In that famous Christian calendar verse, Joshua is remembered for his courageous stand at the end of his life, proclaiming that he and his household would serve the Lord. But prior to doing that, in the same breath, he called out his contemporary Israelites for their idolatry. He urged them to choose between the Lord and the gods their fathers served in Egypt or the gods they have had begun to serve in the land of Canaan.
This really is quite striking. Many of the people who had been delivered out of Egypt by the ten plagues and through the sea, brought Egyptian idols with them, and then having been led through the wilderness fed by miraculous bread out of heaven for forty years and led by Joshua over the Jordan to conquer Canaan, beginning with the miraculous destruction of Jericho, many of the same people had taken up Canaanite idols. And these were all the relatively good Israelites that God had not destroyed for their various rebellions.
Paul wrote the Corinthians and said that these things were written down specifically for Christians who would be tempted to think they were immune to idols (1 Cor. 10). One way to think about these various idols would be the idols from before our conversion to Christ and the idols that we pick up after our conversion to Christ: the idols of Egypt and the idols of Canaan.
An idol is anything that God made that we have tried to refashion as a means of getting some gift, some peace, or some pleasure apart from God’s blessing or design.
So what might those be?
Like the man tormented in the tombs, their name is Legion.
How about the idol of respectability? The idols of being liked, having friends, being thought well of, success. Closely related to this would be idols of comfort: finding your peace in a comfortable home, job, income level, clothing, health. Or what about the idol of pleasure: the Israelites of old lusted for food and drink and sex, trying to find joy and peace in these things rather than the God of all joy and peace. C.S. Lewis said that we are far too easily pleased with things like drink and sex. We’re like a little kid who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.
But in the presence of God there is fullness of joy; at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).