C. Michael Wren, Jr.
Book Introduction: The Old Testament is a magnificent resource for studying the character of the people of God, for the narrative style of many of our books gives us a wealth of insight into the circumstances, pressures, and temptations that faced them, in addition to bringing us a clear, authoritative word about God’s expectations of them. For this reason we are often tempted to use these narratives to draw practical insights from their experiences for our own relationship with the Lord. It is legitimate to see in these narratives patterns for faithful and unfaithful living. However, as we study the book of Joshua, let us remember that the book aims to teach us more than this. It aims to teach us how God has worked in history in order to bless his people, how He has fulfilled the promises He made to Abraham, and how God’s people served Him faithfully in order to accomplish his will. In short, to borrow from Francis Schaeffer’s title, we must consider how Joshua fits within the flow of biblical history. Only here will we begin to understand the connection between Joshua, the conqueror of the Canaanites, and Jesus, the ultimate conqueror of sin, death, and the devil.
Remember as you teach that Israel’s story as a people begins with Abraham. God promised him to bless him by giving him a multitude of descendants, giving them a land to live in, and blessing the nations through them. Genesis and Exodus tell us the story of God’s preservation and deliverance of this people, and Numbers of God’s disciplining of them. Deuteronomy reviews the history of God’s gracious dealing with his people. When we turn the page to Joshua, we arrive at a moment of fulfillment. God’s promise to Abraham was cosmic in its scope. God was not merely concerned with Abraham or his son, but for an entire people who would descend from him. And yet, by his grace, He was not satisfied merely with Israel, but with all nations. At the foot of Mount Sinai God revealed to them that they would be important agents of the promise to bless the nations. They were to be “my kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:6). Jesus ultimately fulfills the cosmic scope of God’s promise to Abraham, but along the way God worked in and through Israel, displaying his character, granting them incredible blessings, and instructing them on how to fulfill their calling.
The book of Joshua, then is more than an instruction manual on godly character. It is a record of a people called by God to accomplish his mission in the world. In the process, it instructs us on this God whom we serve and on how to fulfill the calling He has given us.
Lesson Introduction: Chapter 1:1-18. This is the moment of preparation. Israel stands upon the brink of a major accomplishment along the road toward fulfilling the promise made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham a land, and now Joshua could see it just across the river. Appropriately, before God unleashed the Israelite army, He prepared them for the task at hand. In many ways, Moses prepared the Israelites as a nation during his speeches in Deuteronomy. And yet Moses was gone. A new leader was appointed for this exciting new task. Chapter one details the preparation of the man of God for his work.
1-2: The Command. Verse one clearly explains the circumstances of God’s work in chapter 1. Moses had died. This marks both a significant transition and an important opportunity. God had told Moses that he would not enter into the Promised Land with the rest of the people. Moses’ death meant that the time of waiting was over. The opportunity to experience the rich blessing of God’s land was upon Israel. However, a mighty man of God had departed. Anyone acquainted with Exodus and Numbers can easily see what a tremendous burden leading God’s people was, and how ably Moses fulfilled that calling. Filling Moses’ shoes and fulfilling God’s calling to seize this new land would require preparation.
3-5: The Promise. As is true throughout Scripture, God provides the sovereign power to accomplish his will. When Israel looks back upon the work of seizing the Promised Land, they will not be able to say, “Look at what I’ve done.” God provides Joshua with everything needed to accomplish His will. He promised Joshua a place (verses 3-4). The entire land promised to Abraham was now promised to Joshua. It had been given to him and to the people. God also promised protection (verse 5a). Joshua’s enemies would not be able to stand against him. Finally, God promised his presence (verse 5b). The theme of God’s presence is a key theme running all through Scripture and is particularly important in the book of Exodus (chapters 19-20, 32-34). God’s presence is necessary if we are going to experience his blessing. Joshua was promised God’s presence for the duration of the mission.
