(Joshua 23:1-16) Time has a way of changing things. This may be especially true of our memories. Ever notice how different your recollections are from those of a brother or sister with whom, for years, you shared a house and meals and vacations? I wrote a book for my children entitled Red Birds, Cherry Trees and BB Guns. In it I told stories of what it was like when I was growing up. In the forward I placed the disclaimer, “These are the events as I remember them.” Passing time clouds memories.
Some memories change over time, some fade, and some simply drift away. This is the danger of time and remembering. But there are some things too vitally important to allow time to cast shadows over them. It is with this understanding that Joshua again challenges his people. The challenge is found in the twenty-third chapter of his book and begins with the words: “A long time after the LORD had given Israel rest from all the enemies around them, Joshua was old, getting on in years. So Joshua summoned all Israel” (vv.1-2).
Did you catch the expressions of passing time? Long after, was old, and getting on in years, all indicators that time had moved on. Connected to these words were the aged leader’s concerns. So Joshua called the people together, especially the leaders. Years before he did this when it was time for the tribes living east of the Jordan River to go home. Now it seems that Joshua was concerned that it was soon his time to go.
The purpose of the assembly was two-fold. First he wanted them to remember. Then he wanted the Israelites to do something with their memories. What did he want them to recall? Listen to this list: “you have seen for yourselves everything the LORD your God did…it was the LORD your God who was fighting for you” (v.3); concerning the remaining battles “the LORD your God will force them back (v.4) because “the LORD your God promised you” (v.5). He continues, “The LORD your God has driven out great and powerful nations” (v.9). All great memories.
But there were also memories that would serve as warnings: “know for certain that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out before you…until you disappear from this good land the LORD your God has given you” (v.13). Warnings indeed.
But Joshua closed with the best of all; he wants the people to place this one deep in their memory: “I am going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises that the LORD your God made to you has failed.” (v.14)
Memories, bringers of warmth and warnings. We need them to keep us secure in our walk with Christ and to guide us when that journey is long. It is easy to remember yesterday’s lessons; it is essential to remember them when yesterday was 10,000 days ago.
What was the purpose of Joshua’s walk through Israel’s past? Listen again to his words. Because of all God did for them (vv.3-5) they must “be strong and continue obeying all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you will not turn from it to the right or left and so that you do not associate with these nations remaining among you. Do not call on the names of their gods or make an oath to them. Instead remain faithful to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.” (vv.6-9)
He continues with what Israel was to do because of all that God did for them, “be very diligent to love the LORD your God for your own well-being” (v.11). And if the people forget? “For if you turn away and cling to the rest of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry or associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out before you. They will become a snare and a trap for your, a scourge for your sides and thorns for your eyes, until you disappear from this good land that the LORD your God has given you.” (vv.12-13)
Strong words of warning at a time when they really didn’t need them. One hot summer day in Texas, my little girl crawled in to see me. She wanted me to pick her up so she pulled up on a gas wall heater and grabbed my leg. My first reaction was to pick up a hair brush and swat her on the hand. I pointed at the heater she held to and said, “No!” Her momma heard her crying and came running. I explained, she responded, “But it’s summer and the heater’s not even on.” To which I replied, “But it will be in a few weeks.” Someday the Israelites, like my girl, would need to remember. The seed of the memory of the warning had been planted.
Memories, they warm us and warn us and we need them. Passing time clouds them though. What must we do? Practice remembering. Go back through time and relive all that the Lord your God has done for you; His protection and provision, guidance and discipline, care and cuddling, remember them all.
Then take those memories and remember why you need them. The world is constantly battling for our bodies and minds. But if you are a Christian those parts of you belong to Jesus. You have been bought with a great price the Scripture says. That price was Jesus’ life for yours. Remember that often. Jesus gave us what is called the Lord’s (or Last) Supper, Communion, and with it He says, “In as often as you do this, do it in memory of Me.”
Take time today, find a quiet place, and remember. Then as you get up from you pondering go and do whatever it was the Lord, through those memories, has told you to do.