1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:1-9 ESV
What do you do when your mentor and friend has died, the man who led your entire nation out of captivity in Egypt? And what if you’ve been tapped by God to act as his replacement and somehow lead the people of Israel in a Don Quixote-like quest to take over a land inhabited by nations that have no plans of being evicted? Welcome to the world of Joshua.
What we have recorded in the opening verses of this book is a changing of the guard, as the leadership of God’s people, the Israelites, is shifted from Moses to Joshua. Moses, the great emancipator of God’s people, the man who stood face-to-face with Pharaoh and brought the ten plagues on the people of Egypt, has died. Now Joshua is being commissioned by God to assume leadership over the people and to take responsibility for leading them into the land of Canaan. Sounds simple enough. And, initially, God almost makes it seem as if it was going to be a walk in the park.
“…arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them.” – Joshua 1:2 ESV
And God reemphasizes to Joshua that the land is a gift to be received. He is giving it to them.
“Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” – Joshua 1:3 ESV
Then God gives Joshua a very clear description of the exact territory He has in mind. He leaves nothing up to the imagination. And then He assures Joshua yet again, “all the land…shall be your territory” (Joshua 1:4 ESV).
But notice what God does next. He bolsters Joshua’s courage. He goes out of His way to assure this obviously reluctant leader that he is up to the task. But not because Joshua is a good leader with all the right credentials and appropriate leadership skills. The key to Joshua’s success would not be based on his abilities, but on the presence and power of God in his life. The assignment being handed to Joshua by God was formidable and, if the truth be known, he was not up to the task. And no one knew that better than God. Which is why He told His newly commissioned leader: “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5 ESV). Those words had to have been a huge relief to Joshua. He would not be alone. Moses was dead, but the God of Moses was not. Yahweh was alive and well, and ready to walk beside His chosen instrument, every step of the way. And this was not the first time Joshua had heard these words. Moses had told Joshua the very same thing.
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:7-8 ESV
But this time, Joshua was hearing these reassuring words directly from the mouth of God Himself. And the assurance of God’s presence and power were to produce in Joshua strength and courage. God commands him to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6 ESV). In fact, God says it two more times, repeating it again in verses 7 and 9, and adding the addendum, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Strength, courage, fearlessness and steadfastness. Those were to be the characteristics that marked Joshua’s life. But notice their source. They are to based on God’s power, not Joshua’s. It was the persistent presence of God that was to produce these qualities in Joshua’s life. He could have strength because his God was strong. He could show courage in the face of opposition, because his God stood before him. He could act fearlessly because his God was with him. And he could remain unshaken by any and all circumstances because his feet stood firmly planted on the rock-solid foundation of God Almighty.
But God added one important caveat that must not be overlooked. Yes, He would be with Joshua and He would be a constant source of strength and security. But Joshua must do his part.
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:7 ESV
Not only was Joshua to be courageous, he was to be careful. He was to observe the law given by God to Moses. And that obedience was to apply to all the people under his care. But it began with Joshua. He set the example, providing those under his leadership with a visible and tangible model of willful obedience to the law of God.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” – Joshua 1:8 ESV
God would be with Joshua. His constant presence was a promise. But it was important that Joshua prove that he was with God. Through obedience to the will of God as revealed through the law of God, Joshua would give evidence that He trusted God. God was not commanding Joshua to worship the law. He was not suggesting that obedience to the law would be the key to Joshua’s success as a leader. But Joshua’s relationship with the law would reflect how he thought about God. Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). The apostle John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3 ESV).
The law had been given to Moses by God. It was a gift from God to the people of Israel. In it, God revealed not only His will regarding the manner by which they were to live their lives, but He exposed to them His very character. By meditating on the law of God, Joshua would be discovering the truth about God. And by obeying the law of God, Joshua would be revealing his knowledge of and love for God. Again, the apostle John provides us with insight into the role between our relationship with the law and that of God.
Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. – 1 John 3:24 NLT
Joshua could be strong and courageous, not only because God was with him, but because he had the law of God to guide and direct him. By spending time thinking about the law of God, Joshua would come to know the God of the law. He would grow in his knowledge of God’s character and in his love for God’s holiness and righteousness.
The days ahead were going to be filled with difficulty. Leading the people of God was not going to be easy. Taking over a land inhabited by people who had no intentions of giving up without a fight was going to be anything but easy. But Joshua had everything he needed. He was assured of the constant, unwavering presence of God. He had been promised access to the power of God. And he had been provided with the law of God to guide, direct and protect him.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.