In the second segment of Joshua’s speech, in verses 14-24, Joshua reflected on God’s kindnesses with a call to loyalty and a warning of consequences for failure. And, like Moses in Exodus 19, 24, Joshua expected and received responses from the people. This segment divides into three calls and responses.
The first call and response appears in verses 14-18. In verse 14, Joshua exhorted the Israelites to “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” Then he explained that the first step toward this end was for the Israelites to “put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt.” Following this, in verse 15, he told them to “choose this day whom you will serve.” Despite the fact that Joshua had warned against idolatry in his speech in chapter 23, the Israelites still had idols among them. And now, Joshua insisted that God required them to reject all false gods by ridding themselves of every idol. And Joshua set the example by saying those well-known words of 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
This theme of serving God was so important to Joshua that he used the word “serve,” or “abad” (עָבַד) in Hebrew, sixteen times in this chapter. And in verses 16-18, Israel responded positively to Joshua’s call by expressing their commitment to serve God. As we read in verse 18, the people answered, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
The second call and response appears in verses 19-22. In verse 19, Joshua challenged the assembly by saying, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” Now, Joshua didn't mean here that Israel was unable to serve the Lord and that God would not forgive their rebellion and sins in all times and circumstances. Rather, he focused on the fact that they could not recommit to serving God and receiving God’s blessings until they removed their idols. Although God had patiently overlooked this sin in the past, he would do so no longer. As Joshua warned in 24:20, continuing to serve idols would result in the terrible consequence that God would, “turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” Happily, after the people heard this dreadful warning, they responded in 24:21 saying, “No … we will serve the Lord.”
The third call and response appears in verses 23, 24. Having received positive responses from the people in verses 18, 21 and 22, Joshua reaffirmed, in verse 23, that the first outward act of renewed loyalty to God was to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord.” And Israel replied in verse 24, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”