Marching Orders

Why would Joshua need such courage? Because “you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them” (v. 6b). Even Moses did not fulfill this purpose. Their greatest leaders had not brought them to this place of victory. Now Joshua would lead a nation numbering in the millions into hostile territory inhabited by some of the most wicked cultures known to human history. Indeed he would attempt something so great it was doomed to fail unless God was in it.

What is the secret to such courage? Faithful obedience: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7). Obedience was and is the prerequisite for divine power and protection. The land was not unconditionally theirs, as Deuteronomy 8:1 made clear; they had to obey the Lord to receive it. Such obedience was not works righteousness—they could do nothing to earn or deserve this grace gift. Rather, their obedience would position them to receive the power and provision God intended to give.

So what is the secret to such obedience? Constant communion: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth” (v. 8a). Those in the biblical era typically read the Scriptures aloud, whether to others or themselves (see Acts 8:30 for one example). We would do well to follow their practice, as we remember far more of what we hear than what we see. And so Joshua and his people were not to allow the word of God to “depart from your mouth.”

Rather, they were to “meditate on it day and night” (v. 8b). “Meditate” in the Hebrew describes a low murmuring sound made by a person contemplating something. We will not simply read the words and leave them on the page, but we will bring them into our hearts and lives. When you read the word of God, first read its words aloud. Then use all your senses. Imagine yourself in this setting—how it feels to your skin, smells, tastes, sounds, looks. Experience these words fully and sensually. Then ask the Lord for one thing you should do differently because you have spent this time with him in his word. Write down that idea or fact; read it over through the day; ask the Lord to apply it to your unconscious thoughts as well as your intentional decisions.

When you “meditate” on the word of God “day and night,” the result will be that “you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (v. 8c). As we commune with God in his truth, we find his help in practicing the faithful obedience which creates courageous strength.

Last, what is the secret to such constant communion? Trusting the presence of God: “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (v. 9). He is “the Lord your God.” Martin Luther believed that the most important single word in the 23rd Psalm is found in its first clause: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Not just the shepherd or even our shepherd, but my shepherd.

Likewise, the Lord is your God. You can go no place which is exempt from his providence and presence. If you will trust him to be present in your life in this and every moment, you can then practice his presence through communion in his word. When you commune with him in his word, you have his guidance to practice faithful obedience. And as you are obedient to his word and will, you will have his strong courage to fulfill that purpose.

As we will see across this study, Joshua experienced precisely such strength and courage. He would lead the people to the great military conquest which would create their nation. He would establish them in their Promised Land, and make of their roving tribes a permanent and mighty people. His God will do no less with us.

Stand publicly for God’s purpose (vs. 10-18)

Now the crisis moment has come. Joshua could lead the people to stay where they are. The nations surrounding them are not yet strong enough to threaten their short-term safety. They could camp on the eastern side of the Jordan and declare victory.

He could abdicate leadership. After all, he’s already done so much, and is now advancing in years. If he was only 20 when he began his service to Moses, and then endured 40 years in the wilderness with the people, he would now be over 60 years of age. This was nearly twice the typical life expectancy in the ancient world. Joshua could with merit claim that he had led the people as far as he could, and ask God to find another to finish their pilgrimage to their land.

He could enter the land privately, seeking his own fortune and his family’s security. Then if he failed, none would know. If he succeeded, he would only take his just reward for his years of faithful service.

Or he could make public his commitment to God and his purpose. This was a true hinge point for Jewish and redemptive history. Would God have a people in this land, or not?

His decision was clear and instantaneous: “So Joshua ordered the officers of the people…” (v. 10). With this commitment, he assumed full command of the army and the nation. Their destiny would be his. He would step into the office vacated by Moses’ death and now assigned him by God. He would stand publicly for the purpose of God.

And he would call the nation to follow him. He sent the officers throughout the nation to prepare the people for their pilgrimage across the Jordan and into their Promised Land (vs. 11-12). Then he spoke personally to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh with them (v. 12), calling them to public obedience as well.