Sermon delivered December 29, 2019.
What are fathers good for? In ages past, a father was the pivotal person in a home. The father was head of a sprawling household, which could include servants and slaves and a family business. Whole economies of great nations were built upon households, which were presided over by fathers. The father was important enough that his unexpected death often led to the breaking-up of a household.
Today, the importance of a father seems to have drastically changed. Fathers are good for keeping up with the remote control. Fathers are good for making sure the front door stays shut on hot days so the air conditioner doesn’t work too hard. Fathers are good for noticing the best gas prices. This seems to be what fathers are good for these days, which honestly isn’t much. Feminism, in fact, has been telling women for decades that they don’t need fathers or husbands. Fathers aren’t necessary, I suppose. Now we have a new monster called “gender confusion,” which claims women can be fathers too. So fathers aren’t anything special, I guess.
What are fathers good for? This is a question our passage will answer. May God attend the study of His Word with grace upon grace.
Text: Joshua 24:14-18 (ESV)
“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. And 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. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lordand serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
The main point of our passage is found at the beginning, when Joshua says, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (v.14, emphasis mine). Serve God. This is the primary command of verses 14-28. The word “serve” occurs fourteen times in verses 14-28 (vv.14 [x3], 15 [x4], 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24). I want to give you three qualities of the service we are called to in Joshua 24. Three qualities of serving God.
Three Qualities of Serving God
First, serving God is exclusive. Joshua contrasts serving God with serving false gods. In verse 14, Israel’s fathers served other gods in Egypt until God delivered them (cf. v.17). In verse 15, the choice Joshua gives Israel is among the gods their fathers served, the gods of the Amorites, and the God Who has saved them. So the choice was between God and false gods. Serving God means leaving behind all other gods. Serving God is exclusive.
God is not interested in partial service. God doesn’t just want you on the Lord’s Day: God also wants you on Monday morning driving to work. He doesn’t just want your fingers and toes: He also wants your arms. God doesn’t just want your bedframes and silverware: He also wants your peanut butter and your Christmas tree. Every nook and cranny of our homes must be consecrated to God. There can’t be any part which we say, “God can’t have this: I get to keep this for myself.” God says, “Bury the idols.” Joshua says, “Serve the Egyptian god Horus, or serve the God of Abraham. Serve the Mesopotamian god Baal, or serve the God of Abraham. Serve the American god Money, or serve the God of Abraham.” Serving God is exclusive.
Second, serving God is sacrificial. There is no distinction in the Bible between serving God and worshiping God. Everything we do for the Lord should be an act of worship, where we sacrifice our will upon an altar and say, “God, You get to call the shots in my life.” Paul says in Romans 12 that our bodies should be a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship (v.1). Again in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Serving God is worshiping God. Serving God means offering up your life as a sacrifice to God.
Third, serving God is patriarchal. The word “patriarchy” might leave a bad taste in your mouth. However, patriarch simply refers to male leadership or lordship. The Bible is clear that patriarchy is actually a good thing. This is perhaps most evident when we see how Scripture describes God. He is revealed to us as masculine. “Fear the LORD and serve him” (v.14, emphasis mine; cf. vv.18-20, 22, 24, 27). All theophanies in the Old Testament are of men (e.g. Joshua 5:13-15). We worship God the Father, not god the mother. When God revealed Himself to us on the first Christmas, He chose to place the fullness of deity in a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature, and Jesus is a man, and that is not a coincidence. This man Jesus Christ rules the universe (Acts 2:36), upholds it by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), and will one day judge it (Romans 2:16).
The feminist agenda against patriarchy is like sitting in a submarine and arguing water doesn’t exist. You are at the bottom of the ocean in a small metal tube: water is everywhere. You can complain about patriarchy, but keep in mind you don’t live in your world, you live in God’s world. You are on a planet ruled by the God-man Christ: patriarchy is everywhere. Now there are many abuses of patriarchy. Many men in history have oppressed and abused women. But the answer to oppression is not taking away male leadership. Don’t disband the guards when enemies are at the gates. The answer to oppression is repentance and ultimately the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t need feminism. We need Gospel-drenched men to stand up, like Joshua, and lead their homes to serve Christ.
