Let’s turn to the first chapter in the book of Joshua. We discovered last week that a big theme in the book of Joshua is that God keep his promises. And we see him doing this throughout the book of Joshua. For instance, we’ll see God delivering the enemies of Israel into their hands. He’ll lead them to cross the Jordan and enter the land in chapters 3 and 4. He’ll have Israel take Jericho and Ai and Bethel and really all the land of Canaan in chapters 5 through 11 of this book. God will split the land up between the various tribes in the last half of this book. All the while, God will be with Israel and Joshua, just as he promised.
But what about before these promises start coming to pass? What were the Israelites to do before God started working out his promises to them? That’s what we see in these first two chapters today. In these first two chapters, we see Encouragements to Believe God’s Promises. In this introduction to the book we won’t see fulfillment of God’s promises so much. But we will see the encouragements he gives to Joshua that those promises will come to pass. And we’re not necessarily going to see a lot of action today. But these chapters do prepare us for the action that’s in store for us.
So let’s start by examining the first scene. It takes up verses 1 through 9. And here we’ll start to see how God encourages Joshua to believe his promises.
Let’s look at the first two verses…
1:1 ¶ 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, 2 Moses 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.
Let’s just remind ourselves of who this man Joshua is. First, he’s a man of war. In Exodus 17 he fought against Amalek as Moses stood on the hill holding up the rod. Joshua was also an assistant to a godly man. The text reminds us that he was the servant of Moses. Joshua furthermore was a spiritual man. Remember? When Moses would leave the tent after meeting with the Lord, Joshua, a young man at the time, would often stay behind. In addition, Joshua was loyal. When two men started prophesying in the camp, it seems like Joshua was concerned that they were trying to take Moses’ place. That particular passage makes a point of saying that Joshua had been Moses’ servant from his youth. This lifelong servant of Moses was loyal to and jealous for his father in the faith. So, Joshua is a loyal, servant-minded, godly, man of war… You know what that tells me? God perfectly prepared this man for this time in his life. Israel needed a leader who could fight. They needed one who as their leader would still be their servant in a right way. And Israel needed a loyal godly leader to shepherd them to do God’s will. And now, with all that preparation taken care of, Joshua was ready for the work God called him to do.
Now, in the 1st chapter of this book, God tells Joshua to arise and cross the Jordan with all the people. Do you remember where the people were? They were on the plains of Moab to the east of the Jordan River. And they’re ready to enter the land God promised to them. They will soon take possession of it.
But wait. What land had God actually promised to the Israelites? Do you know off the top of your head? If not, that’s OK. Because God tells us in verses 3-4. He says…
3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. 4 From 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.
Whoa! Did you catch that? The Euphrates? Israel’s border was supposed to extend all the way to the Euphrates River? Do you remember reading that promise before?… Yeah, it’s actually what God promised to Israel. You might say, “well, did they ever occupy all that land?” The answer: Not in the book of Joshua. And not in the time of the Judges. Israel actually had to wait until the time of their first king — Saul — to ever get close to ruling over all that land. Then in the days of David, Israel seemed to capture a good deal of the land from the Mediteraenean Sea to the Euphrates. And then finally in the reign of Solomon, Israel reigned over all of that land.
So we’ve been discussing the East and West boundaries of Israel’s land. What about their north and south borders? God gave Israel the land from as far north as Lebanon to as far south as the wilderness – or the dessert to the south of Israel. This was the expansive territory God wanted Israel to have.
So, it took until the days of Solomon for Israel to rule over all this land that God promised them. They took it hundreds of years after they were promised it. Why? Well, I don’t want to give away too much about the latter chapters of Joshua, but what we end up seeing in this book is that the people are actually pretty slow to inherit their land – and that’s just the land of Canaan. Then of course in the times of the Judges the people aren’t even thinking about land. They’re too busy doing what’s right in their own eyes. So, the promise of the land remained really unclaimed until the days of the kings.
Let me just apply this a little. What promise has God given to you in the Scriptures that you have yet to claim? No, he’s not promising land these days to his NT people. He’s not promising victory over Amorites or Canaanites. But he does promise victory over your sin nature. He does promise that he’ll provide for you. He promises to never, ever leave you. Do you feel forsaken by God? Well, that’s all it is – a feeling. It’s not the truth. He promises to never forsake his own. Are you claiming his promise to keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus as you refuse to be anxious for anything? Are you claiming his promise to add all the things the Gentiles seek if you just seek first his kingdom and righteousness? If not, why not? Start today!
Now, this was a pretty big area that God promised to Israel. In modern-day terms, this space would probably occupy all of modern-day Israel and Jordan, and some, most, or all of Egypt to the south-west, Saudi Arabia to the south-east, Iraq to the east, Syria to the north-east, and Lebanon to the north. This sounds like a daunting task. This doesn’t sound like an encouragement. It sounds like a discouragement.
And that’s why God encourages Joshua to believe his promises in verse 5. There, God says…
[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.]
So, even if this area that God promised had 100 million valiant warriors to defend it, not a one of them would be able to stand before Joshua. That’s God’s encouragement. And just as God had been with Moses, so he would be with Joshua. Now, in what way was God with Moses? Certainly in numerous ways. But one thing comes to mind. At the end of Moses’ life, was there any doubt as to whose side God was on, so-to-speak? For example, was God on Miriam’s side and Aaron’s side when they rebelled against Moses? No. God was on Moses’ side. Was God on the side of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram when they confronted Moses and questioned his authority? No. God was for Moses. And just like God was for Moses, so he would be for Joshua. There’d be no question as to whom God supported to lead Israel. And it seems like Israel learned their lesson during Moses’ time. And really none of them put up any resistance to Joshua at all.
