Joshua 1:1-11
Be Strong and Very Courageous

Lesson 1 - God's promises and commission
Exposition by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Joshua is now the leader and feels the whole weight of responsibility upon him. But Joshua's leadership doesn't begin here.

Joshua's Résumé

Who is the only person besides Adam and Eve to have no earthly parents? Why, Joshua, of course. He is constantly referred to as Joshua, son of Nun. (It's a joke folks! I can hear groans all over the Web.)

He is a member of the one of the largest tribes in Israel, the tribe of Ephriam, and quickly rises to prominence. His name originally is, "Hoshea" ("salvation") but Moses renames him "Joshua," which means "Yahweh saves" (Numbers 13:16).

Joshua is doubtless a leader in his tribe as God lead the people out of Egypt when Joshua is about 40. When the Amalakites attack the Israelites at Rephidim, before the people reach Mt. Sinai, Moses calls on Joshua as the military field commander to organize an army to repel them.

"The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, 'Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.'
"So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up -- one on one side, one on the other -- so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword." (Exodus 17:8-13).

After that we see him as Moses' aide or "servant." He accompanies Moses up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:13). When Moses talks to God in the Tent of Meeting, Joshua is there, too. "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face," the Scripture records, "as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent" (Exodus 33:11).

We catch a little of his youthful zeal when God's Spirit falls on a couple of Israel's elders in the camp. "A young man ran and told Moses, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, 'Moses, my lord, stop them!'" But Moses restrains him. "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD'S people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:26-29).

When representatives of the Twelve Tribes are chosen to spy out the land, Joshua (leader of the prominent tribe of Ephriam) is chosen along with Caleb (leader of the other most prominent tribe of Judah). Though ten of the spies gave a bad report, Joshua and Caleb display their faith in addressing the people: "If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them" (Numbers 14:8-9).

Finally it comes time for Moses to choose a successor.

"So the LORD said to Moses, 'Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.'
"Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses" (Numbers 27:18-23).

Notice that the Spirit is already upon Joshua (vs. 18). What is new is the commission and authority to command.

Camped at Shittim

As we open the book of Joshua, the people of Israel are camped on the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 34:8) at Shittim (which means "Acacia Trees," Joshua 2:1), where they have been for months, about 7 miles east of the Jordan. This is the last camping place before the Israelites cross Jordan. At Shittim they:

  • Commit immorality with Moabite and Midianite women (Numbers 25:1-9) at the instigation of Baalam.
  • Are numbered in a census (Numbers 26:1-4)
  • See Joshua invested with Moses' authority (Numbers 27:18-23)
  • Hear Moses recite the history of the people and the laws of God (most of which are contained in the book of Deuteronomy)
  • Watch as Moses climbs to the top of Mt. Pisgah to see (but not enter) the Promised Land, and then die at the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)
  • Bury Moses nearby in Moab (Deuteronomy 34:5-8)

Struggling with Fear and Responsibility

So long as Moses is alive, Joshua can serve under this great leader, awaiting his time. But as we open the book of Joshua, Moses is dead, and Joshua is the sole leader. The weight of the entire enterprise rests on his shoulders.

Have you ever felt fear? Have you ever been overcome with the magnitude of what you have to do, and wonder how you can ever do it? I think that's what Joshua was feeling. But God's words of command and encouragement met his need. I think they'll help us, too.

Wherever You Set Your Foot (1:3-4)

I've always been fascinated by God's promise in Joshua 1:3: "I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses." God recalls to Joshua's mind the general promise that Moses had announced to the whole people in Deuteronomy 11:24: "Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea."

What does this mean? It means that where Joshua and the people actually went, physically, God would give it to them. We see the promise fulfilled in Joshua where the people won battle after battle in campaigns in both the south and north of Palestine. Where they actually went, God gave them the land. But where they didn't go, the Canaanites continued to hide out and harass them.