Our passage is a conversation between patriarchs. Joshua, the head of his household, is speaking to other men who are the heads of their households (v.1; cf. Exodus 18:25-26). When Joshua decides to serve God, he is not only choosing for himself but also for his house (v.15). The Hebrew word translated “house” is bayit. In verse 15, it refers to a household: Joshua’s wife, children, slaves, and anyone else who belonged under his authority. Paul affirms this structure of the home in Ephesians 5.
Now, having seen the goodness and design of patriarchy, what do I mean “serving God is patriarchal?” I mean we need to rejoice and step into God’s design for father-leadership in the home. Serving God is never something we do outside the context of the church or family. Husband, father: you are the head of your household. This is not who you chose to be, it is who you are by nature of your position. You are the patriarch, the paterfamilias, of your household.
What this means is that you are the federal head of the house. You are responsible for everything going on inside the home. If your wife overloads herself with responsibilities, this is your problem, not simply hers. You don’t have the luxury of writing off your wife’s problems as “her business” – no, it’s your business, because you’re responsible for her. If your teenage son has a habit of drinking alcohol, it’s your problem, not simply his. You don’t get to say, “He’s nearly grown, I don’t have to concern myself with that issue.” His issues are your issues, because you’re his steward, his covenant head.
In fact, your authority stems from your responsibility. Patriarchy is not about having the authority to tell your wife to go make a sandwich. That’s silly. That’s like saying being an officer in the Army is about having the authority to tell privates to shine your shoes in the rain. Technically, yes, you have authority, but you have authority for the purpose of leadership, not selfish ambition. You have authority because you will one day have to give an account for how you managed the home. You are the lord of the house who stoops down like a slave to serve and who rises up like a deadly lion to defend. This is patriarchy in the home, and this is a quality of the service Joshua admonishes us towards.
Two Warnings for Serving God
Now, these are three qualities of serving God. Serving God is exclusive, sacrificial, and patriarchal. This is all explained to us in verses 14-15. The rest of our passage, verses 16-28, will issue two warnings about serving God. While we serve God, we should keep at least two precautions in mind.
First, serving God is fruitful (vv.16-20). That doesn’t sound like a warning, but after we understand Joshua’s rebuke in verse 19 my point should become clear. Israel’s response to Joshua sounds encouraging. The patriarchs agree with Joshua how foolish it would be to “forsake the LORDto serve other gods” (v.16). The men conclude in verse 18, “Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” Joshua immediately rebukes them: “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God” (v.19). Joshua saw something in these men which we perhaps cannot see in verses 16-18. He is not speaking in a forensic or absolute sense. He is not speaking like Paul in Romans 3, that no one can perfectly serve God and justify himself (vv.9-20). Joshua is talking about a perfect service that justifies. We know this because Joshua said in verse 15 that he will serve God (v.15). This service, whatever it is, must be possible for Joshua yet impossible for these patriarchs.
The answer is found in verse 20: “If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” The issue is not guilt for imperfect service, but rather judgment for apostacy. Joshua saw the heart of Israel already wanting to turn away from God. So he says, “Listen, if you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, there will be consequences: God will turn and do you harm.” Notice that the men Joshua spoke to said they would serve God because He had done great things for them, not because He was a holy God to be feared. That’s why Joshua says God may do them harm after doing them good.
These men misinterpreted God’s blessings. They thought God’s blessings meant they were special, not that God was gracious. They saw the mighty acts God performed for them and they thought, “Man, we must be something special. We are the chosen people of God, the offspring of Abraham. Of course we will serve God, He brought us out of slavery in Egypt; He performed great signs and preserved us; He drove out the people of Canaan and gave their land to us (vv.16-18). Of course we will serve God!” Joshua sees this attitude and says, “No, you don’t understand. God is not blessing you because you’re important. He’s blessing you because He’s gracious and wants to glorify Himself through you. If you leave Him, He will stop blessing you.” Israel presumed upon the blessings of God, which put them at risk of losing those blessings through apostacy. God’s blessings were meant to humble Israel towards obedience, as He makes plain in verse 13: “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.”
