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As I was with Moses...

Moses Ordains Joshua

by Dennis Pollock

Times of transition can be exciting but they can also be pretty scary. Just when we assumed we had life figured out, just when things seemed to be rolling along smoothly and comfortably, suddenly we find ourselves thrown into an entirely new situation. Israel was in just that predicament following the death of Moses. The great lawgiver had led them for the last forty years. He had been a tough, no-nonsense leader, but he had been fair, and there was no doubt that he was truly a man of God. And then one day he was gone. God had called him to go to the top of Mount Nebo where he would die. They never saw him again. But they were not leader-less. Before leaving them Moses had laid his hands on his faithful assistant, Joshua, and appointed him as his successor. Joshua would now lead the millions of the people of Israel.

And what a job he would have! Before his passing, Moses had made it clear that Israel’s time of wilderness wanderings was over, and that they were to cross over the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan. The people of this land were guilty of idolatry, child sacrifice, and sexual perversions of every sort, and God instructed Israel to war with them, kill them all, and take over their territory. It was a radical solution to a land defiled with the blood of the innocents, one hinted at when God had told Abraham centuries before that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16).

Joshua 1

In the first chapter of the book of Joshua we read of the special instructions and encouragement God gives His new leader to equip him for the daunting task that lay before him. Even though Joshua is by now eighty years old, and has been with Moses ever since Israel departed from Israel, he is a “rookie.” He certainly has had a tremendous example of leadership as he served Moses these last forty years, but he has no idea what it means to be the leader, with all the responsibilities attending that position. In addition, for most of these last years, Moses mainly oversaw Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, although in the last two years there were some significant battles with the Moabites and the Midianites.

But now Joshua would lead Israel as an invading army, and in the first several years they would know nothing but battle after battle. The Israelites were not, at that time, professional warriors. They had been slaves for centuries, and then spent four decades mostly wandering in the wilderness, settling in camps for short seasons, and then back on the move once more. In the beginning of the book of Joshua, God speaks to His servant, saying:

Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them–the children of Israel.

Sometimes God has to remind us of the obvious: “Moses is dead,” or “Your children are grown,” or “Your husband has left you,” or “You have lost your job.” As distasteful as it is, we need to be forced to face the new reality. Our lives have changed. Things will never be the same as before. It’s time to move on, and let go of the past. Joshua had grown comfortable following and serving Moses, but those days were gone forever. This was a new day, a new chapter, a new season.

God with Us

The job description was “Go and conquer the land of Canaan;” the promise was “I will be with you.” This is precisely what God had said to a reluctant Moses some forty years earlier, when he balked at the prospect of going to Egypt and demanding that Pharaoh release the people of Israel. At that time Moses had serious self-doubts, expressed in the question: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” God had not given Moses a peppy self-esteem talk, but simply told him, “I will be with you.” Now, all these years later, God says the same thing to His assistant: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”

It is not at all difficult to translate all of this into the life of New Testament Christians. Jesus Christ is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” When we have Christ we have God. When Christ is with us, God is with us. John writes: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). To the degree that we trust in Christ, abide in Christ, and follow Christ, to that same degree God is with us, and will be with us just as He was with Moses and with Joshua.

Courage

But God is not finished speaking with His new leader. He goes on to say: “Be strong and of good courage.” In fact, in this short little chapter Joshua is told this three separate times. Christians probably don’t talk about courage enough. We talk about faith and love and humility and joy, but courage – not so much. Perhaps we think that courage is not such a spiritual virtue – more fit for soldiers and boxers than for ordinary Christians. But in truth courage is important for every one of us.

Joshua at the Jordan RiverThe reality is this: if you follow Jesus Christ and are led by the Holy Spirit, you will at least occasionally find yourself in situations where God is calling you to do something that is risky and may even appear foolish to most people. You may be faced with a decision which, if you are wrong and things don’t go the way you hope and expect, you could lose a great deal. Your flesh will scream, “Don’t do it!” in the loudest possible voice. Your friends may tell you the exact same thing. And as you survey the scenario you realize that unless God really comes through for you in this venture or decision, you could end up looking like a fool and hurting yourself big time.

