Uses and Misuses of Joshua 24:15

Standard Disclaimer: Random people on the internet are not authorities. Please direct questions about what you personally should believe to your own authorities: husband, father, church leader, whatever applies, and do as they tell you.
Specific Disclaimer: I’m going to put a trigger warning on here, because this post is going to be me talking about one of my triggers, meaning something that other people do that makes me want to engage in carnage, destruction and mayhem. (My religion prevents me from indulging any of these impulses, and forbids even so much as a daydream along those lines. I’m supposed to stamp out that temptation and be patient and loving instead. Work in Progress.)

I’ll begin by looking at the good uses of Joshua 24:15 – or at least, the part of it that everyone’s always quoting: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

I’m pretty sure a lot of Christians have this bit on a pretty piece of wall-art somewhere in their houses. I think you get the most Holy Brownie Points if you make it yourself rather than buying it. 😉 I don’t have any issues with putting Bible verses anywhere you please in your house, or embroidering them on your curtains and pillows, or whatever else pleases you to do. Go for it. If you add lots of artistic sparkles, it’s highly likely that I will offer you emotional validation in return for showing me a pretty thing. I’m shallow and easily bribed by glitter.

Then there’s the more serious use, the one that my own circle of Christians is likely to do: use that verse, or a paraphrase thereof, to open discussion. A preamble to remind everyone that our purpose is to serve and glorify God, not men; and that whatever disagreements or difficult things must be discussed, we are all brother and sisters in Christ. It’s a standard disclaimer, so to speak – but a useful one, when passions are likely to run high.

Then there’s the problematic way some people use it. To end a discussion and shut down debate, declaring themselves the “winner” as if whoever trots out the last part of Joshua 24:15 first, wins! How utterly juvenile. But if it were only tedious and intellectually dishonest, it wouldn’t bother me as much as it does. I don’t mind a whit if someone were to say that they were tired of the discussion and hadn’t changed their mind and they were going to continue to serve the Lord in the way they considered best (because how else are you going to serve the Lord, really?). I’m not out to score points here; I’d rather discover Truth. So it’s not even that using that verse at the end of a discussion that’s necessarily bad; it’s the implication of using that particular verse in a Holier-Than-Thou fashion that makes me see red.

But first, let’s look at the context – all of Joshua 24. Notice what’s happening here. Joshua has been leading the people of God for many years, and the very next thing that the Bible tells us is of Joshua’s death. Basically Joshua is The Pope, like back in the day when everyone was Catholic and Popes went around leading armies. (Okay, maybe that’s not a very good analogy, please don’t take it too far.) He has legitimate authority over everyone he’s speaking to. That’s Important.

What comes first in the chapter? A highlight summary of the entire history of God’s People. Then what’s the next thing Joshua says to the people under his authority? “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

At this point, if you’re not going :O They still had idols after all that?!?!?! and whatever misplaced faith in humanity you had has gone back down to zero where it belongs, you probably aren’t paying enough attention. Given the subsequent history of the Israelites, I really doubt Joshua was trolling or exaggerating here.

Now let’s look at the first part of 24:15, that everybody skips over. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.”

Okay, now Joshua miiiiiiight be using some humor here. If you preface your speech with all the really awesome stuff God has JUST DONE, then say, “Hey, well, if serving Him doesn’t seem good to you, go serve these other gods from the surrounding nations,” do you really think anybody’s gonna go, “Oh yeah, Imma go sacrifice my kids to Ba’al now, nice knowing you, Joshua.” I’m seeing some definite “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, you’re probably an ignorant dumbass” subtext there. Might be just me, but that’s what I’m seeing.

Then you have Joshua, The Leader, declaring his own choice: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Then what? The Israelites are all like, “US TOO! US TOO!” (We’re not ignorant dumbasses, we promise!) Then Joshua goes, PFFFT YOU LOSERS, YOU CAN’T DO IT. Yes, I am so totally paraphrasing there in a humorous fashion not befitting the seriousness of the matter. I did tell you to read the chapter for yourself, I’m not going to go about quoting the whole thing now.

And then the Israelites are like, “Noooooooooo we really mean it! We will!” And Joshua was all, “WITNESS!” And they were like, “YES! Totally on the spot! We promise in a binding fashion!” And then Joshua says, “Now then, throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (See above, wtf they still have foreign gods?! Polytheistic cultures are so weird.) And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” (24:24) And then they did some ceremonial stuff so people wouldn’t just go off and promptly forget and start serving other gods again (which kinda happened anyway, we know).

And that’s the context.

