Theme: A Faithful Past
This week’s lessons describe how Joshua got to be the faithful and courageous leader for God that he was.
And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’”
And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”
There are two main sections to the first chapter of Joshua. The first part, in verses 1 through 9, contains an account of Joshua’s commissioning by God. The second part, verses 10-18, tells us how Joshua assumed command of the people and began to make preparations for the invasion of the Promised Land.
The striking thing about the sequence in this chapter is that Joshua’s assumption of command apparently followed immediately upon his commissioning. And this is striking because, as we read the passage, it would seem that Joshua was afraid of what was coming. I say that it would seem that he was afraid because several times he’s encouraged not to be. When God spoke to him, four times in this brief statement of a commissioning, Joshua is told to be strong and courageous. And apparently, it wasn’t only a case of God knowing this—God who sees the heart—but perhaps the people sensed it as well because at the very end of the chapter, after they had said that they were going to follow him just as they followed Moses, their last words are this encouragement: “Only be strong and courageous.”
So, I say Joshua seems to have had a sense of inadequacy, and he certainly seems to have been afraid. I don’t think he was afraid of the battles, but perhaps he was afraid of the task because he looked in his own heart, and he felt inadequate for it. And yet, because we know how this book develops, he proved to be one of the greatest leaders of Israel, but one who unfortunately is often overlooked in studies of the Old Testament. And that leads to the question, what is it that makes a leader like this? Where did Joshua get his greatness? Where in spite of his fear did he find his courage?
Now, I want to suggest a number of things. Some of them are immediately in the passage, and some we have to go back to the earlier books of the Old Testament to discover. The first ingredient for a great leader is a faithful past. Now this book is named “Joshua” because it’s his story. But this isn’t the only place in the Old Testament that we have his story. This is the culmination of his story. It’s a story of his years of leadership, and what striking years they were!
But this isn’t all we know about Joshua. His story begins back in the book of Exodus, and it continues in the book of Numbers and also in Deuteronomy. And in those books, there are 27 times where the name “Joshua” occurs. And the stories in which his name occurs show us the training of a leader and the faithfulness of this man in the face of many difficulties.
The first time Joshua comes upon the scene is in Exodus 17, in the story of the first military encounter the people of Israel had after they had left Egypt under the command of Moses. On that occasion, God told Moses to appoint Joshua to be the commander of the troops and to lead the Israelites into battle. They had never fought a war before. They had been slaves in Egypt, and now they had this great battle to fight—and Joshua was given command of the armies.
The interesting thing about this story is that when Joshua led the troops into battle, Moses went up into a mountain, a hillside where he could overlook the plain in which the armies were fighting. We’re told in the story that whenever Moses raised his hands in blessing above the people, the troops of Israel prevailed. And whenever he got tired and lowered his arms, the armies of the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur were with Moses on the mountain, and they realized that if Moses’ hands were raised in blessing, Israel would win; and when Moses’ hands were lowered because of fatigue, the Amalekites would win. So Aaron took one hand and held it up, and Hur took the other hand and held it up. And that’s what they did throughout the long hours of the morning and afternoon. The battle waged all day, but in the end, the inexperienced army of Israel completely routed the Amalekites and won the field.
I’m sure Joshua learned a great lesson at that point. We’re not told in so many words, but I’m sure he learned that as the Lord’s general, it was his job to do everything he possibly could to win the battle. If he had any strength, he was to use that strength. If he had any wisdom, he was to use that wisdom. If he had any leadership ability to marshal, encourage, and inspire others, he was to use that. And I’m also sure he learned that in the final analysis the battle is not to the swift or to the mighty, but that victory is the Lord’s. That’s a lesson that never left him, and all through his life Joshua is a model of a faithful soldier, doing his duty to the end. I’m sure he learned and never forgot that in the final analysis, the blessing is of the Lord. And, therefore, he made it a great goal in his life to seek God’s blessing because apart from that, the whole issue is lost.
The second place at which we see Joshua in the early years that precede the events of the book that bears his name is at Mt. Sinai, when Moses was led up into the mountain to receive the law from God. And we’re also told in that same story that Joshua—who by this time was the first in command after Moses—went with him up the mountain. But then we see that in Exodus 32, eight chapters and 40 days later, there’s a rebellion in the camp and Moses comes back down at the command of God to quell it. And Joshua is still waiting there on the mountain for him to return.
Do you ever find difficulty waiting for something to happen? Try waiting lower on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights while your commander is there in the clouds meeting with God. It’s interesting that as you read that carefully, especially the beginning of Exodus 24, you find that Joshua had just had a great experience. It’s almost downplayed, and yet it’s one of the most stupendous things in the Pentateuch. We’re told that the elders of Israel—along with Aaron and a few other men who are named—went up into the mountain with Moses. And it says, “They saw the face of God. And they ate, and they drank.” What an amazing thing! The reason I say it’s amazing is that God says in the Old Testament, “No one shall see my face and live.” And we know that Moses, on one occasion, prayed to see the face of God; but he wasn’t allowed to see it because he was told he would die. Yet, here in this story, it says, “The elders saw the face of God.”
So here is Joshua, a man who had this great experience and then waited on the mountain while Moses received the law and the rebellion was going on in the camp. I don’t know everything that Joshua would have learned in that experience. But I’m sure that one thing he learned is that sin is an abomination to God, and righteousness is necessary if a people or a person is to be exalted.
Tomorrow we will continue our study of Joshua’s past faithfulness and see how it prepared him for God’s commissioning.
What might have been some reasons why Joshua was afraid to assume command?
What are some leadership qualities Joshua displayed in these events leading up to his taking over as the leader of the Israelites?
From the world’s perspective, patience and humility are not generally thought of as leadership qualities. But why does God see them as vital for his people?
Look for opportunities to encourage those church leaders God has put into your life for your spiritual growth.