In the first essay in this series I gave an introduction to the book. In this essay we begin our study of Joshua by taking up the book’s own introduction in 1:1-9. These verses provide an excellent introduction to the book for a couple of reasons. First, they remind the reader of Joshua’s place as the successor of Moses. I say, “remind,” because this was not the time when God named Joshua as Moses’ successor. You will find that in Deut. 27:12 and following. It was the occasion when God informed Moses that he was to go up on a mountain where he could see the Promised Land, and then die. So faced with that reality, “Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, ‘let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation . . . who shall lead them . . . so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd,’” (vv. 15-17).
Then the Lord instructed Moses to lay his hand on Joshua and commission him before the priest, Eleazar, and the congregation. The Lord also told Moses to give Joshua some of his authority. Moses did all of that; and Joshua became his successor in waiting so to speak (vv. 18-23). Then shortly before Moses’ death, as recorded in Deut. 31, Moses officially made Joshua his successor and promised Joshua that the Lord would help him (Deut. 31:3-8, 23).
Thus when God summoned Joshua after the death of Moses, as recorded in Joshua, chapter one, it wasn’t really to appoint Joshua as Moses’ successor. That already had been done. Rather it was to command Joshua to get on with the conquest of Canaan.
As we noted in the first essay, the theological import of this book has to do with God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promise to give the land of Canaan to his covenant people. As the story of this book begins, the time has come. And Joshua is God’s chosen leader for the task.
Notice what God said to Joshua in verses 3-4: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.”
The promise made to Moses referred to by the Lord is recorded in Deut. 11:24 and Ex. 23:30-31. Deut. 11:24 uses almost the same language used here in Joshua one. It reads, “Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the Euphrates, to the Western Sea.”
But you may remember that Moses wasn’t the first one to whom God made such a promise. In Gen. 15:18-20, we read, “On that day the Lord God made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gergashites, and the Jebusites.” So we see in the opening verses of the book its theological heart. God was delivering on his promise to Abraham, to Moses, and now to Joshua to give the land to his covenant people.
Now then, as we begin to apply the passage to our Christian context, in my opinion there are two significant angles. The first is God’s personal instructions to Joshua, which become a model for us. By “personal instructions” I refer not what God told Joshua in respect to leading the people into the land. Rather I refer to the instructions God gave Joshua about his personal religious life. We find two of them in verses 6-9.
First, in verse six, repeated in verse seven, God told Joshua, “be strong and courageous.” I could have split these into two commands, but we will treat them as one. “Be strong” does not mean we are to go to a gym and pump iron. Nor does “be courageous” necessarily mean we are to be heroes in battle like Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WW II.
The key thought is found in verse five, where we see God saying to Joshua, “I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” The way Joshua was to be strong and courageous, and the way we Christians are to be strong and courageous, was and is, to rely on the Lord, to be strong and courageous in him.
The second personal instruction God gave to Joshua was to be “careful to act in accordance with the law,” verse seven. This is absolutely vital whether under the Old or New Covenant. If we don’t have a real commitment to the written Word of God, we are in big trouble, because we will not do what God instructed here.
Notice what God commanded, “do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left.” God’s expectations in regard to his Word are much higher than people today seem to think. Surveys by the Barna Research Group demonstrate that. A denominational renewal magazine reported on a Barna survey of 1,007 adults.
The survey did not ask the respondents if they identified themselves as born again Christians, but they were counted as such if they indicated that they had “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” and if they indicated that they believe they will “go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”
Now then, even though 58% of the respondents agreed that the Bible is totally accurate, 53%, including 34% of born again Christians in the survey, agreed that people could earn their way to heaven by being good. In addition 40% believe that Jesus committed sins while on the earth; and amazingly, 39%, including 35% of the born again Christians, reported that they believe Jesus was crucified but never had a physical resurrection (Good News, November/December, 1997, p. 37). Since this research is now a decade old, the percentages could be even more unsettling today.
I grant that some of what we see in this survey is due to ignorance about what the Bible teaches, but even that indicates a lack of commitment to it. People who are committed to God’s Word do with it what God advised Joshua to do, in verse eight: “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it.”
To have God’s word “not depart out of your mouth” means that we regularly read it, study it, and talk about it. And to “meditate on it day and night” refers not to the speculations of scholars, but to the practical study of it for personal formation and direction.
The second angle for applying this passage to our Christian context is one that is seen in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews typologically saw a pattern of individual salvation from sin in the pattern of God’s salvation of Israel from Egypt. As Egypt was a place of bondage, so is the life of sin. As Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was a preparation for the enjoyment of Canaan, so is conversion a preparation for the enjoyment of full sanctification.
But like the generation that came out of Egypt, many Christians do not enter into the “Promised Land.” “In spite of Calvary, in spite of an empty tomb and an ascended Lord, in spite of Pentecost, the majority of Christians” languish “in indulgence, worldliness, and sin. ‘Saved,’ as the Apostle Paul says, ‘but as by fire.’ Only here and there do we find a Joshua or Caleb ‘who wholly followed the Lord.’ Yet His word to us still is, ‘proceed to cross this Jordan’ (Alan Redpath, Studies in the Book of Joshua, p. 23).