Accept Your Leadership Role

The Point:  As you lead, submit to God’s authority and direction.

God Commissions Joshua:  Joshua 1:1-9.

[1]  After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, [2]  "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.

[3]  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. [4]  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. [5]  No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. [6]  Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. [7]  Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. [8]  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. [9]  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."  [ESV]

“The Book of Joshua begins as though it were a continuation of something written previously, which, of course, it is. The death of Moses ties this material in with an earlier event recounted in Deuteronomy 34:1-8. Moses’ death was an important event in the life of the new nation of Israel. He is the towering figure who casts his shadow not only across the entire corpus of Exodus-Deuteronomy, but also across the Book of Joshua and later Scriptures. Here in Joshua Moses is called the servant of the Lord. This title for Moses is found far more often in the Book of Joshua than in the rest of the Old Testament combined. This is a special title used in the Old Testament only of Moses, Joshua, David, and, pejoratively, of the nation of Israel. This labeling of Moses as the Lord’s servant is important in the Book of Joshua, since Joshua, for whom the book is named, is only called the servant of the Lord once, at the end of the book [24:29]. The Book of Joshua is concerned with showing how God’s earlier promises were now in process of being fulfilled and with how God’s commands were being carried out. Many of these promises and commands were spoken by Moses, who is depicted in this book as the Lord’s special servant. [2-5]  The initial portion of God’s charge to Joshua is concerned with (1) the land that God had promised to Israel, (2) God’s encouragement of Joshua in his new role as Moses’ successor, and (3) God’s promise to be Israel’s strong protector. In verses 2-4, God addressed not merely Joshua, but all of the Israelites; in verse 5, Joshua himself is addressed. Portions of these verses are very similar to Deuteronomy 11:24-25, where Moses promised the Israelites the land and God’s protection. Such careful repetitions assure us that God was indeed committed to keeping His promises. Both of these passages hark back to earlier promises of God, beginning with the promises to Abraham [Gen. 12:7; 15:18-20]. God stated in verse 2 that He was about to give the land to the Israelites. According to verse 3, every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. In both verses the pronouns are plural, embracing not just Joshua, but all Israel. Also in these verses, the two forms of the verb give are different in Hebrew, and their use here reflects two significant truths about God’s giving of the land to His people. In one sense God was still in process of giving Israel the land. After all, Israel had not yet even crossed the Jordan River, and only the land east of the Jordan actually had been taken by Israel. Most of the land remained to be taken. But in another sense God had already given Israel the land. It is as though Israel already possessed legal title to the land ever since Abraham’s day, but they were awaiting God’s timing for the actual possession. Verse 3 ends by stating that this gift of the land was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses. The extent of the land that God was giving Israel is detailed in verse 4, a map of sorts. The description is general, giving the southern and northern boundaries first. After the general north-south boundaries are delimited, the east-west ones are given. The land between the eastern and western extremities is called here all the land of the Hittites. The term Hittite is used to mean different peoples in the Bible, here, it is essentially a synonym for Canaanites. The intent here is not to give the specific boundaries of the land, or of various tribes’ inheritance within the land, that we find in many other passages (see especially Joshua 14-19). Rather, it is a general summary painted with broad brush strokes. The details will come later. Verse 5 is the spiritual climax and highlight of the first part of God’s charge to Joshua. It is a heart-warming promise to Joshua himself that (1) his and the Israelites’ efforts would succeed and (2) God would never leave him. It is doubly encouraging when we see that God promised to be with Joshua just as I was with Moses. The words in the first part of the verse are identical to those in God’s promise to Moses in Deuteronomy 7:24 and 11:25. In the last clause of the verse, God expands on this promise to Joshua of His presence: He would never leave nor forsake him. This too echoes earlier promises, most notably in Deuteronomy 11:25 and 31:6,8. The second part of God’s charge to Joshua consists of His instructions and encouragement. Three things stand out prominently here. First, as in the first section, much of the language derives from God’s earlier instructions and encouragement. Second, the threefold command to be strong and courageous [6,7,9] is important, and it also helps to give structure to the section. Third, the emphasis on Joshua’s keeping of the law in order to succeed in his responsibilities [7-8] is significant. The command to be strong and courageous brackets this paragraph, introducing it and bringing it to a close [6,9]. The middle occurrence of this command is highlighted by the addition of the modifier very. This introduces the heart of the paragraph, God’s instructions about Joshua’s keeping the law [7-8]. [6]  Both strong and courageous are similar in meaning. The context in Joshua chapter 1 shifts back and forth between courage and resoluteness for the meaning of the latter verb. Courage is perhaps more appropriate in verses 6 and 9, which are coupled with statements about conflict. However, God’s commands to Joshua in 1:7-8 about keeping the law call for resoluteness