When I was in the Navy in 1979, I got word that Bob Dylan had converted to Christianity. As it turns out, it was a short-lived, and therefore, false conversion. But during his “spiritual” period, Dylan released an album called Slow Train Coming and one of the top songs from the album was “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Dylan’s chorus went:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes;
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
I can’t read the last chapter of Joshua without thinking about that Dylan song. Joshua assembles the nation and it’s leaders and speaks on behalf of God to the people. When you read Joshua 24:3-13, there is simply no doubt as to the identity of the power behind the nation: it is God himself. Note: I took your father Abraham and I gave him Isaac; to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau and I gave the hill country of Seir to Esau; I sent Moses; I defeated Egypt; I brought you out; I brought the sea over them; I brought you to the land; I handed them over to you; I rescued you from Balaam; I handed the Canaanites over to you; I drove out the Amorite kings. And then the kicker: It was not by your sword or bow. I gave you a land you did not labor for, and cities you did not build, though you live in them; you are eating from vineyards and olive groves you did not plant. Pretty clear, wouldn’t you say?
But now we get down to brass tacks. Joshua pulls out his boombox and starts playing Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship – the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.
Now, the people all replied that they would worship God. Joshua voiced his doubts and then held a covenant renewal ceremony, setting up a stone as a witness to the profession of the nation to follow Yahweh. When we get to Judges, we will find things didn’t go too well for very long after Joshua’s death.
But Joshua was right and in this case, so was Dylan – you gotta serve somebody. This is just another way of saying that we are all worshipers. It isn’t a matter of whether we will worship, but who or what we will worship. If you were to take a sneak peek into their tents as the Israelites gathered before Joshua, you might find the gods of Egypt, or Canaan, or from beyond the Euphrates. Perhaps they were hedging their bets. Perhaps they thought a little syncretism (mixing) couldn’t hurt. Maybe they thought they could worship Yahweh and hold these other gods in reserve. As horrible as this sounds, our lives aren’t terribly different. If someone came into your home, they would probably find your fall-back gods (entertainment, material goods, rampant sexuality). Joshua told the people to make a choice and informed them that he and his family had already chosen for God. Every day we need to make a choice to seek and worship God alone, to love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, to have undivided devotion to him. After all he has done for us, is there any other appropriate response?
You gotta serve somebody. Let it be the Lord!