Joshua 1:1-18.
Our Source of Confidence

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


It is the Greek philosopher Heraclitus[1] who is credited with the statement that the only thing in the universe that remains constant is change.  With its potential for taking us out of our comfort zone, many of us experience anxiety or harbor fear when we face changes.  Change can bring unknown challenges.  Of course we all have encountered circumstances that we approached with some measure of anxiety, and our responses to those circumstances could be as varied as the circumstances themselves.  Almost any significant life change can be accompanied by fear and anxiety.  Consider for a moment what some of those circumstances might be:

It is easy for us to withdraw within ourselves when facing such challenges, thinking that we are on our own and must face the circumstance within the set of our own abilities, abilities that are often grossly underestimated.  However, those who have placed their trust in God never approach any circumstance alone.  No matter how daunting the task may appear, and no matter how many monsters our imagination may place within the mist before us, the LORD promises a wide array of resources to draw from as He guides, provides, and protects those who fully trust in Him.  Probably one of the most vivid examples of one who faced the monsters in the mist is Joshua, bar Nun, who was called upon by the LORD to succeed Moses as the leader of Israel as they entered the Promised Land of Canaan. 

Joshua 1:1-2.  Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, 2Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

Israel had spent fourteen generations in Egypt, formed as a large nation, a community of people that started with the twelve sons of Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham.  As the nation of Israel grew within the Egyptian borders, the Pharaohs, in fear of their growing numbers, placed the Israelites in increasingly burdensome slavery until the LORD dynamically and miraculously delivered them out of the hand of the Pharaoh Ramses II[2] under Moses’ leadership.  Though free from the Pharaoh, they were not yet established as a nation and were not ready to reenter the land that was originally given to Abraham and was now promised to them.  Given the opportunity almost immediately upon their emancipation, the people of Israel, in fear of the inhabitants of the land, refused to enter.  Only Joshua and Caleb spoke boldly in favor of following the LORD’s promises of protection and enter the land.  Consequently, it would be Joshua and Caleb who would ultimately lead them into Canaan after two generations of Israelites had passed, and after Moses died in Moab, east of the Jordan River.

One might spend a moment and consider what was facing Joshua.  Having served as Moses’ aide for forty years, Joshua was a man of God who was intimately familiar with the task of leading Israel.  However, Moses was a dynamic leader and to succeed him and take on the most significant events to ever face the nation seemed to Joshua to be a monumental task, one for which he felt entirely unqualified and unprepared.  How many of us would feel qualified to take over for Moses just as the nation is about to cross into Canaan with the command to take the land from its inhabitants? 

We will find that Joshua was not what we would today refer to as a “super-hero.”  He was simply a man who was dedicated to the LORD.  Because of Joshua’s obedience to Him, he was one that God could use to accomplish His purposes.  However, we will find that Joshua was a very typical person who faced life’s issues with the same array of concerns that would be prudent and reasonable to anyone.  We will find that Joshua needed encouragement in order to build up the courage that was needed for the tasks before him.  He was about to take the nation across the Jordan River into unknown territory.

Joshua 1:3-4.  Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. 4From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

The borders of the land indicated here are consistent with the borders that were described to Abraham.  This area would include that land west of the Euphrates river to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, as far south as the Negev desert (not including Gaza which was held by the established and military Philistine city-states) and as far north as Lebanon.  The land of Canaan was unique in several important ways.  First, unlike any other area in the region, it had always been free of any form of organized government.  It was surrounded by powerful and established kingdoms, but this singular region was populated by a loose community of nomadic tribes and independent cities.  Second, the land of Canaan served as the land-bridge between three continents:  Africa, Asia, and Europe, making it one of the most strategic and important pieces of land on earth because of its confluence of trade routes.  There is no humanly logical reason why this, the most valuable and important land in the known world, would not have been established as a powerful kingdom, if not the most powerful kingdom, hundreds of years prior when kingdoms were being established.  Of course, the biblical explanation is simple:  this land-bridge between the continents was to be established as a different form of kingdom where the king is the LORD.  Third, because there was no central government, there was no single form of defense.  The only significant defense to the influx of about two million Israelites would come from several walled cities, the most famous of which is Jericho.  Though the Israelites were great in number, they were not well-armed, nor were they any match for a formal military defense.  However, the nature of the task was also unique in that the LORD promised to go before them and, as long as they were obedient to Him, the LORD would intervene and guarantee their victories.

It might seem logically conflicting that the commission given to the Israelites was to enter the Promised Land and kill all of its inhabitants.  However, God is a Just and Holy Judge, and He has the authority to rule in this earth as He chooses.  Another characteristic of the Canaanites, possibly established because of their lack of central government, was the depth of moral depravity that existed in the region.[3]  They were a violent people who had no interest in the LORD.  Pagan child sacrifice and ritual prostitution that preyed on the defenseless was a normative part of their godless culture.  The entrance of Israel into Canaan would serve as a judgment of the LORD upon this pagan culture as He would, through the purge, show Himself to be God. 

