Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Serving Something

One god or another.

Joshua 24:14–15

“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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.”

Note: “the other side of the River,” doesn’t refer to the Jordan River. The River (capitalized) is the great river—the Euphrates. Abraham’s father, Terah, dwelt on the other (northeast) side and served other gods (idols), as noted in Joshua 24:2.

But what’s up with Joshua’s use of the word “evil” here? What could he possibly mean by, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD”? How could that seem evil?

It’s a Hebrew idiom. The Hebrew word is ra (רַ֨ע), and the root word does mean evil. But ra can be translated as bad, disagreeable, distress, misery, injury or calamity. The NIV translates it as, “undesirable,” but that’s too much of a paraphrase. Ra is stronger than that; it’s dreadfully undesirable.

Joshua uses this term deliberately. He’s poking his audience—making the choice stark. It’s a dreadfully serious choice. They can’t take it lightly.

And Joshua pokes them a second time. Not only is the choice serious, it’s unavoidable. They must choose between the LORD and some other god.

Whether they admit it or not, everyone serves a god.

Joshua’s point isn’t just for that time. It’s what Jesus was getting at when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” — Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

People who don’t serve God may not be serving money, but they’re serving something—approval, pleasure, power, etc. And even if they fulfill their dreams, they find no release from their slavery.

Our fallen human nature turns legitimate goals and aspirations into gods that enslave us. The classic example of that is on display in the Hilton Head area where I live—retirement-disappointment.

A great mentor once told me, “It takes three years to get sick of golf.” This doesn’t apply to serious golfers who’ve been playing all their lives, but people who thought they’d find fulfillment in retirement leisure activities are frequently profoundly disappointed. They serve a god who does not deliver.

Many retirees turn to the truth and discover a life full of meaning in service to God, often through charity.

Their long and winding road to the promised land looks a lot like Israel’s.

These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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