6-9: The Responsibility. Also true throughout Scripture, God uses means to accomplish his sovereign will. God had given the land over to Israel, and yet Joshua was responsible to fulfill God’s expectations in order to actually take the land. Those expectations are outlined in this section.
a. “Be strong and courageous,” (verse 6, 9). God expected Joshua to take on his appointed task with strength and courage. The words here communicate an inner strength in the face of difficulty and opposition. God expects Joshua to remain firmly committed to his task no matter how unfavorable the circumstances. Joshua must believe that God will fulfill his promises and he continue to work faithfully, no matter the immediate outcome.
b. “To carefully observe,” (7-8). God also called Joshua to remain resolute to live and act according to His instructions at all times. Joshua’s task was not merely to wield the sword, but to wield the sword and lead God’s people in complete obedience to God’s will. This required unswerving obedience at all times (“do not depart from it to the left or the right”). God’s word should be followed completely all the time, without exception or exemption. It also required constant meditation upon His precepts (“must not depart from your mouth”). In order to obey God’s instructions, one must know those instructions inside and out. This means one must constantly be reviewing God’s instructions.
10-18: The Task. God’s command to Joshua in this chapter was to prepare for the word that lay ahead. However, God did not intend Joshua to do the work alone. Following God’s call and fulfilling God’s mission is not something done independently. It is something done corporately. For this reason, Joshua terms his attention to the people.
a. “Get ready,” (10-11). Naturally, the people had to have the necessary equipment for the expedition. This was not a short excursion. This campaign would take a considerable period of time. Joshua gave them three days to make what must have been their final preparations.
b. “Remember,” (12-15). Another obstacle in the way of preparedness were the two and a half tribes that had already conquered their territory. In the book of Numbers, the Israelites unexpectedly conquered the peoples on the east of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh saw no reason why they could not inhabit this open space, and Moses consented. However, he commanded that they help their brothers conquer the last west of the Jordan, since they had not conquered the land to the east by themselves. Now, Joshua was calling in the IOU.
c. “Everything you have commanded us,” (16-18). The context of the passage indicates that “they” in verse 16 probably means the entire nation, not just the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan. God instructed Joshua to prepare himself by recognizing God’s promises, living with faith and courage, and following God’s word. Joshua understood that God’s mission required an entire people prepared to follow God’s will, and so he worked for three days to get them ready. The response he received was about as positive as you could ever ask. “Everything you say, we will do.” The stage has been set for a magnificent display of God’s glory and his grace. Joshua appears to be willing to take the lead, and the people appear to be willing to play their part just as instructed.
Summary of Insights
God’s Sovereignty. God was moving to accomplish his will decreed before the foundation of the world. The plan was revealed to Abraham in the form of a promise, and was unfolding before Joshua’s eyes. We can praise God for his wisdom, power, and grace displayed in his work of redemption in history. Ultimately, this plan has been fulfilled with the death and resurrection of Christ.
Man’s Responsibility. In harmony with God’s movement, he determined Joshua to be the means of accomplishing this stage of the work of redemption. Thus, while Joshua received mighty and precious promises, he bore a tremendous weight of responsibility as well. God’s servants can be confident of the ultimate triumph of God’s plan, but must take seriously the tasks He has given them if they are to be found faithful when the Son of Man returns.
Preparation for Mission. God’s servants have been called to mission. Israel’s mission was to serve as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and Israel was the land in which they were to fulfill this mission. Because of this, Joshua and the people had to take the land. The church still has the mission to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Because of the victory won by Christ, our mission extends to the ends of the earth, just as God promised Abraham. God’s instructions to Joshua are still appropriate today. Take on the task with courage and faithfulness, not letting circumstances or hostile people discourage or derail you. Remain unflappably scriptural, and allow the words of Scripture to saturate your soul.
Life Together. Just as Joshua turned his attention to the people once he had heard the Word of God, so believers must understand that this task has been appointed to all of us. We must follow God’s call together. The church needs leaders—men of conviction, vision, and integrity. The church also needs followers—men and women of devotion, seriousness, and consistency.
God is a mighty God, and the work of his Kingdom is deserves our most devoted preparation.