Though the command to Israel was to destroy all, God’s grace and love would always serve to save any who cried out to Him as LORD, and there were numerous instances where the LORD did intervene on the behalf of the Canaanites.  Also, Israel failed in its completion of the purge, and continued to suffer the consequences of that failure as they were increasingly influenced by the pagan culture they allowed to remain, a conflict that remains to this day. 

Joshua 1:5.  There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

We will find that Joshua gave much thought to this task of taking over the leadership of Israel after the death of Moses.  Moses had established himself in Israel as a man of legendary stature with the LORD and with the nation.  How could any man “fill the shoes” of Moses?  Anyone who does not have a relationship with God would only approach such a task in their own power, necessitating the engagement of a great deal of pride or foolishness.  However, the LORD reminded Joshua of one simple and profound truth:  Joshua will not be approaching this task alone.  “It is clear that Joshua's authority comes from two different sources.  Firstly, and most importantly, he is God's choice to be Moses' successor, and secondly, as a consequence, he is Moses' choice also.”[4]  This task is being assigned to Joshua by the LORD who will be with him every step of the way.  The LORD reminded Joshua that Moses did not lead Israel in his own strength and abilities, but that Moses could only serve as he did because the LORD was with Moses and continually worked to lead and protect him, giving to him the resources that were needed to bring this nation of Egyptian slaves together.  God’s purpose is to bless His people, and He used Moses as part of His plan.  Now, he would use the more diminutive Joshua who now must take on this incredible mantle of leadership.  The LORD reminds Joshua that, as with Moses, He will (1) be with him, (2) will not fail him, and (3) will not forsake him. 

From this we see three promises that the LORD makes to those who trust in Him.

CONFIDENCE IN NEED

How can we approach the challenges of life when we know of God’s promises?

Joshua 1:6.  Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Having revealed His nature to Joshua, the LORD communicates to him an important imperative:  to (1) be strong, and to (2) be of good courage.  One can probably accurately speculate that Joshua is not feeling particularly strong or courageous at this time.  When a significant task needs to be done it is tempting for us to search for the strongest and most courageous person we can find.  This is a natural response and would be a reasonable one for anyone who does not have a relationship with God.  Without God we only have our own resources, our own strength and courage to rely on, so we need to call on someone who is the strongest and most courageous. We then turn the reigns of leadership over to those who seem to have the greatest personal strength: the bullies.  However, when one is a child of God, human reason must take a “back seat” to God’s wisdom and work. 

We lack strength and courage when we recognize our own inability to accomplish the task, and left without the LORD, Joshua would also have been unable to accomplish the task of leading the nation into the Promised Land.  God’s imperative to Joshua reveals to him and to us that when the LORD is calling us to the task He has already prepared us for it.  When we take that preparation and combine it with God’s promises we can approach the task with a strength and courage that comes only from our relationship with God.  Knowing that God is with us, will protect us, and will provide us with the resources to complete the task and serve to give us the courage to move forward.  For Joshua the task was intrinsically simple:  take the people over the Jordan River and divide the land among them as He had designed.  Its inception is simple, but the logistics of doing so will be difficult because of the presence of existing people who will not willingly give them the land.

Joshua 1:7a.  Only be thou strong and very courageous, …

It may be useful to note that within the same sentence the LORD repeats to Joshua the imperative to be strong and courageous.  Such repetition serves to infer that Joshua did not consider himself to be either strong or courageous.  This may be encouraging to us when we are faced with an unknown and possibly frightening future.  Even Joshua was hesitant and felt unworthy to be used of the LORD in the capacity to which he was called.  We can also note that this characteristic was true for virtually every individual who the LORD used to accomplish great things.  Moses recited to the LORD a list of his own shortcomings that would prevent him from accomplishing what the LORD commanded.[5]  The “Mighty Warrior” Gideon was called by the LORD while hiding from Israel’s enemies in a winepress.[6]

Joshua 1:7b.   that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. 

The LORD then gives to Joshua the formula for establishing the relationship with the LORD that will result in the fulfillment of His promises. 

1.  “observe to do according to all the law.”  This phrase is interesting.  God did not simply state, “Do the Law.”  Such a command would doom one to failure, for no one can perfectly follow the commands of God.  God does not hold the Law over the faithful as a weapon of judgment that will be used when we fall.  The Law simply illustrates the character of one who is faithful.  The statement that the LORD makes is to “Observe to do.”  This carries with it the idea of a sincere attempt.  The LORD is not judging us by the success of our obedience as much as He is looking at the sincerity of our hearts to seek obedience.  An appropriate relationship with the LORD is one where the person of faith truly loves the LORD and desires to follow Him in obedience because of that love and respect that we have for Him, working to become more and more obedient with every passing experience.  When we look at those who fell to God’s judgment, these were those who did not seek to obey Him.  God always served to lift up those who put their faith and trust in Him.  Always.

2.  Turn not from it.  This world is full of distractions and lies.  The distractions can take our attention away from the Word, and entice us into thinking that those distractions represent some form of truth.  Perhaps these distractions take the form of alternative ideas that would serve to convince us that we are in error in our understanding of spiritual matters.  Satan is the prince of this world and is always seeking to devour, and one of the ways he does this is to propagate half-truths and lies.  When we love the LORD and place our confidence in Him, and when we are obedient to learn of His nature and His purpose through the intentional and continual study of God’s Word, we will not be shaken from the direction of God’s purpose in our lives.  We will not be drawn away from one side or another, but will be able to continue forward in the task to which we have been called.

3.  That thou might prosper.  By seeking obedience and staying faithful to God’s Word and His purpose, God promises that we will, indeed, continue forward.  With a confidence that comes from the knowledge of God and His purpose, and a knowledge of His promises, we can find the courage to be successfully used of Him in that purpose.  The word that is used for “prosperity” herein does not refer to the gathering of riches which would be considered to be the fulfillment of what the world sees as success.  It more accurately refers to the blessings that we receive through the fulfillment of the LORD’s purpose in our lives.

Joshua 1:8.  This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

With the imperative to be strong and courageous, the LORD goes beyond the idea of simply seeking obedience to the law:  He mandates that the Law is able to fulfill its purpose in Joshua’s life only when Joshua will study and meditate on it until it becomes a part of his own heart.  When this happens, the very nature and content of his speech will be filtered by the truths of God’s word.  When this happens Joshua will find himself continually meditating on the scriptures as it then serves as a filter through which he comes to understand and interact with the world.  That is, the Word of God will be moved from the surface of the pages of the Torah and will be written on his heart.[7]

If Joshua is having doubts about his ability to lead Israel, and such doubts are quite likely, the LORD has given him the formula for his prosperity and success.  This same formula is appropriate for every person of faith as we find it continually repeated through the scriptures as the LORD repeatedly promises His blessing upon those who trust in Him and follow Him in obedience. 

At this point, is Joshua is fully prepared and fully confident?

Joshua 1:9.  Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The LORD takes the message to Joshua to another level when the imperative to be strong and courageous becomes a command.  When faced with the need to be strong and courageous, we would probably think as the world does, that such strength and courage is a “feeling.”  We do not feel strong.  We do not feel courageous.  The message for Joshua, and for us, is firm:  when God calls us to a task, we are to place our dependence upon Him, stay grounded in the Word of God, and we are to BE strong, and to BE courageous when armed with His presence. 

Being strong and courageous when taking on an ordained task for the LORD is not a feeling, and it is not an option.  It is a command.  As inadequate as we might feel on our own, we are not to allow those inevitable feelings of inadequacy to turn us from God’s purpose. 

  1. ·        Our strength does not come from our own power, but rather from God’s promises. 

  2. ·        Our courage does not come from our own pride, but rather from God’s presence.

Therefore, when faced with circumstances that would seemingly be too great for us, when we approach those events with the promises and the presence of God we are commanded to put our own feelings aside, and approach them with strength and courage.  Period. 

CONFIDENCE IN ACTION

Joshua 1:10-11.  Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, 11Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it.

Like us, Joshua would have had the opportunity to choose how he would respond to God’s command.  He could give in to his lack of personal confidence and engage some form of compromise or rationalization that would serve to avoid fulfilling the responsibility to which he was called.  Or, he could choose to trust in the promises and the presence of the LORD, to stand up, and to boldly go forward and follow the LORD’s commands.  To step into Moses’ shoes is no little task, but emboldened by the truths of God’s Word, Joshua makes no apologies, and voices no testimonies to his own doubts, but rather speaks directly to the leadership in Israel and communicates to them the plan that would begin their entrance to the promised land. 

Joshua knew that the plan that he is presenting is the plan of the LORD, so it is not open for discussion or modification.  He did not ask for the advice of the leadership or concern himself with their disparate opinions, ideas that would surely have drawn them from the true direction of the LORD.  Joshua, by approaching the leadership with the confidence that comes from the LORD, was immediately successful in taking command of Israel.  The leadership understood that they were to submit to Joshua’s leadership as they also understood from their knowledge of his godly character that he was, indeed, the one who would take them forward.

Joshua 1:12-15.  And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, 13Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, The LORD your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land. 14Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side Jordan; but ye shall pass before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and help them; 15Until the LORD have given your brethren rest, as he hath given you, and they also have possessed the land which the LORD your God giveth them: then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and enjoy it, which Moses the LORD’S servant gave you on this side Jordan toward the sunrising.

