I The Passing of the Baton
Joshua’s commission (1:1–9)
1 The opening words announce the death of Moses. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Moses to Israel. For forty years he had been their leader in religious, domestic, judicial, military, and civic concerns. With Moses’ death one epoch ended and another began.
Moses’ death separates the Book of Joshua from the Pentateuch, for, obviously, Moses’ leadership had ended. A close relationship to the Pentateuch, however, is maintained because everything Joshua accomplished was the fulfillment of what God had begun with Moses. Observe the many links between Moses and Joshua in this chapter alone (vv.1, 3, 5, 7–8, 13–15, 17).
“Servant of the LORD” is a title of honor shared by Abraham, David, and the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah. (It is used most frequently of Moses: Exod 14:31; Num 12:7–8; Deut 34:5; and thirteen times in Joshua; “my servant” occurs twice.) The term “servant” was used to designate even the highest officials of a king. With the words “The LORD said to Joshua,” leadership is transferred from Moses to Joshua. Joshua was specifically prepared and divinely appointed for this moment (see Introduction; Num 27:15–23 and Deut 3:28; 31:1–8). Joshua is called the “son of Nun” ten times in this book (here, 2:1, 23; 6:6; 14:1; 17:4; 19:49, 51; 21:1; 24:29). Nothing is known about Joshua’s father. Already in the Pentateuch Joshua was called “Moses’ aide” (Exod 24:13; 33:11; Num 11:28). Only at the end of his life was he honored with the title “servant of the LORD” (24:29).
2 Because of his disobedience, Moses was not allowed to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land (Num 27:12–14). His death was the occasion for God to renew his command for Israel to enter the land. The crossing of the Jordan marked Israel’s entrance to the Promised Land, just as crossing the Red Sea had marked their departure from Egypt. Flood conditions and the presence of the enemy on the other shore made this a formidable undertaking. The land was always considered to be God’s gift to Israel (vv.3, 6, 11, 13, 15, et al.). The promise of the land, which was first given to Abraham in Genesis 12:7, is a major theme throughout patriarchal history and the Exodus, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy. The fulfillment of that promise is one of the major themes in Joshua.
3 In the Hebrew text nearly the same wording is found in vv.3–5a as in Deuteronomy 11:24–25a. This is another of the many ties between Joshua and the Pentateuch, especially Deuteronomy. The author has taken pains to demonstrate that the work of Joshua is the fulfillment of the Pentateuch.
4 The promise in Deuteronomy 11:24 (cf. Deut 1:6–8) is reiterated here, although the territory that Joshua and Israel actually conquered was not nearly so vast. The literal and complete fulfillment of this promise was not experienced by Israel until the reigns of David and Solomon (see 1 Kings 4:21, 24) and then once again in the time of Uzziah and Jeroboam. Though this vast area on both sides of the Jordan was promised to Israel (Deut 11:24), there is another tradition that regards only the land west of the Jordan as the Promised Land. According to this latter tradition, the territory possessed by the two and one-half tribes east of the Jordan lay outside the Promised Land (Josh 22:19). In Deuteronomy 12:10, for example, Moses stated that Israel would arrive at the land God promised them after they had crossed the Jordan. The word “desert” refers to the Negev in the south, and “Lebanon” (lit., “the Lebanon”) refers to the Lebanese mountains. Palestine was referred to as “the Hittite country” by both Egypt and Babylonia even after the Hittites had withdrawn from the area (cf. Judg 1:26; cf. NIV Study Bible, p. 292 n. 1:4). “The Great Sea” is the Mediterranean.
5 The conditions for the promise, “No one will be able to stand up against you,” are stated in vv.6–9. It was Israel’s failure to observe these conditions that caused their humiliating defeat at Ai (7:1–5). God’s promise, “I will be with you,” is most comforting and comprehensive (cf. Deut 31:6–8). The secret of Moses’ success had been God’s presence with him. It would be the secret of Joshua’s success also, and it continues to be the secret of success for the church (cf. Matt 28:19–20). The conditions for this promise are found in vv.7–8 (cf. 7:12). The statement “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is an example of the doubling of synonyms for emphasis, a common feature in this chapter (cf. vv.7–9, 18).