So, when you put a nice little plaque on your wall to declare your household’s allegiance, you’re using the verse in context. When you open a discussion among Christians (usually this is done by an elder, ’round these parts) you’re also using the verse in alignment with its context.

If you use the verse to shut down a debate in a really blatant attempt to pull the Holier Than Thou card, not only are you not using the verse in context, you are doing something that the Bible specifically forbids Christians to do in their arguments with each other.

If you end a discussion with anything to the effect of, “As for ME and MY house, we will serve the Lord,” what’s the implication? Well, in context, what was the other choice? IDOLATRY. Pull the Holier-Than-Thou-I’m-Better-Than-You card with this verse, and congratulations, you’ve just accused another Christian of choosing to follow another god. It’s especially egregious if you’re talking about someone who’s not even under your authority. Joshua had every right to challenge the Israelites as their authority: random guys on the Internet most emphatically do not have the right to impose their interpretation of the Lord’s Will on people they doesn’t even know in person. (Thus the standard disclaimer at the top, because MPAI. I keep forgetting that what is as obvious as the noonday sun on a clear day to me is apparently not obvious to everyone else.)

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:22

So yes – this is the same verse I had in mind in the opening, when I said that my religion prevents me from indulging the temptation to wrath. There’s a cliche’d saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” which is short and trite but encapsulates a difficult concept to put into practice. It seems that it is easy for humanity to paint persons with the repugnance that rightly belongs only to actions, which is why we get instructions on not doing that. 

In case anyone did not read the commentaries at the link (stern look) I will pull out a couple things in particular. First, notice that this is not some kind of detailed list meaning you can go about reviling people as much as you want as long as you don’t use those particular words. The context of the verse makes it eminently clear that what Christ is teaching is that God is concerned with the attitudes of the heart, as opposed to a legalistic view where you could get away with whatever wasn’t explicitly forbidden. (I recall my mother’s lament: “There just aren’t enough things to tell a boy not to do!” whenever one of my young brothers did something that caused trouble.)

Second, the insult “You fool!” doesn’t translate the original concept into English, so if you don’t read the commentaries (or your pastors don’t read the Bible in the original languages) you may miss the point. When the Bible uses “fool,” it doesn’t mean a person of small intellect, or an ignorant person, or one who is unable to think ahead and weigh consequences. “Idiot” is not a synonym for the Biblical use of “fool.” When the Bible uses “fool,” what it means is a deliberately wicked person. 

And that is why I say that the Bible specifically prohibits using Joshua 24:15 in order to shut down debate in a way that implies that the other side is choosing to worship idols. You can disengage from debate without calling another Christian an idolater. It’s possible, I promise. You just have to be willing to accept that people may not always agree with your opinion in every last detail – and if they’re not under your authority, then that’s okay even if you don’t like it.

Related to the modesty issue: I think men often don’t understand that when they make authoritative pronouncements that go beyond Scripture and imply that anyone who disagrees with them is unChristian, they’re essentially telling other men’s wives their husbands are wrong for disagreeing with The Internet Alpha Male, making it more difficult for women to submit to their own husbands and encouraging rebellion and discord in other men’s households. Maybe most writers think that it’s obvious that they aren’t trying to exert authority, but I think the responses to many articles on modesty show clearly that women tend to conflate advice with orders. (Women: stop listening to random people on the internet as if they had authority over you when they’re just giving their own advice. Disengage your listening-to-authority filters. And I say this with the grammatical imperative mood in the hopes that the inherent logical contradiction encapsulated within will make people think about it!)


 

This blog post doesn’t come out of thin air, of course. I’m not going to be wishy-washy like a rabbit and say I’m not talking about Cane Caldo specifically, though I won’t link his blog directly because I’ve banned him from commenting here on these topics and it would be rude to poke him. I’ve seen the same exact behavior in other places and among other people too, and it never ends well, which is why the main point is all about my position on the broader issue as I see it  and not focusing on specific quotes from Cane, whose heart I am not qualified to judge.

Now, of course, somebody might say that I’m being unfair to him and that he wasn’t actually calling a sister in Christ a fool. If that’s your perspective as a member of the audience, I would like to hear it, because if I don’t understand him properly, how can I fix my mistake? I attempted to do this on my own at first. I tried to remember the principle that Not Everything Is About You, and made sure to bring out all the good points that I thought Cane had, trying very hard to be charitable to a brother in Christ whom I had respected. So, if someone noticed that I was using some kind of language that is a coded dog-whistle to some Christians, please let me know. I’m not conversant in evangelical Christianese. My group tends to use words like soteriology in casual conversation. We’re all a HUGE bunch of nerds.

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About pancakeloach

pancakeloach.wordpress.com :)
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