When the nation of Israel settled to the east of the Jordan river, the leadership of Reuben and Gad, along with half of the tribe of Manassah approached Moses with a simple request:  they were satisfied with the land to the east and literally refused to honor Moses’ command to take possession of the land to the west of the river.[8]  This request had introduced a crisis of leadership for Moses and threatened to break the nation apart.  The refusal by this faction of Israelites was firm.  They would not move their families and cattle over the river into the promised land.  Having seen the disaster that took all of Israel when they first failed to take the promised land, Moses invoked some of the wisdom of the LORD to solve this problem.  After listening to the request of these two and one-half tribes (who would be known as the “Transjordan tribes”) he agreed to give them the eastern land, but only if their men joined with the other tribes in the conquest of Israel.[9] 

Joshua now finds himself faced with the same conflict that Moses had dealt with shortly before his death.  The land east of the Jordan River, the Transjordan was not in its entirety a part of the land of promise, and historically, would never be considered a legitimate part of the nation of Israel since it was not all given to Abraham.  Again, Joshua boldly took command of the situation and spoke to the rebellious leadership of the Transjordan tribes.  Without compromise, Joshua demanded that they fulfill the promise that they had made with Moses in exchange for their keeping the land east of the Jordan. 

CONFIDENCE REWARDED

Joshua 1:16-18.  And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go. 17According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses. 18Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.

One can only imagine what Joshua was thinking when he went back to his tent on this night.  He started this mission with the command to step into the leadership role formerly held by Moses.  He knew that he did not have the confidence or courage for the task.  However, now at day’s end he has successfully begun the process of moving the nation into the promised land by gathering together its leadership and presenting them with the plan that would take them forward.  Doing so in the confidence that comes only from knowing that he is working within the will of the LORD, the leadership of the nation, including the rebellious members of the Transjordan tribes, willingly submitted to his leadership without hesitation or criticism. 

The final testimony of the Israelite leadership may be of interest to we who sometimes feel inadequate to accomplish the work that the LORD calls us to.  After the leadership promised to follow Joshua, and after they promised to defend Joshua’s commands even to the death, they made an interesting observation.  They voiced almost the same words that Joshua heard from the LORD:  be strong and of good courage.

It is apparent that Joshua’s humility and self-deprecation was also known by the leadership of Israel.  They may have been amazed when Joshua stood up and took command, because they were aware of his lack of self-confidence and his diminutive “stature,” having spent his life in the shadow of the revered Moses.  Still, they recognized that He was the one who would lead Israel, and he would need to do so with confidence and determination in order to convince a fickle people to follow his lead.  So, they also encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous as he would face the challenges that would come as Israel would enter the Promised Land.  They would themselves need someone who is strong and courageous to lead them, and knowing this, they worked to encourage Joshua.

When the day started, Joshua was mired in doubts concerning his ability to rise to the task.  When the next morning would arrive, Joshua would now be the unquestioned leader of the nation of Israel.

God loves His children and seeks to bless them.  He also seeks to use them as His obedient stewards of the work of His kingdom on this earth.  This call to stewardship is given to every faithful believer.  It is natural for us to reject this call because of our own lack of self-confidence.  It is easier for us to say “no” when the LORD gives us opportunities for service, justifying our answer by our own lack of confidence and courage.  We can be both instructed and encouraged when we look at the experience of Joshua who, like many of us, needed confidence.  We might note that part of God’s blessing is to encourage us.  To encourage means simply to “give courage to.”  Let us approach our walk with the LORD with His encouragement so that He can use us as He would desire, as His stewards of His kingdom.  Be strong.  Be courageous.  Take that first step and watch the LORD bless your journey.


[1] From Ephesus, 535 – 428 B.C, Heraclitus is credited with the establishment of the word logos, to refer to the order in the universe, translated “word” in John 1:1, and elsewhere.

[2] Nineteenth dynasty. Considered one of the greatest Egyptian Pharaohs, Usermaatre-Setpenre Ramesses II the Great.  1279 – 1213 B.C.

[3] Genesis, Chapter 19.  This is the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, that were similarly destroyed by the LORD in the days of Abraham.

[4] Fountain, A Kay. An investigation into successful leadership transitions in the Old Testament.  Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 7 no 2 Jul 2004, p 190.

[5] Exodus, Chapters 3 and 4.

[6] Judges 6:11.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

[8] Numbers, Chapter 32.

[9] There would be consequences to this demand by the tribes, since their being cut off from the main group by a natural boundary isolated them from Israel and exposed them to attack by warring neighbors.  Once the campaign to take the Promised Land ended and the men of the Transjordan tribes returned home we hear nothing more of their inclusion in the events of Israel