6 The command to be “strong and courageous” is repeated three times in God’s charge to Joshua (vv.6–9) and again in the people’s reply to Joshua (v.18). Perhaps Joshua was intimidated by the greatness of his predecessor Moses and the awesomeness of his own responsibility. For this reason courage is emphasized in the Lord’s charge to him. This passage introduces the two major parts of the book: the conquest of the land (chs. 1–12) and the division of the land (chs. 13–21).
7 “The law my servant Moses gave you” was probably some part or all of the Book of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 1:5 where the contents of Deuteronomy are specifically called “this law,” and see Deut 31:9–13). The many material and verbal parallels with Deuteronomy show that the author of Joshua was familiar with its contents. The covenant relationship between Israel and God as given at Sinai was contingent on Israel’s obedience to the law. The expression “to the right or to the left” is a vivid way of stating that no deviation would be permitted.
8–9 Verse 8 is the theme verse of Joshua. Throughout the rest of the book, the author draws illustrations from this crucial period in Israel’s history to demonstrate that God blesses his people when they obey him. The book may have been written in a period of apostasy and national disaster in an effort to call the people back to obedience (see Introduction, p. 244). The phrase “from your mouth” refers to the custom of muttering while studying or reflecting. The Hebrew word translated “meditate” (hāg̱āh) literally means “mutter.” When one continually mutters God’s Word to himself, he is constantly thinking about it. Knowledge of God’s law is not enough; one must also “be careful to do” what it commands. Thus the law of God is to control all thought and action. “Everything written in it” must be observed, because obedience to certain parts only is no obedience at all. As the Epistle of James (2:8–13) explains, such a practice shows respect for certain parts of the law only, but not for the Lawgiver.
The words, After the death of Moses, link this book with Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 34:1–9). Before Moses’ death Joshua was designated his successor (cf. Num. 27:15–23; Deut. 3:21–22; 31:1–8). Joshua had been Moses’ young aide for a number of years (Ex. 24:13; 33:11; Num. 11:28). Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8), and lived 110 years (Josh. 24:29).
Joshua may have felt a sense of loneliness, and waited expectantly near the Jordan River to hear the voice of God. He was not disappointed. When God’s servants take time to listen, He always communicates. In the present Age He usually speaks through His written Word. But in the Old Testament He spoke in dreams by night, in visions by day, through the high priest, and occasionally in an audible voice.
II The Place of Victory
Though the land was God’s gift to Israel, it could be won only by hard fighting. The Lord gave them title to the territory but they had to possess it by marching on every part. The boundaries established by God and promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18–21) and Moses (Deut. 1:6–8) were to extend from the wilderness on the south to the Lebanon mountain range on the north, and from the Euphrates River on the east to the Great Sea, the Mediterranean, on the west. The added expression, all the Hittite country, probably refers not to the extensive empire of that name north of Canaan but to the fact that in ancient times the whole population of Canaan or any part of it was sometimes called “Hittite” (cf. Gen. 15:20). “Pockets” of Hittite peoples existed here and there in Canaan.
Thirty-eight years earlier Joshua had explored this good and fruitful land as 1 of the 12 spies (Num. 13:1–16; there [Num. 13:8] he is called “Hoshea,” a variant spelling of his name). The memory of its beauty and fertility had not dimmed. Now he was to lead the armies of Israel to conquer that territory.
What is the extent of these boundaries? The territory actually conquered and possessed in the time of Joshua was much less than what was promised in Genesis 15:18–21. Even in the time of David and Solomon, when the land reached its greatest extent, the outlying districts were only within Israel’s sphere of influence.
When will the nation of Israel fully possess the land? The prophets have declared that at the time of Christ’s return to earth He will regather the Jews and reign in the land over a converted and redeemed Israel. Full and complete possession of the land awaits that day (cf. Jer. 16:14–16; Amos 9:11–15; Zech. 8:4–8).
1:5. As Joshua faced the tremendous task of conquering Canaan, he needed a fresh word of encouragement. From personal observation Joshua knew that the Canaanites and others were vigorous people who lived in strongly fortified cities (cf. Num. 13:28–29). Frequent battles kept their warriors in trim fighting condition. And for the most part the land was mountainous, a fact that would make war maneuvers most difficult. But when God gives a command He often accompanies it with a promise, so He assured Joshua a lifetime of continuous victory over his enemies, based on His unfailing presence and help. The words I will never leave you (cf. Josh. 1:9) may be rendered, “I will not drop or abandon you.” God never walks out on His promises.
