In Summary:Joshua’s story continues as his eponymous book begins. We’ve heard of Joshua already, going back to Exodus 17, so we know that Joshua is in the generation that exited Egypt under Moses’ leadership. He was likely a leader within the Israelite community already, as his first mention places him as a military leader during the battle with the Amalekites. From there, he becomes Moses’ servant (Numbers 11:28) and is selected as one of the twelve spies in Numbers 13. He brings a positive report, though it is rejected by the ten spies as well as the people of Israel.
Joshua 1, then, is not his introduction but his time to step out of the shadows and into the leading role. In doing so, God charges him to be “strong and courageous.” God repeats Himself three times (1:6, 1:7, 1:9) in commanding this—which means that He is quite serious about it. Strong here is connected to “binding tightly” or “being firm.” It’s not just about physical strength but also about mental and emotional fortitude. It is strength as a spiritual value. Courageous is connected to having a firm heart, a decided heart. Joshua is commanded by God to firm, to hold tightly, to be decided. And if God saying so three times is not enough, the people tell him the same thing. Just once, though.
In Focus:Having said all that about Joshua, let us put the focus on the hero of the book of Joshua. His name is found in Joshua 1:1, 1:9, 1:11, 1:13, 1:15, and 1:17. Who is it? It is YHWH, the Lord God of Israel. While the book of Joshua looks, at first glance, like a chronicle of the exploits of the Joshua the Conqueror, it is actually the covenant fulfillment record of the God of Israel.
Remember, after all, that Deuteronomy is a record of the covenant between YHWH (the divine name of the God of Israel) and the people of Israel. This is a bilateral, or “if-then” covenant. If the people do this, then God will do that. The first “if” is on God’s part: He must deliver the people into the land first. Then the covenant as stated becomes operative. Take a look, then, at Joshua 1:2-3. God reminds Joshua of His promise to the people of Israel. Throughout this chapter, we see two things restated: the promise of God to be faithful to His covenant, and the promise of the Israelites to act just like they have for forty years (Joshua 1:17).
Despite this, God remains faithful to Himself and His Word.
In Practice:Practically speaking, we should take courage and strength from the promises of the Faithful One, the Lord God Almighty. We either live in complacent times or in strange and interesting ones. If it appears easy to walk in obedience to God, let us take courage to re-examine whether or not we truly are being faithful to God. After all, it is not uncommon for the church-at-ease to falter in our obedience. The history of the “Bible belt” or other zones of Christendom demonstrate that quite well.
If we live in strange and interesting times (a euphemism for difficult days), then we need strength. Strength to stand as the world falters around us, strength to trust that God has our eternity in His hand. After all, if eternity is in His hand, then next Tuesday will be right as well. Right, of course, in His perspective. Not necessarily ours.
Living with courage and strength will drive us to proclaim the word of God no matter what befalls us. As we look at Joshua, he was given one conditional command. One thing to draw his strength from: the book of the law given by God. In other words, the covenant. He had God’s promises, God’s words, to keep in his mind and on his lips. Let us do that, and so draw others to the same covenant. The God of the Promise did not change when the human leadership changed, and it will not change no matter how the seasons pass.
In Nerdiness:A few thoughts:
1. Dimensions of the Promised Land? From the “Wilderness” to Lebanon, as far as the Euphrates and the Mediterranean. Assuming, of course, that “Mediterranean” is the right idea for the Great Sea and it’s not the Atlantic. Which is probably a reasonable assumption. We never saw Israel stretch that far, but…
2. “Joshua” is drawn from the words meaning “YHWH saves.” The Greek equivalent? “Ihsous.” That’s right: “Jesus.” How far do the lands of the Kingdom of Jesus stretch?
3. Think through the Israelites’ promise. They are going to obey just like they did with Moses. Have you read Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy? Who do they think they are fooling?