rather than courage. The need for Joshua to be strong and resolute was acute because he was the instrument for the people to inherit the land. [7-8]  The heart of God’s instructions to Joshua is introduced by a variant of the command in verses 6 and 9, adding the word very, which highlights the instructions here about keeping the law. It is striking that God’s instructions here to Joshua are not about military matters, given that Joshua and the Israelites faced many battles ahead. However, the keys to his success were spiritual, directly related to the degree of his obedience to God. The keys to Joshua’s success were the same as those for a king: being rooted in God’s word rather than depending upon military might [Deut. 17:14-20]. The command in verse 7 to be strong and very resolute is to ensure Joshua’s scrupulous obedience to the law of Moses. The importance of obedience to the law as the key to Joshua’s success cannot be overestimated. This is emphasized over and over in these two verses. (1) Joshua was to be careful to do this law. (2) It was all the law that was to be obeyed. (3) Joshua was not to deviate from it even slightly, neither to the right nor to the left. (4) The Book of the Law was not to depart from Joshua’s mouth, since he was to meditate upon it by day and by night. The idea of meditating here is not the one commonly familiar in the late twentieth century, namely, of emptying the mind and concentrating on nothing or on self or on visualizations of various types; much of this type of meditation is indebted to Eastern mystic religions. Rather, the Old Testament concept of meditation involves two things: First, a focus upon God Himself [Ps. 63:6], His works [Ps. 77:12], or His law [Joshua 1:8; Ps. 1:2], and second, an activity that was done aloud. This is why God told Joshua that this law book should not leave his mouth. (5) Joshua was to be careful to do according to all that is written in it. This represents something permanent, since it was written down. The result of Joshua’s keeping the law was that his way would prosper and be successful. Joshua’s obedience to God’s will [7-8] and God’s presence with him [9] guaranteed this. Many Christians make much of passages such as this in the Old Testament that speak of prosperity and success. Other passages often cited include the following: Psalm 1:3; 34:10; 37:25; Prov. 10:15; 16:3; Job 36:11. Many Christians read these and other passages as guarantees that all Christians will succeed in every venture they undertake and that they will prosper financially if they are truly following God. Christians who do not succeed, or who are not financially well off, are condemned as living in some persistent sin or lacking in proper faith. Much could be said in response, but here we will make only three points. First, the message of the Book of Job points in precisely the opposite direction as that argued by these Christians. That is, Job was stripped of his financial wealth for reasons that had nothing to do with any lack of faith or obedience. Job’s wealth was restored again at the end of the book, but he came to a position of peace with God and acceptance of God’s will in his life before his wealth was restored [Job 42:5-6]. This was because he had now had a firsthand encounter with God, whereas previously his knowledge of God had been primarily secondhand. Second, the Book of Proverbs, which contains many statements about wealth and prosperity, nevertheless is clear about a balanced view of wealth. Proverbs does emphasize the moral restraints that God has placed on gaining wealth. It is not to be achieved through deceit [21:6], or by using false balances [20:10], or by shifting boundary markers [22:28], or through oppression [23:10-11]. Such verses as Proverbs 23:4-5 and 30:7-9 show us that wealth is not the ultimate good to be sought or even guaranteed by God. Third, the two words we find here in our passage in Joshua 1:7-8 speaking of prosperity and success are almost never used in the Old Testament to speak of financial success. Rather, they speak of succeeding in life’s proper endeavors. This happens when people’s lives are focused entirely on God and obedience to Him. The focus of people’s endeavors is not to be prosperity and success but rather holiness and obedience. A believer’s consuming obsession should be holiness, for God Himself is holy, to love God with one’s entire being, to keep His word with the same fervor, and to fear God and keep His commandments. When this happens, then God does bless, although not always in exactly the ways we might like Him to. Our priority is always to seek God first. The context here in Joshua is very clear about what is to be the key to Joshua’s success [1:7-8]: he is to be careful to obey all the law; he is not to turn from it to the right or the left; he is to have it constantly on his lips and to meditate on it at all times; and he is carefully to do everything written in it. His focus is to be upon God’s word and will; then, as he leads Israel in taking the land of Canaan, success will come to him. Thus, in the Old Testament prosperity is not financial in its primary orientation, if at all. Rather, it refers to succeeding in proper endeavors. Also, it comes only when it is not the focus of one’s efforts in any case. It comes when one’s focus is on God and one’s relationship with Him. The success is granted by God, not attained by human achievement. Here in Joshua 1:8 is the only place in the entire Old Testament that these two words (prosperous and success) are found together. Their use in this fashion underscores the importance of Joshua’s mission in leading Israel in taking possession of the land of Canaan, particularly the importance of his obedience and faithfulness to God. The same, it can safely be said, would be the case today: the keys to success in life lie in being intensely focused upon God and in consistent faithfulness to Him and His revealed word. [9]  God’s charge to Joshua ends by reiterating words of encouragement and commitment [5-6]. Joshua was not to fear or be discouraged precisely because the Almighty God promised him His presence. 

