The Commission and the Mission


I. God Commissions Joshua 1:1-9: Verses 2-9 of this chapter consist of a speech by the Lord himself to Joshua.

A. Even as God set aside Moses, he sets aside Joshua; The leaders of God’s people do not select themselves, God selects them. In verse 5 God promised to Joshua his presence even as he was with Moses, with the strong words of encouragement, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” In addition Joshua is told, “You shall cause this people to inherit the land.”

1. Peter was given special status by Christ when he told him, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31)

2. Paul was set aside by God for his work to the Gentiles: “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul confirmed his recognition of this special call when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Assuming you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (Ephesians 3:3).

3. The general principle of Christ’s giving special gifts to his church is stated in Ephesians 4:1l as it speaks of the spoils gained in his resurrection, “and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

4. We find a specific application of this in Paul’s words to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).

B. The gift of the land, promised before to the Patriarchs and Moses, is now to be fulfilled.

1. In Genesis 12:7, God promised Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Again in 15:16, God told Abram of his eventual possession of the land through his offspring. God told Moses, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours” (Deut. 11:24). That promise to Moses the Lord now repeats to Joshua (3). Not only would this involve the fulfillment of a promise but would involve the judgment of two nations, the Egyptians (14) and the Amorites. “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” This promise is recorded by Moses, who led the people to the very edge of the land but did not see them take possession of it. Now, under Joshua, Israel begins this conquest under the promise, the purpose, and the command of God.

2. Deuteronomy 7 gives a detailed preview of the divine expectation for the people as they conquer the land. Though it will be accomplished “little by little” (Deuteronomy 7:22), it is to be done thoroughly, with all the people, all their possessions (with the exception of some material taken for the treasury of the house of the Lord [6:24]), all their livestock, and all their gods devoted to utter destruction. God had chosen Israel out of all the nations on the earth (7:6-8) and wanted nothing to contaminate their perceptions of the holiness of God. “You shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods for that would be a snare to you . . . You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction” (7:16, 26). It is to this conquest that God now called the nation through Joshua.

C. Success is dependent on obedience to the Law: [7, 8]

1. This theme is established early and forms the theological explanation for the eventual litany of Israel’s troubles. These actions were included in “all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.” (7) For this task, the conditions of strength and courage are important, as is stated in verses 7, 9, and 18. They were to show no mercy, no pity. This was not their judgment on the seven nations, but God’s. Though their victory was substantial, it was not complete for they relented and eventually the warning given by God came to pass: “Amaziah . . . brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshipped them. Therefore the Lord was angry with Amaziah.” (2 Chronicles 25:14, 15) “Ahaz . . . made metal images for the Baals, and he made offerings in the Valley of the son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. (2 Chronicles 28:2, 3). “All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 36:14).

2. What was true for the nation of Israel to maintain their safety was true in an absolute sense for the gaining of eternal life before God in heaven. The gaining of that eternal rest depended on unblemished righteousness. Christ alone has kept the Law in such a manner and it is by his righteousness that we are reconciled, redeemed, justified, and given eternal life.

3. The record that Moses had left was the only part of the canon of Scripture, but it was to be regarded as divinely inspired and as containing the way to life. It was to be the food of Joshua day and night, preparing him for all that would come his way and give him prosperity and success. Perhaps Joshua wrote Psalm 119 where, among many such resolutions, we read, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:15, 16). We have the entire canon of Scripture and the completed work of redemption through the obedience of the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must pay more careful attention to it, with exuberant and inexpressible joy for it truly is the light shining in a dark place until Christ himself returns (2 Peter 1:16-21; Hebrews 2:1-4).

D. There should be no fear for the one carrying out the will of God as a willing servant of God (9). God told Joshua not to fear or be dismayed “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is true in light of the omnipresence of God, but doubly assuring in light of the gracious promises of his covenant faithfulness, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

1. Paul told Timothy that “God has not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

2. Though Paul knew that “the time of my departure has come,” he still lived within the confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:6, 18). He lived the reality that we should not fear those who can kill the body but then have no more they can do, but to “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4, 5).

3. There are no safe places in the world for the disciple of Jesus Christ, but he has promised special blessedness for those who suffer for righteousness sake and are maligned and persecuted for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). There is always, however, perfect safety in God’s providential determinations for his people and finally in his heavenly kingdom.

II. Joshua mobilizes Israel – 1:10-18

A. This mobilization is a true picture of the nature of biblical faith [1:10, 11]

1. Biblical faith affirms that God’s purposes actually will come to pass. Joshua rallied the officers to tell the people that they were going to take the land “that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” Theirs was the promise and therefore, theirs was the land. They needed only to obey the command, use the means designed for the purpose and the land was theirs. The promise of the land was part of a larger promise that would lead to the coming of the Redeemer. No part of the context necessary for the seed of the woman to come to crush the head of the serpent would fail to materialize.

  • Galatians 4:4 affirms that “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” The incarnation occurred at the time, in the manner, in the circumstance, and in the woman determined by God’s sure word and covenant. The genealogy of Christ even includes Rahab, the harlot who hid the spies from Israel at the initiation of their invasion of the land (Joshua 2:12, 13; 6:22-25; Matthew 1:5).
  • 1 Timothy 2:6 speaks of Christ as the ransom for all men, a truth concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles in the redemptive work of the Messiah to which Paul bore testimony “at the proper time.” Though present in promise from the beginning, and implied in the genealogy of Jesus, the full announcement of this world-wide ransom, this expansion of redemption beyond the borders of Jewish ceremonialism came precisely when God had determined and through the vessel chosen by God for that purpose.
  • 1 Timothy 6:14, 15 looks with confidence to the second appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, “which he will display at the proper time.” This promise given as the “blessed hope” certainly will come to pass in accord with the arrangement included in the eternal covenant, that is, his “own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
    Christ will return according to the promise of God in the certain salvation of all those given to the Son before the world began; we should not interpret the millennia since Christ’s return to the right hand of the Father as slackness toward the promise on God’s part, but as patience in order to bring to repentance all of those for whom Christ has died. “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:9,15)
  • This final coming of Christ will consummate the sanctification of all of God’s people. The God of peace, because of the faithfulness to his own covenantal arrangement, will himself completely sanctify us spirit, soul, and body, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24)

2. Biblical faith gives itself to the possessing of what God has designed for His people. As Joshua and the valiant men among the Israelites were to be strong and courageous in seeking to take hold of what God had promised, so the Christian must be diligent attain the state to which he has been called according to the promise of God.

  • Paul looked at the doctrine of election as a motivation to suffer all for the sake their hearing the gospel: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • Peter told his readers that, in light of the righteousness of the kingdom they would inherit, they should “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14).
  • Paul pressed toward the perfection that would be his at the resurrection of the dead in light of the certainty that such was the divinely ordained goal for his redeemed people: “But I press to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The Israelites went to war in light of the promise of a temporal earthly home; we go to war with the world the flesh and the devil for the sake of an eternal heavenly home: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25, 26).
  • The writer of Hebrews pointed to the Israelite invasion led by Joshua as a type of attaining heavenly rest. That rest, subsequent to the disobedience that caused a whole generation to fall in the wilderness, was not final for there yet remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. “Let us therefore, strive to enter that rest,” so the writer inspired by the Spirit admonishes, “so that no one may fall by that same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 3:16-19; 4:8-11).

B. Fulfilling the promise of Numbers 32

1. Avoid the sin of Kadesh-barnea. In Numbers 32:6-15, Moses warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad against repeating the sin of Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 14) by discouraging the people from taking the land. Joshua reminded these tribes of that admonition of Moses and the promise they had made to him (12-15). Reminders of patterns in history that have involved disobedience and judgment serve as strong preservatives of faithful stewardship of divine grace.

2. Maintain the unified identity of the people – The two-and one-half tribes that had their inheritance east of the Jordan were not to think that their task was complete as Israelites. They would fortify their living places for their families, but then would go and fight for their brothers for the nation itself was not established until all tribes had their land. So the church must see itself as a single body, though composed of many parts (1 Corinthians 12ff).

3. Shows submission to the Lord through submission to his chosen servant (16-18) – The commanders of the people knew that they were under the authority of Joshua, and would conduct themselves accordingly. We must recognize that those God has place over us in the Lord perform their stewardship for the good of our souls. We must be careful not to make their task one in which disrespect and lack of honor create trouble, for such conduct would be a harm to our own souls as well as an affront to the chief Shepherd who has appointed his pastors (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

  • They were to do as Joshua said, go where he sent them, and obey his commands. They observed the necessity of the Lord’s being with Joshua as he was with Moses, for the legitimacy of the authority they attributed to him. We have a great commission from the Lord himself that involves all these aspects of full submission for the sake of God’s purpose. “As you go into all the world, make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you, and know that I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
  • They demonstrated confidence in the divine purpose and leadership.
  • They consented to the strict enforcement of all the commands Joshua gave, even involving the death of those who disobeyed. In the establishment of an earthly order of national life for the Messiah nation, no divergence from the divinely mandated organization and procedure can be allowed. Their identity had to be secured as the people of Abraham (not the other members of Chaldean society), Isaac (not Ishmael), and Jacob (not Esau). They were to be the ones who knew the God who made the heavens and the earth, who knew the one that is immutable and infinite in all his perfections (“I am that I am”). They would show that disobedience necessarily involved death and righteousness meant life.
  • Through them one would come who would indeed exhibit perfect obedience that would merit eternal life for all his people. The perfect obedience of Christ gives eternal life.
  • They would show that a nation can not survive with continuous cycles of disobedience and judgment and show that in the presence of God true joy and soul-prosperity comes through perfect obedience to Christ. “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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