I have a new hero about whom I cannot write. But what I can say is this: he is my hero, because he chose the harder way. He chose to follow Jesus even though there was a lot of pressure (and gunshots!) to fall back into his former way of living.
In my conversation with this gentleman he pretty much summarized what the apostles have been saying all along: “How can I who have died to sin still live in it?” It would have been easier for him to go back to his old-lifestyle, but he chose to be faithful to God.
I don’t know if you have ever been in a similar situation; a situation where you were tempted to go back to “your former ways of living” – a life without God. Have you ever asked yourself: Why are we doing all this? Why do we come together as church? Why not living in a way which is “easier”? We would have no or at least less ridicule, persecution, suffering, and hardships. Why should we be faithful to God when it can be so hard?
In our text for today we find Joshua struggling with a similar situation. Here is Joshua now on the border of the Promised Land. But before we will actually look at the text; we might need to remember who Joshua is and where we are in Israel’s history. Who is this Joshua?
Joshua first appeared in the Bible as a warrior (Exod 17:9–13), he went with Moses onto Mt. Sinai (Exod 24:13; 32:15–18), he served at the tent of meeting (Exod 33:11; cf. Acts 7:44–45); but one of the major episodes for which he is remembered is found in Numbers 13-14 where the secret agents are sent out to spy out the land of Canaan. Here Joshua (with Caleb) is the only faithful spy. They are the only ones trusting in the mighty hand of God; and it is here Joshua is actually renamed. His original name was Hoshea. This renaming is significant because Hoshea means “salvation” which is very generic, yet Joshua means “The LORD/YHWH is salvation” something quite specific. We can see something similar in Acts 16:17 where the slave girl calls out that Paul and his co-workers know “a way of salvation” – to which Paul gets somewhat annoyed! It is not very different from today where we can speak of God fairly free; but once you mention Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation you are going to have a lot more difficult discussions.
This Joshua then, was the apprentice and successor of Moses. The question which raises itself in the book of Joshua is: Will he be worthy? Or said differently: Will he be able to lead the people of Israel as that spiritual giant Moses did for 40y ears?
This struggle is already seen in 1:1. Moses is dead! That must have been a major setback for the people of Israel. Moses is dead! BUT the God of Moses is more than fully alive (See David Oginde, Africa Bible Commentary, 258; cf. also Rev 1:17-18).
Nevertheless there is a difference between that Moses and Joshua. Moses is called “servant of the LORD” – a title of honor; whereas Joshua is “Moses’ assistant/aide” – as of right now he is still considered in his relationship to Moses. Will Joshua be able to step into the footsteps of that spiritual giant Moses? Only after his death (at the very end of this book) we find out There he will also be called “servant of the LORD” (24:29).
We further observe a shift in the narration from the Pentateuch to Joshua. The LORD Himself is addressing Joshua directly, there is no need for a mediator! Further, it is also crucial to observe that here the name YHWH/LORD is used for God. It is the very name with which God revealed Himself to Moses. It is God’s covenant name which tells us about His eternal existence as well as His fidelity to the covenant.
It is this God who addresses Joshua in 1:2. I don’t know if you notice but in the reading of chapter 1 we are perplexed by the “giving” language. It talks about it as it will happen right now; and as if it already has happened. God had already given in one sense the land to Israel – it is their task to take it now.
[The future is dependent on the past and how it is lived out in the present. What has taking place on that cross (in the past) determines your and my future; therefore we should live accordingly in the present!]
God is giving the nation of Israelthe land as a gift. It is not their military might but God’s provision which gives them the land. But we need to ask: Is this the major concern of this passage (the book of Joshua, Scripture in general)? For the answer we need to wait until verse 7.
In vv 3-4 we see that God is about to fulfill His promises. These promises had been made hundreds of years ago to Abraham (Gen 12; 15) – who never saw the fulfillment. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses all the major figures in Israel’s history are dead. Maybe Joshua thinks to himself: “Who am I that God will use me for this task?”
In this speech of God (vv.1-9) God gives three promises to Joshua (among others see David Oginde, 257-58):
1. A promise of Fulfillment (1:3-4)
2. A Promise of Victory (1:5a)
3. A Promise of God’s Awesome Presence (1:5b; 9)
Let us pause for a moment to take a brief look at verse 5: As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.God does not give us a task and then leaves us alone. It is the awesome presence of God which actually enables us to do what He wants us to do through the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Verses 6-9 do build a separate unit. In verses 6-9 we have the “be strong and courageous” language which brackets this passage. In the middle of it (verses 7-8) we actually do have an intensifier “very” and the author spends quite an amount of words devoted to the topic of “keeping the law”. So the question is: Why has the author devoted so much space on verses 7-8? Why does he intensify the language of being “strong and courageous” in verse 7?
