false religions to choose out of. Both might please them by their antiquity; and as to that of the inhabitants of Palestine, the Israelites by adopting it might make themselves acceptable to their neighbours. And both these religions, though they might have different objects of worship or different names for their gods, agreed in this, that they taught the worship of many deities and the use of images, and such ceremonies as amused the senses, and required no integrity and purity of heart. If you consider all the more remarkable false religions that have been or are in the world, and all the corrupted systems of true religion, you shall find that they recommend themselves by one or other of these four privileges and characters — either antiquity or extent or ceremonious pomp, or an accommodation to the follies and vices of men. "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." If the doctrines of revealed religion concerning the perfections and the .providence of God and the doctrines of revealed religion taught us in the gospel have in them some obscurity and difficulty, it is no more than might justly be expected from the sublime subject. All atheistical and idolatrous systems are, beyond comparison, harder to be admitted by a reasonable man. The moral part of religion is conformable to our nature; and if it be contrary to our depraved inclinations, that is our own fault. Religion hath motives to induce us, examples to direct us, assistances for our infirmities, and helps in time of distress; and if God be a holy and a jealous God, He is also a God of mercy, who forgives and receives the penitent. The boasted advantages and prerogatives of false religions are false and unsound at the bottom. Having considered the wisdom of Joshua's choice, let us consider his person. He was the prince of God's people, and, like Moses, had the authority though not the title of king. Princes and rulers of nations are as much obliged as the meanest of their subjects to serve God. Their example is of great consequence, and whether they walk in the paths of virtue or of vice they induce others to walk after them. Observe also that the prince of Israel answers for himself and for his family. "I and my house will serve the Lord." He was a wise and a happy man; happy to be so fully assured of the good disposition of his household.
(J. Jortin, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
WEB: If it seems evil to you to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh."