In today’s Bible reading* Joshua challenges God’s covenant people to keep the covenant, to never turn away from God, to reject the gods of the other nations, and to worship the Lord. The people replied, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.” (Joshua 24:24 CSB)
Now, this might sound like yet another mere verbal confession made by stiff-necked people. But there’s more to this confession if we’ll just look.
In this confession, the people promise to worship God. The Hebrew word for worship has several meanings including to worship and to minister to/serve. So just because a word can mean several things doesn’t mean that it does mean any of those things in any situation. We must look at the context to see which definition fits best.
In the context, Joshua challenges to reject the gods of Abraham’s ancestors and the gods of the surrounding nations. He says that they can choose any god they want, but that he and his house will worship the LORD. (Joshua 24:15 CSB)
Why would the CSB and NET translate the word as worship, while the ESV, KJV, NIV, and NLT translate the word as serve? And which translation is best? (note that I didn’t ask which translation is right, but which is best)
Let’s just look at the previous verse. “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua’s challenge for the people to turn their hearts to the Lord reveals the best translation for that Hebrew word. You don’t turn your heart to serve. So the best translation would be to worship.
But you can’t just worship. Worship is a transitive verb. It doesn’t stand alone as a verb; it requires a direct object. You must have something or someone to worship. The people don’t just promise to worship God. They promise to worship the LORD their God. They’re using the covenant-making, covenant-keeping name of God, Yahweh. They’re taking their place in the covenant that was established and kept by God Himself.
It’s in the context of their commitment to the covenant (and their relationship with the God of the covenant) that they also promise to obey Him. Note the order of their commitment: worship then obey. (Joshua 24:24)
It’s important to not rush through your Bible reading so you can get to your next daily task. Sometimes it helps to step back and look at things with a fresh look. It helps to get a fresh taste of what God is saying in a given verse. And oftentimes, it helps to look at a Bible verse in a variety of translations. Comparing translations will help you to better determine the context of a Bible verse so you can best understand what God is saying in His Word.
You don’t have to have a stack of Bibles to thumb through every time you read a single verse. That could get expensive. Trust me, I know! Instead, use technology! Did you know that the free YouVersion Bible App provides over sixty English translations of the Bible? And all of them are free. As in, no charge! You can access YouVersion on the Internet, a smartphone, or a tablet.
I thank God for modern technology and the plethora of translations in my own heart language. The Illuminations Project aims to translate at least part of God’s Word into the heart language of every people group in the world by the year 2033.
Please join me in praying for this joint venture of ten Bible translation organizations that have committed to fulfilling this monumental task.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: