That’s the famous part of the verse, so to speak, but let’s look at the whole thing:
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, then choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the god of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15
Joshua is coming to the end of his life. If I have my math right (and I’m not certain about some of the timelines), he’s old enough to have been a slave (or at least a child of slaves) in Egypt. He would have witnessed the twelve plagues. He and his family took care of a special lamb for a week before his father, Nun, slaughtered it and put the blood on the doorposts of their house on the night of the Passover. He walked across the Red Sea on dry land. He was one of the 12 spies sent into the Promised Land when the Israelites first arrived there, and he was one of only two of them (the other was Caleb) who trusted the Lord to conquer the people who were currently living there.
After wandering in the desert for 40 years (during which time all of his friends except Caleb died – everyone at least 20 years old at the beginning of the wandering), he found himself back at the entrance to the Promised Land, and this time he was able to cross over the river with the people and enter in. By the time the passage above was spoken, he had led the people through many battles and seen the Lord work in mighty ways. He had been proven right in what he said about the Lord those many years ago when he returned from that spy mission: God was fully capable of giving them the land that He had promised them.
But he had also witnessed the people wavering back and forth in their trust in the Lord. He had even seen them create new gods out of gold – all this in spite of the many miracles they had witnessed first-hand. He knew their propensity to wander from the Lord.
So he asks them to choose, once and for all.
Does he say, “are you going to believe in God or not?” No.
Does he say, “are you going to serve God or not serve anyone/anything at all?” No.
He tells them to choose whom they will serve. He knew that they would be serving someone. (We’re all serving someone, no matter how independent we may feel.)
I find the choices he gives them to be quite interesting: “whether the gods that your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” Would they go back to the way things used to be? Would they just be absorbed into their current culture? Or would they move forward with the Lord?
We face the same choices. Will we hold on to the way things used to be – not out of a desire to maintain timeless truths but simply to avoid change? Will be just be absorbed into our current culture where there is no absolute truth? Or will we move forward with the Lord, trusting Him to provide and guide, even if that means we stand out from the crowd?
We’re going to serve – that’s a given. We’re going to bow down to something or someone – we were created to, and for, worship. The only question is to whom or to what we will submit.
Choose this day whom you will serve.