As Joshua faced the tremendous task of conquering Canaan, he needed a fresh word of encouragement. From personal observation Joshua knew that the Canaanites and others were vigorous people who lived in strongly fortified cities (cf. Num. 13:28–29). Frequent battles kept their warriors in trim fighting condition. And for the most part the land was mountainous, a fact that would make war maneuvers most difficult. But when God gives a command He often accompanies it with a promise, so He assured Joshua a lifetime of continuous victory over his enemies, based on His unfailing presence and help. The words I will never leave you (cf. Josh. 1:9) may be rendered, “I will not drop or abandon you.” God never walks out on His promises.
III The Provision Identified
III The Provision Identified
Flowing from this strong affirmation that God would never let Joshua down was God’s threefold call to courage. First, Joshua was commanded to be strong and courageous (cf. vv. 7, 9, 18) because of God’s promise of the land. Strength and fortitude would be required for the strenuous military campaign just ahead, but Joshua was to keep uppermost in his mind the fact that he would succeed in causing Israel to inherit the land because it had been promised to their forefathers, that is, to Abraham (Gen. 13:14–17; 15:18–21; 17:7–8; 22:16–18), Isaac (Gen. 26:3–5), Jacob (Gen. 28:13; 35:12), and the entire nation, the seed of Abraham (Ex. 6:8), as an eternal possession. And Joshua now at last was to lead the children of Israel into possession of this Promised Land. What a strategic role he was to play at this crucial time in his nation’s history!
While in any given generation the fulfillment of this great and significant promise depends on Israel’s obedience to God, there can be no question that the Bible affirms her right to the land. By divine contract the title is hers even though she will not possess it totally and enjoy it fully until she is right with God.
1:7–8. Second, Joshua was again commanded to be strong and very courageous, being careful to obey all the Law of Moses. This command is based on God’s power through His Word. This is a stronger exhortation, indicating that greater strength of character would be required to obey God’s Word faithfully and fully than to win military battles! The emphasis in these verses is clearly on a written body of truth. Many critics argue that the Scriptures did not appear in written form until several centuries later but here is a clear reference to an authoritative Book of the Law.
To enjoy prosperity and be … successful in the Conquest of Canaan Joshua was to do three things with regard to the Scriptures: (a) The Law was not to depart from his mouth; he was to talk about it (cf. Deut. 6:7); (b) He was to meditate on it day and night, to think about it (cf. Ps. 1:2; 119:97); (c) He was to do everything written in it, to obey its commands fully and to act by it (cf. Ezra 7:10; James 1:22–25).
Joshua’s life demonstrates that in a practical way he lived according to the teachings of the Law of Moses, the only portion of the Word of God then in written form. This alone explains the victories he achieved in battle and the success that marked his entire career. In one of his farewell addresses to the nation just before he died he urged the people to live in submission to the Scriptures (Josh. 23:6). Tragically they heeded this charge for only a short time. In succeeding generations the people of Israel refused to be guided by God’s authoritative revelation, and they all did what they chose (Jud. 21:25). Rejecting an objective standard of righteousness, they chose a subjective one characterized by moral and spiritual relativism. This in turn plunged the nation into centuries of religious apostasy and moral anarchy.
1:9. The third call to courage addressed to Joshua was based on the promise of God’s presence. This did not minimize the task Joshua faced. He would encounter giants and fortified cities, but God’s presence would make all the difference.
Joshua probably had times when he felt weak, inadequate, and frightened. Perhaps he considered resigning before the Conquest even began. But God knew all about his feelings of personal weakness and fear and told Joshua three times, Be strong and courageous (vv. 6–7, 9; cf. v. 18). God also urged him not to be afraid or discouraged (cf. Deut. 1:21; 31:8; Josh. 8:1). These charges with their accompanying assurances (God’s promise, God’s power, and God’s presence) were sufficient to last a lifetime. Believers in all ages can be uplifted by the same three assurances.