Caleb remembered this promise, too, when he got ready to attack the fortified city of Hebron at the age of 85: "So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly'" (Joshua 14:9, citing Moses' promise in Deuteronomy 1:36).

I think this principle also applies in other realms of our life. We want everything brought to us on a silver platter, but God tells us to go and claim it personally. We have to go out to get it, and then God will give it to us. Spiritually, we want to grow. How will we do that? Passively? No, by believing the promises of God and desiring to see their fulfillment in our own lives. That desire will help us press through in faith and prayer, and actually grow in the Lord. He will give it to us, but we need to find a way to actually follow him there.

God outlines the physical territory which he is giving to Israel -- a huge land: "from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates -- all the Hittite country -- to the Great Sea on the west" (Joshua 1:4). In fact, during Joshua's time they never set their foot on all this. Most was under Israel's control by the time of David and Solomon, but then it was lost again through disobedience and unbelief.

There are great tracts of "land" God would give you that are now occupied by the enemy. They don't belong to the enemy. They belong to you. God has given them to you. There's a saying in legal circles: "Possession is 9/10ths of the law." The enemy has "squatter's rights," but only that. When you -- with God's help -- push the enemy off your inheritance, you can possess it, and experience its blessings. The book of Joshua can be a book of Conquest for you spiritually if you'll let it be.

God never leaves, never forsakes us (1:5)

I suppose of all the promises in the Bible, this is one of the most precious: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (1:5). We find it elsewhere in the Bible, too, in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5, for example.

One of the great prayers of the Bible centered on this issue. When the people of Israel rebel against God and worship a golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God has had enough: "Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey," he says, "but I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way" (Exodus 33:3). Moses' response is eloquent:

"Then Moses said to him, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?' And the LORD said to Moses, 'I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.'" (Exodus 33:15-17)

None of us deserves God's presence. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But God has put our sins on Jesus and punished them there. He has filled us with his Spirit, and now abides with us. What a miracle! What grace!

We can sin, and God doesn't leave us. He disciplines us, but doesn't leave us. As I am writing this in mid September 1998, the Kenneth Starr report has just been delivered to Congress. Yesterday, President Clinton spoke to spiritual leaders meeting at a previously-scheduled prayer breakfast at the White House. "There is no fancy way to say I have sinned," Clinton told them. "My spirit is broken," he continued, citing David's great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. Bill Clinton has tried to follow Christ, and like all of us has failed at points. He tried to excuse it, denying to himself that what he was doing was really very wrong. He even denied it to the American people. But before we're too hard on him, let's remember how many times we've been in denial about our own weaknesses and sins, and have had to wait for God's strong discipline before we were willing to turn.

This promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," is a promise about God's help, but also a promise about his discipline. Here, God meant it to encourage Joshua on this day that his leadership began.

Be strong and very courageous (1:6)

What is faith? When we understand that, we understand the key principle that underlies the book of Joshua and the whole of the Christian life. Very simply, it is believing that God will do what he says he will do. Paul puts it this way in Romans 4:20-22:

"Yet [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.'"

God gives Joshua a promise: "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you." Then immediately he gives him a command: "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them" (Joshua 1:5-6).

Is faith just the believing the promise? Yes. But it is believing it enough that we are strong and courageous when problems come and the obstacles appear -- and they always do.

Faith requires courage and strength, because only when we exercise courage and strength do we maintain our belief in any real way. If, at the first problem, we cave in and give up, we don't have faith, we have unbelief.

We all struggle with this. None of us is immune. Joshua was filled with God's Spirit, had worked alongside Moses, and had been on the mountain with God, and still needed this kind of encouragement.

One of the reasons you haven't grown more in your walk with God is because of your fear. Fear of people, fear that people won't approve, fear that you'll fail, fear that you'll make a fool out of yourself, fear that you aren't strong enough, fear that God will let you down. Fear. This promise and command has your name on it: "I will never leave you or forsake you, (insert your name). Therefore be strong and very courageous!"