Excursus: The Giving of the Land in Joshua. One of the most important ways that the gift of the land can be understood is by understanding the verb ‘give’ and its use in Joshua. After a brief, general look at this verb, we will consider it from two primary perspectives: (1) Who gives the land? And (2) When is the land given? The verb ‘to give’ is one of the most common in the Old Testament, occurring more than two thousand times. God is the one who gives the land; even when humans are the agents of the verb’s action, they act on God’s behalf. God’s human agents, Moses and Joshua, also gave or parceled out the land on His behalf. When we consider when and in what manner the land is given, we glean even more instructive information. The verb forms used to speak of the giving of the land show this. The Hebrew ‘perfect’ forms most often convey the idea that the land had already been given, that the complete act of giving is in view. Israel was not about to be given the land, but it already had been given it. In Joshua, the perfect of give occurs forty-two times, twenty-four of which show that God’s giving of the land or its inhabitants was an already accomplished fact. This makes the important theological point that God was in control of the granting of the land and that the title to the land was already Israel’s, even if they had not yet taken all of it. This survey of ‘to give’ in Joshua reveals several things. First, the land of Canaan was God’s gift to His people Israel. He alone was the giver. When Moses, Joshua, or the nation as a whole were the agents of the giving, it was nevertheless at God’s behest, and it was the land that God had promised to His people that they were giving. Second, God gave the land’s peoples into Israel’s hands as well. They were not taking this land on their own, nor through any strength or merits of their own. Third, God was doing this in Joshua’s day in fulfillment of the many promises He had made to do so: to the patriarchs, to Moses, to earlier generations of Israelites. Fourth, the giving of the land is viewed from two distinct perspectives. In one, the land already belongs to Israel; God has already given it to them. In the other, the giving was yet to be accomplished; it was either imminent or in process. In both perspectives, God was the giver and the guarantor of the process.” [Howard, pp. 70-90].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         The opening verses of Joshua describe a major turning point in the life of Israel. Their leader, Moses, the servant of the Lord, had died. They were on the brink of finally entering the land that God had promised to give to His people. And they had to enter this land with a new leader. What qualifications did Joshua have to become Israel’s new leader? Imagine how Joshua may have felt taking over for someone like Moses at such a crucial time in the history of God’s people. Why would verse 5 be so important for Joshua at this time in his life?

2.         What commands does God give to Joshua in 1:6-9? What promise does God give to Joshua? What does this tell you about the key to Joshua’s success as a leader [7-8]? Is this the same key to success for every Christian leader?

3.         Why do you think be strong and courageous is repeated three times in 1:6-9? How was Joshua to be strong and courageous? What was the basis or foundation for Joshua’s strength and courage? Where are we to look for the strength and courage to meet any situation?


Joshua: An Expositional Commentary, James Boice, Baker (Kindle eBook).

Joshua, Kenneth Gangel, Holman Reference.

Joshua, David Howard, Jr., NAC, B & H Publishing.

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