Men, as patriarchs we should learn a lesson from Israel’s failure. Do not presume upon the blessings of God. Do not assume God will bless your home simply because you want Him to, or because you think He should, or because you call your home “Christian.” Does your household serve the living God? Do you fear the Lord? That’s what Joshua called these men to in verse 14, remember: “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him” (emphasis mine). Fearing God means respecting Him above all else. Fearing God comes before obedience (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and blessing (Proverbs 14:26-27). Where there is no fear of God, there is godlessness (Romans 3:18; cf. 10-17). The concrete slab beneath every Christian house is the fear of God. Is your house build upon this foundation? When you plan a weekly schedule for the family, is God at the top of your agenda? Is God above baseball and ballet? Does God have the final say in how the home is governed, in what rules you put in your home? If your family does not fear God then your family does not serve God, and you, the patriarch, are responsible for seeing that this problem is addressed.
The consequence of failing to address this problem is grave, and pay attention because this is where the warning of “fruitful” will be explained. If we as patriarchs apostatize and forsake God, then He will not forgive our sins (Joshua 24:19), which includes our children’s. Now remember, Joshua is speaking in a general sense. He’s talking about apostacy. He isn’t saying you can unjustify yourself, he’s saying you may prove yourself to be unjustified and then convince your children to never come to Christ in faith and be justified. He’s referring to what happened to Israel only a few decades later. These men covenanted to serve the Lord and verse 31 says they “served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.” However, Judges 2:6-10 reveals a terrible reality. Though these men served God, their children forsook God.
The men of Israel were faithful individuals but unfaithful patriarchs. They worshiped God on their own but they failed to teach their children to worship God. And that, brothers, is the cost of your unfaithfulness. Failed patriarchy brings generational curses. We must realize as a church that serving God bears fruit, but there is no promise the fruit will always be good. If you serve God faithfully, the fruit is life and joy and blessing and grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy. If you serve God unfaithfully, the fruit is death. Your leadership will cause generational ripples, either ripples of blessing or ripples of cursing. The family tree that has yet to grow is forming a great cloud of witnesses to watch in anticipation for what choices you will make. Will you lead your family to serve the Lord? It’s not enough to say, “As for me, I will serve the Lord.” That’s what these men said, and their children forsook God. You must say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So that’s the first warning: serving the Lord is fruitful.
Second, you need to be aware that serving the Lord is binding (vv.21-28). After Joshua’s rebuke, the men of Israel insist upon making a commitment to serve God (v.21). So Joshua affirms their commitment but adds, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him” (v.22). Joshua calls the men witnesses and then leans a large stone against the terebinthtree to serve as a second witness (vv.26-27). The point is that Israel’s choice is the kind of choice that is witnessed. This is the kind of choice you can’t get away from, the kind of choice that you can’t lie about later. Once Israel makes this commitment, they can’t pretend like they never did. The decision is permanent, binding, and everlasting.
Men, our commitment to God is the same. If you say, “My household will serve God,” you better make good on that promise, because God will hold you to it. Do not be like the patriarchs Joshua spoke to, who made a covenant with God with empty words. Serve God as if there is no “Plan B.” Lead your home to worship God as if there is just no other option. If you want to dance with the devil and make your home a pig sty of sin, then go out and do it. But if you come in this sanctuary, to worship the living God, to declare amongst the assembly that your house fears the Lord, then don’t kid yourself. Dispense with the halfhearted efforts. Go all in or pull completely out. Serve the Lord as if the rocks outside your front door will speak against you if you forsake Him. Serve the Lord as if there is no escaping the commitment. Serve the Lord as if the choice is binding, because it is, and you will beheld accountable. So this is the second warning: serving the Lord is binding.
Regarding our responsibility to serve God, I have given you three qualities and two warnings. Together, these points paint a picture of household service in Joshua 24. Now with this picture in mind, think again about what fathers are good for. It is supposed by some that fathers are not good for much, but Joshua 24 teaches us otherwise. Fathers, far from being guardians of simply the remote control, are guardians of the entire home. Fathers are so important their faithfulness can bless a family for generations and their unfaithfulness can curse a family for generations. Fathers are divinely appointed stewards of the household and we simply cannot do without them. When a nation, a society, a culture, or a church, loses fatherhood, it quickly prepares itself for destruction. A father is the pivotal person in any home. So as we enter a new year, men, let us consider how we can more faithfully step into our responsibilities.
