For the LORD will rise up as at Mount Parazim, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon, to do His task, His unusual task, and to work His work, His extraordinary work. Isaiah 28:21 NASB
To work His work – “As for me and my house.” Joshua’s often-quoted declaration makes his commitment clear. Perhaps it’s worth noting that it includes his entire house. Joshua says that he and his family will serve the Lord. The Hebrew verb is, of course, avad. Joshua is going to work for God. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the Israelites do. He knows where he must labor.
Of course, avad also means worship. Joshua’s family will not only work under the Lord’s banner, they will also worship Him – and no other. Joshua’s work is godly worship.
And then we come to Isaiah. YHWH Himself declares that He will avod avodato (work His work) but this time His work will be utterly alien. It will not be what the people expect. This time the work will be nokriya avodato (foreign work). Joshua made a commitment to work/worship the Lord. YHWH now makes a pledge to bring about the unimaginable – to bring about the destruction of Israel at the hands of its enemies. How is this possible? Hasn’t YHWH made an unbreakable vow with Israel? Does He not exclaim, “Ephraim, how can I give you up?” (Hosea 11:8).
Once more we are confronted with a Near Eastern worldview. What God does defines what is good. There is no external standard that He too must meet. He is the standard. His actions are always good. So when He turns Israel over to its enemies, He is doing what is good. His work is self-glorification. It is making His name hallowed. It is foreign and alien from Israel’s perspective, but not from God’s. His purposes are served. He is worshipped. When Joshua declared that he and his household would work/worship the Lord, he did not mean that he would ascribe to some ethical principle that would insure proper behavior and civility. He did not mean that he would practice appropriate rituals and maintain holy attitudes. He meant that he would do whatever YHWH asked of him because YHWH’s will was his only concern. Centuries later God has to remind His people that His will is still their only concern. When the people stood in front of Joshua and declared that they were witnesses to their commitment, they had no idea that one day their witness would involve such severe chastisement. They could not have imagined that God would use their enemies to bring about His purposes.
But we should know. We should not be surprised to discover the YHWH will avod avodato on us in the same way if necessary. Work isn’t always wonderful from our point of view. Sometimes it seems like a destructive force, tearing us into pieces. We simply lack the perspective to see the whole. God works the work of His purposes, and sometimes that means the work of destruction, the work that makes us wonder if God really cares about us. Sometimes we forget that what He does is always good. That’s when we need to remember Joshua and Isaiah – and then get on with what we are called to do next.
Topical Index: work, worship, serve, avad, Joshua 24:15, Isaiah 28:21, Hosea 11:8