Why did Joshua challenge the nation of Israel in the midst of the covenant renewal? Before we get into the challenge Joshua gave to Israel inverse 15, it is important that vs. 14 is properly understood. Joshua is issued a challenge, but what does this challenge really man and why is it important that he gave it?
Vs. 14 starts with the concept of fear. “’Therefore, fear the Lord…’”. The word that is used in this case is the Hebrew is yare. This word has several meanings, but when used in conjunction with a reference to God, it is meant as sense of reverence and respect. It was a fear that would cause Israel to fully recognize God as the beginning and the source for all of life. Joshua then moves to call Israel to 2 actions based on that fear. First, he calls them to “‘worship him in sincerity and truth.'” This worship is no ordinary religious activity, but sincere devoted supplication to God. This leads to the second action:
“‘Get rid of the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord.'” (vs. 14b)
Israel needed to make God their only god. All other gods were to be abandoned. The God of Israel, feared as the source of their identity and strength, was to be alone worshipped. No other entities were to take His place. This left no in between options. Serve God, or don’t.
In vs. 15, Joshua takes this decision from the communal, to the personal.
“‘But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship — the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living?'” (vs. 15a)
It came down for each member of the nation of Israel to make this covenant. Not only was the nation, as a whole, making this covenant, but the individuals, in their hearts, needed to make this commitment. The commitment of the nation was irrelevant if the individual members of the nation did not also choose to commit to the covenant.
Capping this commitment and serving as a leader and role model to the nation, Joshua then declares his own personal commitment.
“‘As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.’” (vs. 15b)
There was no ambiguity where Joshua stood with the covenant. This propelled the individuals in Israel to follow his lead in vss. 16-18.
Strong leaders inspire followers. This is a simple and maybe obvious observation. However, it is important to understand the power in that. A dictator can be a strong leader and lead his or her followers into evil activity. A strong military leader can lead his or her soldiers into the face of death. Strong leaders can inspire their followers to move in a direction that they might not otherwise take. In the case of strong leaders who have a more righteous spirit, the followers can do enormous good. Take for example the leadership of Franklin Graham under his ministry Samaritan’s Purse. Through his leadership, members of that organization have helped thousands of people who are in crisis all over the world. His strong leadership leads members of the ministry to go where they might not otherwise go, and serve those who are in distress, serving their immediate needs in the name of Jesus.
When Joshua brought the nation of Israel together after the taking of the promised land, he did something very unique. He personalized the covenant renewal. He was a leader who was called by God to renew the covenant the nation had with God. Yahweh would be their God, and the Nation would have no other gods before Him and obey only Him. But Joshua, being a very astute leader, knew that he would need to personalize this covenant by challenging each individual in the nation to make that covenant. And being a good leader, he publicly declared his own personal decision. The nation of Israel, as a nation and as individual, followed his leadership.
I think about this in my leadership roles. As a father and a husband, I need my wife and kids to know that as for me, I will serve the Lord. By being that example to them, by being that leader in my household, by making my decision to serve God known, I am inspiring them in their own individual walks with God. In my workplace as a manager, when I conduct myself with integrity and honesty, when I show compassion to my colleagues and customers, and when I make known that I am a follower of Christ, I am inspiring those around me. They need to decide for themselves how they want to live. My kids need to choose their own lives and how they want to live. However, when I am being a strong leader, I am making that choice personal. I am leaving no middle ground.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible: New International Version (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub., ©1996), 1950.
 Larry Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, ©1985), 274-75.