Meditate on the Word (1:7-9)

Thankfully, God doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves as we try to take courage. He helps us. His instruction is:

  • "Be careful to obey all the law.... Do not turn from it to the right or to the left" (1:7).
  • "Do not let this Book of the Law depart out of your mouth" (1:8a).
  • "Meditate it on day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it" (1:8b).

This is what will strengthen our faith and courage: attention to God's word.

"Oh, how I love your law!" writes the Psalmist. "I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies.... Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:97, 105). The Word of God is not just "sweeter than honey" to us (vs. 103), it is also instructive. We learn wisdom from God as we meditate on His word.

What does it mean to meditate? Do we assume a lotus position and hum? Do we erase all thoughts from our mind and try to merge our thoughts with the Great Beyond? No. That sort of thing comes from Eastern religion. To meditate means to think about, mull over, ponder. This very kind of Bible study we're engaged in involves us in the process of meditation. We have the text and a list of questions: What? Why? Where? Who? And so we read and think and try to understand. That is meditation.

Someone said that studying the Scripture was like "thinking God's thoughts after him."[1] I like that. When we read the Word of God we are doing that, retracing in our minds what God is thinking. The more we do that, the more we begin to understand God and the way he thinks. The more we leave the mindset of our secular world-view, we are "transformed by the renewing of our mind" (Romans 12:2). With it comes faith, a confidence in God.

In a classic statement of the role of scripture in this, Paul writes, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

So God's encouragement and exhortation to Joshua that day met his needs:

  1. Faith Assurance: "I will never leave you or forsake you" (1:5)
  2. Faith Exhortation: "Be strong and very courageous" (1:6,9)
  3. Faith Food: "Meditate on it day and night" (1:8)

God's success formula (1:8b)

With these instructions come the keys to prosperity and success: "then you will be prosperous and successful" (1:8b).

I see bookstores full of books on "success." You can buy tapes to reprogram your mind to think successful thoughts. And so on. And much of what they say is true. But it is not complete.

The world says...

God says...

Trust in yourself

Trust in me. I will never leave you.... (1:5)

Boldly strive for your dream

Be strong and very courageous and step out to possess the land, because I will be with you (1:9)

Think good thoughts, positive thoughts

Meditate on God's word (1:8a)

Then you will be prosperous and successful

Then you will be prosperous and successful (1:8b)

Be aware of the differences. Faith in self will ultimately disappoint us. We are told not to do that in the Bible.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The world says: be bold, strive for your dream, take risks. And these things are important. But our motivation for boldness is faith in God's promises.

While positive thinking is essential to faith, it is not faith itself. It only opens they way to faith thoughts within us.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things" (Philippians 4:8)

Positive thinking is a partial truth, not a full truth. The full truth is that we should meditate on God's word, not just motivational hype. Jesus said,

"If you hold to (Greek meno, continue in, abide in) my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).

The world tempts us with the promise of prosperity and success without God. But the fact is, that whatever measure of prosperity and success we find without God will profit us nothing in the long run. Jesus tells us: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). He says, "You cannot serve God and Money" (Matthew 6:24). He says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)

Moses cautions the people of Israel with God's admonition: "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

So success is found in God only, not in a success formula divorced from God.

The order to advance (1:10-11)

Joshua has been encouraged by God. Now he begins to obey the command he has been given: to lead the people into the Promised Land. It is a small step he takes, ordering the officers to spread the word that they will break camp in three days. But he takes that first small step. That's all he needs to do today: take today's step. As he does this, day by day, God will lead him, and he will lead the people.

Notice, however, that this first step is generously flooded with faith. "Get your supplies ready," he tells them. "Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you for your own" (1:11). He declares his faith to those who are with him on the journey, and so strengthens them, too.

Whom can you encourage today, as you take the next small step in your journey of faith?


1. The phrase "thinking God's thoughts after him" is attributed to Sir Isaac Newton.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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