Exhortation: Wives and Children
I want to exhort everyone concerning these matters. Wives, whether or not you think your husband has done a good job at leading your home, the fact stands that God has placed him in the home to lead. Today would be a good day to think about whether or not you are helping him fulfill this call to lead. God gave Eve to Adam as a helpmeet, and that great calling is your calling. Now over the past few minutes, you may have compiled a list of ways your husband needs to change, things you would get done if you were the head of the home. I want to encourage you to put that list out of your mind and instead make a list of ways you can help your husband serve the Lord. His task is a monumental one, as I have explained: a task of generational weight. Encourage and help him in his work. The Holy Spirit will convict your husband of sin, but you’re not the Holy Spirit. You are a woman, created in the image of God, with your own honor and glory. You have your own set of responsibilities that you also do not perfectly fulfill. Give your husband grace, pray for him, and put your hand to your own plow, not his.
Children, there is no greater gift you can give your father than respect and honor. When your father wants to lead the family a certain way, the best thing you can do is say, “Yes sir.” God says if you honor your parents, you will be blessed (Ephesians 6:1-3). Also, you should never expect your father to be perfect. You may have a good earthly father, or you may have an earthly father who has hurt you. Children, you should know that there is a heavenly Father Who will never leave you or forsake you. Your Father in heaven is good and just, and you can always trust Him. So obey your daddy, and always lean on God the Father in Heaven.
Now, in closing, let me speak to the men one more time. I want to address two concerns which may cause you to hesitate. First, you may be overwhelmed by the high calling of manhood which Joshua presents for us, which I have clarified for you. Listen: God made you for the fight and He will see you through to the end – so be encouraged. God made men for hard things, for battles and warfare. So do not cower before the daunting task of being the head of your home: step into it nobly, knowing God made you for hard fights like this one. But also, keep in mind God has promised to see you through to the end. Jesus Christ is the Savior: do your best and then rest in His rich grace. Point your family to Christ when you fail, and direct your own eyes up to Jesus, and never, ever think that your performance as a father decides whether or not God is pleased with you. God is pleased with you because Jesus Christ died in your place and gave you His righteousness. God is pleased with you, therefore you should feel liberty to serve God enthusiastically as the head of your home.
The second concern you may have has to do with shame – namely, you may understand how things need to change in the home and you may be willing to do it, but you are embarrassed to start. If you start leading your home to fear God, you’ll have to admit that you’ve been doing it wrong. That’s quite embarrassing and it doesn’t feel honorable. It doesn’t feel noble to tell someone you have been wrong. I think, on this point, we can learn a lesson from Jacob. Hundreds of years before Joshua brought patriarchs to Shechem, Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, brought his family to Shechem. Jacob had lived a less-than-honorable life and had tolerated idols in the family. However, there came a point in Genesis 35 when Jacob changed his habits.
Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.Genesis 35:2-4
Jacob had not done a good job of leading his family to serve the Lord, but at Shechem he repented. At Shechem, he stood up and said, “We need to change things.” Now what is your impression of Jacob at this point? Was it a shameful or a noble thing Jacob did? Indisputably, this was a noble deed. This was arguably Jacob’s finest hour. Well men, changes in your home can be just the same. Do not fall to the temptation of thinking repentance is dishonorable or shameful. Repentance is never shameful, and your family could think of nothing more joyful than for you to lead them in fearing the Lord. Your household could not be happier than to see you stand up with Joshua and declare, “This world may choose to serve foreign gods, this world may choose to serve idols, but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
 Also in verse 2, Abraham served other gods until the one true God took and led him.
 Feminism argues male lordship in the world is evil because it oppresses women. Mary Wollstonecraft made this argument very cunningly in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She wrote, “To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different character” (Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [London: Penguin Books, 1992], 100). Notice how she weaves together the two threads of tyranny and difference. First, she points to “the tyranny of man.” This is something everyone can sympathize and agree with: tyranny is wicked and evil. We don’t want men abusing women. Then she points to the idea men and women express virtue differently, and she ties this to tyranny. So if you hate tyranny, you obviously must hate the idea men and women have different expressions of piety. However, when we come back to Scripture (which is always a good idea), we quickly realize God created man male and female, and these two genders express themselves differently in the world. Virtue in a woman will look different than virtue in a man, because God created us different. The original argument of feminism, as demonstrated by Wollstonecraft, is to lump together male lordship with male oppression. Once you link leadership with oppression, you have a foundation for arguing against leadership. The word “patriarchy” leaves a bad taste in our mouths, but that’s only because feminism has infused the evils of abuse and oppression with the word “patriarchy.”