When Joshua asked the Israelites to choose if they would serve the Lord by obedience to his commands under the law (See Joshua 24) they responded by saying, “Yes, WE WILL serve the Lord.”
However, if you read this chapter a little further on you will see how Joshua responds to that very bold statement.
“No YE CANNOT SERVE THE LORD!” he said.
What Joshua meant was that because God is holy and just and punishes sin, and man being a sinner, he is unable to serve God by the standard of God’s holiness. ( vrs. 19,20 )
The Israelites however, just ignore what Joshua is trying to tell them. They insist that they can measure up and obey the Lord in their own ability, after all they have a “free will” you know.
“No, but we will serve and obey the Lord.” the Israelites insist.
“Well, says Joshua, you know that God will punish you if you fail to keep all his commands that he gave Moses, don’t you?”
The Israelites instead of falling on their faces and admitting their sinfulness they take up their own righteousness, ” We can do it, yes we can!” they claim. Sound familiar to you? A lot like that motivational hype we hear in the world that has crept into churches in these last days.
But what does Joshua do next? Well, something quite interesting actually. He takes a great big stone and sets it under an oak tree near the sanctuary. What significance has this? Well, let me tell you. First of all we know that Jesus is the corner stone who has witnessed the oath. He takes note of the Israelites vow to keep ALL God’s commands. Right their in the old testament !
In scriptures the oak tree represents Israel who are under the law. Jesus who is the great corner stone rejected by his people Israel brings this from Isaiah in the temple. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” Isaiah 61:1–3
In Romans chapter 9 we find that the “children of the Promise” the Israelites, stumbled at the stumbling stone. What does this mean exactly? Well, if you go back to Joshua 24 you will find that Joshua said to the Israelites,” Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.”
Then the Israelites responded by saying in effect that WE WILL CHOOSE TO OBEY THE LAWS OF GOD. Now keep in mind that Joshua offered them the law to reveal their sin because he also said “offer your hearts to the Lord.”
If the heart is desperately wicked as the bible says then the heart that is wicked is not able to keep God’s law now is it? Putting away of our “gods” is the first step in coming to Christ. What are our gods? Anything that is self orientated, including our “I WILL CHOOOSE TO OBEY THE LAW.” as in the case of the Israelites who continue to this day, preferring the law to GRACE.
“And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.”
Now, read on to find what was the stumbling stone that tripped Israel up? “And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of THE LAW OF GOD, and took A GREAT STONE, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold THIS STONE shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God. So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.”
According to the NT the stone that the builders rejected are those who, like the Israelites are trying to build their own way to heaven. They can choose to serve God and keep his laws. They don’t need to give their hearts to the Lord, or do they?
“This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” Acts 4:11
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner.” Psalm 118:22
You cannot “choose” to serve God for in doing so you have put your own righteousness in the equation. Vessels of mercy are those whom the Lord plants. They are trees of righteousness, HIS righteousness. Set free from sin to serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the old man, the self sufficient guy, who died and was buried with Christ at baptism.
Romans 9 says that RIGHTEOUSNESS IS OF FAITH unto all who believe (Jew or Gentile) and that the law is a stumbling stone in receiving Jesus Christ. The law shows us that we are sinners and so we are either going to respond by humbly saying,”Be merciful to me a sinner” or “I WILL CHOOSE to serve you God, under the law.”
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and allthe world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:19-28
So if we continue to try to be justified and made righteous by the law we are not under grace because the scriptures say that those under law stumble at the corner stone…JESUS CHRIST…preferring their own righteousness under the law in their own human ability rather than a heart conversion of the Holy Spirit.