And in all of this and over all of this, God promises to not fail or forsake Joshua. Joshua could count on that. You know, one very wonderful consequence of being the sovereign creator and ruler of everything and everyone is that it is really impossible for God to ultimately fail at anything. When we make plans and intend to do things, we need to keep in mind that these things will happen only – as James says – if the Lord is willing for it to happen. But brethren, there is no “Lord-willing” for our God. If he makes a promise or intends to do something, he will bring it to pass.
Now, let me introduce you to a phrase that Joshua hears a few times in this short passage. It’s found in verse 6 where God says…
[ 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.]
Here’s the first time we hear this phrase, “be strong and of a good courage.” Or is it? Well, it’s the first time we hear it in the book of Joshua. But actually, if you had read through the book of Deuteronomy before, you would have heard it there, too. This phrase is made up of two Hebrew verbs – chazaq and amatz. These two words occur in Deu 3:28 first. That’s where God first tells Moses to “encourage” and “strengthen” Joshua. Then in Deu 31:6 Moses actually commands all Israel to “be strong and of a good courage.” In the next verse – Deut 31:7 – Moses charges Joshua with these exact same words. Moses gives the same charge one more time before the book of Deuteronomy is over in 31:23. So, actually we see either God or Moses making this charge 4 times in the book that immediately preceds the book of Joshua – Deuteronomy.
So, what have we seen so far? We’ve seen God verbally encouraging Joshua. Isn’t it interesting how words can wield quite a bit of power? They’re just simple words. Good job! Keep it up! I’m praying for you! And yet, what an effect they can have on us. God, of course, understands this power and takes this opportunity to verbaly encourage Joshua.
And he doesn’t just say this phrase once! God says it to Joshua again in verses 7 and 8. He says…
[7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, 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. 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.]
So God again uses this encouraging command for Joshua to be strong and — not just merely courageous — but very courageous! And in this strength and courage, God reminds Joshua, that he needs to do according to the Law. If he keeps God’s commands, Joshua will prosper wherever he goes. God advises Joshua to continually meditate on God’s commands. This will make it more likely that these commands would be in his mind. And if they’re in his mind he’s going to have an easier time obeying them. And in all of this, God is wanting the success of his people. Did you catch the words he uses? Prosper. Propserous. Good success. God doesn’t want Joshua to fail. He wants the best for him and his nation.
And God finishes his verbal encouragements to Joshua with verse 9. He says…
[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.]
God is really stressing Joshua’s need to be strong and courageous, isn’t he? Three times in this first scene he’s already been told to be strong and courageous. Why? Was this man just naturally timid or cowardly? Well, we know he was a military leader in the days of Moses. He’s seen battle. And he proved himself. I think we do catch him in a weak moment later in the book. When God appears to have abandoned Israel as they fought Ai, Joshua ends up despairing. But that’s really the only hint of weakness I can really gather from this book. Joshua is a valiant warrior. He’s a man who loves God. He trusts God’s promises. And yet God sees fit to command him three times to be strong and courageous. What does that tell us about Joshua? He’s a fallen human capable of weakness and discouragement. Do any of us know what that’s like? And at the same time, do any of us, like Joshua of old, have any commands from God to be strong and courageous? Jesus – God in the flesh – tells us to not let our hearts be troubled. He’s preparing a place for us. And he is coming again to take us unto himself. We’re encouraged by the apostle John that the one who is in us – God – is greater than the one who is in the world – our adversary, the devil. Peter encourages us to be sober and vigilant because that adversary of ours walks around like a roaring lion – oh, only we can’t see or hear him. But he’s just as deadly. We need to resist him by being firm in the faith… In verse 9 here in Joshua 1, Joshua had the promise of the Lord’s presence. We have that promise, too. Jesus said, Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world – as we’re serving him and making disciples.
Alright, so we just saw a number of encouragements God gave to Joshua to help him believe God’s promises.
Now, let’s take a look at what Joshua himself does with those encouragements. First of all, in verses 10 and 11 Joshua addresses all Israel through their officers. Let’s read what he says…
[1:10 ¶ Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, 11 Pass 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.]
The people are going to enter the land in three days. After so long, it was finally happening! And everyone would pass over the Jordan and enter the land. Well, almost everyone. There were a few that would stay behind East of the Jordan River.
We can read about them in verses 12 through 15. The narrator says…
[12 ¶ And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, 13 Remember 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. 14 Your 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; 15 Until 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.]
So the women, children, and cattle of the Reubenites, Gadites, and ½ tribe of Manasseh would stay in the land that Israel captured from Sihon and Og. Everyone else would cross the Jordan and help the 9 ½ tribes get their inheritance. That’s the deal. That was what Moses had arranged. Would the 2 ½ tribes still agree to it?
Let’s read their reaction in verses 16 through 18…
[16 And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go. 17 According 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. 18 Whosoever 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.]
The 2 ½ tribes offer to be just as obedient to Joshua as they were to Moses. At first, that strikes fear into my heart. But really, as we go through the rest of the book I think we see these tribes really being very obedient. We don’t see any of the rebellion they displayed toward Moses. And so they are serious when they threaten anyone who disobeys Joshua with death. All they desire is that God would be with Joshua as he was with Moses. And then did you see what they say at the end? They repeat God’s comforting command to Joshua – be strong and of a good courage.