Mainers like to say when giving directions, “You can't get there from here”...or more accurately, “You can't get they-ahh from hee-yahh.” The children of Israel must have thought that, journeying through the wilderness to the promised land. It had been a long, grueling journey. Someone said it took so long because men don't like to ask directions! The Book of Joshua tells of a journey's end that began a new challenge for Israel: the conquest of the land. Joshua provides a bridge between Israel's unsettled wanderings and the establishment of a new nation. At long last they've arrived, 500 years after God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12: “To your offspring I will give this land” (7). The time was 1400 B.C. and God's people were on the cusp of a new chapter in their history.
Joshua's name in Hebrew means “God delivers” (he is the first person in the Bible to be given a name that incorporates God's holy Name); in Greek his name is Iesous, or Jesus. Joshua was a war-tested, obedient soldier, a straight-forward follower of God. He was succcessful because, without questions or objections, he faithfully carried out God's directives. We don't have many Joshuas.
We see in chapter one a transition--a new day has dawned for Israel, but with a leadership vacuum. The people are camped in the plain of Moab, along the east bank of the Jordan River, on the border of the promised land. Moses has died, and God has called Joshua, His chosen servant, and given him command of the nation, a transfer of authority. God promises to be with Joshua as He was with Moses, verse 5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Like Moses, Joshua receives his orders directly from God. The presence of God wasn't just for one generation but to every generation of faithful followers. God promises to be with Joshua, and all Israel. In the same way, God promises to be with us, in good times and bad. Great is His faithfulness!
We first see Joshua in Exodus 17, where he heroically commands Israel's army in their first battle. Because of Moses' intercessory prayer Israel was victorious, and not because of military might, or human achievement...and this was a lesson Joshua never forgot. He also accompanied Moses at Mount Sinai, and was one of only two spies who argued to trust God and take possession of the land of Canaan...and these two were the only ones who lived to enter the land. Joshua knows what lies ahead and is not afraid. His certainty comes from knowing God will provide what He has promised. Victory is assured. God is the primary mover.
God commissions Joshua and tells him to be “strong and courageous”, verses 6-7. Courage derives from God’s presence, but must be accompanied by obedience. Winston Churchill said “Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision.” We choose to be courageous when we're convinced there's something more important than fear. God is the Source of our courage. The land is God's promised gift, but Israel will have to lay hold of it through armed conflict. They will be able to conquer it because they have a great God. The boundaries are set in verse 4. This is only the beginning of their conquest; under Kings David and Solomon the land will expand to the fullest.
Joshua is told to study God's word and grow in faith, verse 8. Moses has left his people with the Torah, the 5 books of the Law, a precious, authoritative word. Joshua is told that this historic record will provide him his marching orders and help shape his character. Joshua had been walking beside Moses, and now he had the Mosaic Law to guide him. His (and our) job is to focus on God, seek Him, and meditate on His word. As Israel stood poised to enter the land of promise, they are to find what they need in Scripture. When we give the Bible priority and immerse ourselves in it, we gain a worldview that sets us apart from our secular, unbelieving world. If there is no other book we read this year, may we read the Book of books!
So Joshua tells the people: Prepare to deploy--verse 10. He reminds them of God's promised presence and rest--verse 13. But first they will need to drive their enemies from the land of Canaan. Rest is assured because God has given them the land; it's as good as done. They would finally get to settle down in their own land. This was good news to a nomadic people who'd been on the move their entire lives.
The people's response is one of enthusiasm--verses 16-18. They are united and ready to engage. God is with Joshua, so they are ready to support him as wholeheartedly as they had Moses. But Joshua knows from experience to trust in God's promises, not his people's. However, this was a new generation, not the grumblers in the wilderness. So while pleased with their support, Joshua's faith is not in them. When God calls us, we are never alone. Joshua will never have to worry about venturing somewhere without God, without the power to conquer. We have the same assurance; with God we are unstoppable. We can count on God's unfailing presence and power. God's might should be the measure of our expectations.
At the close of the chapter--verse 18, the elders of Israel make a harsh stipulation, threatening the death penalty for rebellion. After 40 years in the wilderness, finally coming to this pivotal moment in time, they mean business and will not tolerate anyone who undermines their unity or threatens to weaken their resolve.
The children of Israel were shaken by the death of Moses, and were filled with uncertainty about their future. Yet God hadn't left; His word and covenant remained with them...and when God takes leaders away, He has in mind who will take their place. There will be continuity, so don't be anxious. This is a message for Israel, and for us. God has a glorious future in store, so let's rest in His will, knowing His faithfulness never fails.