The answer to this seems to be that, the land is already given and Israel has to take it. Therefore to “get in” is fairly “easy”, but there is a problem the author wants us to pay attention to our faithfulness to God. The key to success for Joshua is not his military strength or finesse but something of utterly different importance…His obedience to the revealed will of God. In one sense what the author is saying here is this; he asks: Is it more difficult to occupy the land? Or is it more difficult to be obedient/faithful to God and His Torah/instructions?
The text indicates that it is the latter which is the major task for Joshua. This is also confirmed at the end of the book in 23:5-6 we read “The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left.”
For Joshua, Israel, and us to go through life successfully depends on God’s grace and our obedience to His Word. Joshua was to be careful to do all what the LORD had commanded through Moses. He is not to deviate from it; he is not to turn from it “to the right hand or the left”. There is no pick and choose. There is no middle ground. Either you follow the LORD in everything or you don’t follow at all.
This text is challenging us! Are we willing to give everything? Are we willing to leave everything behind to follow him? The text says that if Joshua is obedient to Torah than he will make his way prosperous and have good success. This is not talking about finances – some Christians believe that it does, but the text (and Scripture in general!) has something very different in mind. As one commentator observes, “‘the two words we find here in our passage in Joshua (1:7–8) speaking of prosperity and success are almost never used in the Old Testament to speak of financial success.Rather, they speak of succeeding in life’s proper endeavors” (Howard, Joshua, NAC, 88).
This proper endeavor is the pursuit of God! Our Lord has told us in Matt 6:33“But seek first the kingdom of Godand his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To be “prosperous and successful” is to become more and more molded into the image of God’s Son. Putting God first in everything!
Two more points before we will conclude this post – it’s actually only one point. One, Joshua is to “meditate” on the Torah “day and night” (i.e., always). Our mind, soul, and heart should be saturated with God’s word. Our words, thoughts, and actions should show that we are thinking biblically all the time. Second, Joshua is to do that which is “written” down. This is a major turning point in the history of Israel(and mankind in general) where God tells Joshua to pay attention to that which is written. No longer should Joshua wait on dreams and visions, but be careful to that which is written down! [See on the last two points Oginde (259)] God’s will for you and me has been revealed; it is written down. That’s why it is important to listen to His words: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).
Let me conclude this post with a story (taken from Hubbard, Joshua, NIVAC, 107-108):
A mother had agreed to drive her son’s car from Michigan to California as part of his move there…
The day before her departure, however, the woman fell and broke her left wrist. Despite the cumbersome cast from wrist to elbow, she decided to go anyway and carefully planned the long trip.
About the fourth day out, she felt so tired that she pulled off the road for a short nap, then drove to a restaurant for coffee and a few phone calls to friends who lived nearby. As she stepped outside the restaurant, things got interesting. A man approached and asked if she was driving a Ford Explorer with Michigan plates, and whether she had pulled off the road somewhere earlier. The woman was understandably apprehensive about being questioned by a stranger, but he assured her that he meant no harm. Once she answered his questions, he asked her to wait while he made a phone call and then promised to explain.
When he returned, he told her that truck drivers had been following her since Indiana. One of them had noticed this little white-haired lady, with a cast on her left arm, driving a stick-shift across the country. They had taken it upon themselves to watch over her. Unbeknownst to her, they carefully tracked her to the motels she stayed each evening. Each morning another trucker would pick up her trail and shadow her progress. If a trucker had to exit, he would radio another rig-driver to take his place. When she pulled off for that nap, they had lost track of her and were about to alert the State Police. They were still seriously searching for her when one of them spotted her car at the restaurant. The woman had no idea that somebody cared enough about her to initiate such a protection plan. Until that moment, she had been totally unaware that, across all the miles, someone was looking after her day and night.
Joshua 1 is close to Matthew 28:16-20 (and Acts 1:1-8). Jesus never promised that the Christian life would be easy, but he did promise that he will always be with us!
Are we willing to trust Jesus who died for us and rose on the third day?
Are we going to be faithful to him so that at our lives’ end we might be called “servant of the LORD”?
God with us! AMEN