Still there is that quiet voice of God firmly encouraging you to move forward, and telling you He will be with you. Now is the time for courage. As former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher would put it: “This is no time to go wobbly,” which is another way of saying: “Be strong and of good courage.”

A Reader

Joshua will need more than courage, however. He will need faith and obedience to the ways and the commands of God, as given through Moses. Therefore, all of his time must not be spent in battles and strategizing. He is told: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). It will not be enough for Joshua just to be a tough guy, an Israeli equivalent of General Patton of World War II fame. Joshua must become a reader of the Scriptures. He must regularly lay down his sword and pick up his copy of the Scriptures, the words of God through His servant Moses. This is to be the pattern of his life. He is not told to do this weekly or even every morning. He is to be a reader of the Scriptures “day and night.”

scrollsIsrael’s great warlord must have a keenly spiritual side. In addition to commanding troops, burning cities to the ground, and planning strategies to annihilate the enemy, Joshua must walk with God. He must read His word and meditate on its precepts continually. Strangely God does not tell him the word must not depart from his eyes. Rather, Joshua is told that the words of God must depart from his mouth. It would seem that God wants Joshua not only to read His words but to speak them; to read them aloud. For nearly forty years I have followed this practice of reading the word of God aloud. For me, this seems to turn reading the Bible into an act of worship, and I can frequently sense the Holy Spirit’s presence as I read. In fact, I have had numerous times when I prayed without much of a sense of the Spirit of God, but when I began reading the Scriptures orally, the rivers of living water seemed to begin to flow, and I experienced a conscious awareness of the presence of the Lord.

Of course Joshua didn’t have the Bible that we have today. He couldn’t read the amazing gospels of Jesus, or the epistles of Paul and the other apostles. Still even reading those five books of Moses, continually familiarizing himself with the ways and commands of God, Joshua related to Yahweh, the God of Israel and Creator of the universe. And no doubt his faith grew as a result, since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

Read and Do

But God made it clear that the end result was to be a life of obedience. He told His servant: “You shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Not “so that you can be considered deeply spiritual,” or “so that you can get a spiritual buzz from time to time,” but so that Joshua might actually do what God had commanded by the mouth of His servant Moses. Jesus tells His followers: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21). Sometimes we put so much emphasis upon faith that we suggest that faith is an end to itself. But real faith, God’s faith, the faith that Jesus urged, must always lead to and produce a life of obedience. “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

It is after these words of instruction and admonition that God makes a wonderful promise to Joshua, one that Christians of every age have delighted to claim for themselves. Joshua is told, “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). In essence, he is told, “Joshua you will succeed – indeed, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams, you will succeed in extraordinary and inexplicable ways. Your enemies will fall before you, your plans and strategies will meet with success in ways that nobody can explain or understand. Your goals will be met, your labors will be blessed, and your record will be one of victory after victory.”

Victory in Jesus

God is not a God of failure. He may allow failure to train and shape us in our wilderness days, but His ultimate goal is our success, a success that goes so far beyond our puny little talents and abilities, that God is glorified and people recognize that His hand is surely involved.

Joshua heeded God’s instructions very well, and, true to His word, God granted him incredible success as he led Israel’s army into Canaan, the promised land. Shortly after this we read of Joshua leading Israel across a miraculously dried up Jordan River, and the Scriptures tell us, “On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life” (Joshua 4:14).

The admonitions God gave to Joshua are certainly relevant for followers of Christ today. We too, must “be strong and of good courage.” We too would do well to meditate on the words of God day and night, and never let them depart from our mouths. And like Joshua we do this in order that we might keep the commands of our God, especially the commands Jesus gave to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Of course we have something Joshua did not have, or rather Someone. We have a Savior, we have a faithful divine Shepherd who leads us from victory to victory as we put our faith in Him and follow His commands. And when we fail, and call on God in repentance, we have an Advocate who forgives us, restores us, and comforts us. His name is Jesus Christ and He will eventually lead us into the greatest promised land of all – that holy place where God dwells, and where there is no sickness, crime, sadness, or death. Jesus’  death on the cross and resurrection have made this possible, and knowing this, we can “be strong and of good courage” all the days of our lives.


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