The first sermon in a summer series
on Joshua and the Judges
“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.’”
When Andrew Johnson came to the presidency in 1865, he had officially been Vice President for 5 weeks. But that event of taking his oath of office before the assembled Congress, President Lincoln, and other dignitaries indelibly stamped the man’s career.
The night before, he had attended a party in his honor where he drank heavily. Hung over the next morning, on his way to the Capitol he asked departing VP Hannibal Hamlin for some whiskey. He proceeded to toss down two shots and said, “I need all the strength for the occasion I can have!”
On his way to the rostrum at the Capitol he took one more shot, and then proceeded to deliver a long, rambling address which sounded like a man who had had three shots of whiskey. At times Johnson was nearly incoherent. President Lincoln and the assembly endured the awkward spectacle, after which Johnson was hurriedly sworn in, and Lincoln delivered his famous 2nd Inaugural Address…perhaps carrying an added note of irony: “With malice toward none; with charity for all…”
Five weeks later Lincoln was dead, and it was all downhill after that. Andrew Johnson is largely viewed as the worst possible person to have been President at the end of the Civil War. He utterly failed to make a satisfying peace because of his racist views, his incompetence, and his incredible miscalculations of public support for his policies. History has long speculated about how different our country would have been had Lincoln lived into the Reconstruction. In the end, Johnson did more to extend the national strife than to heal the wounds of war.
As the saying goes, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. But some… well…they make a real mess of it! Joshua is the Andrew Johnson to Moses’ Abraham Lincoln. But that is where the similarity quickly ends! Johnson may have found his courage in a bottle, but for Joshua, his courage came from a holy different Spirit!
Joshua appears in Bible history for the first time back in Exodus 17. The Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea, having left slavery in Egypt, and they are facing their first battle with a hostile tribe, the Amalekites. And Moses says to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek.” This is the famous battle where Moses stands on a hilltop holding up his hands in blessing. And as long as he holds his hands in the air, Israel prevails. But, naturally, being an 80 year old man, as his arms got tired and he dropped his hands, Israel was pushed back. So Aaron and Hur hold up Moses arms for the duration of the battle, until Joshua and the Israelites prevail over the Amalekites.
Later, in Numbers 13, Joshua is listed again among the twelve spies whom Moses sends into Canaan to scope out the people and the land. Joshua and Caleb are the only two of the twelve who bring back a good report. He and Caleb say, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” That wasn’t simply eager bravado. Joshua, being Moses’ general, knew the strength of Israel’s fighting men.
So we meet Joshua as a warrior, and as a wise, knowledgeable military leader. In a number of conflicts during the 40 years of wilderness wandering, Joshua leads Israel’s men of might to victory. Perhaps this is the reason Moses changes Joshua’s name. Technically he is named Hosheah, which in Hebrew means salvation. But Moses calls him Ye-hosheah, meaning him who brings salvation, a savior. Later shortened to Yeshua…which is also the Hebrew form of the name Jesus. And, indeed, in many ways, Joshua is an Old Testament Jesus. But…we’re getting ahead of our story!
With all of this build up you might see why Joshua is a favorite figure for preachers when we want to pump people up. Joshua the Brave. Joshua the Courageous! Be like Joshua! Be brave! Be courageous! But you see, it’s not really about Joshua…all this bravery and courage. That’s what the writer wants us to realize from the very beginning of this saga! He doesn’t give us anything about Joshua the man in this first chapter. Joshua may already have been a great man in Israel by this point, a gifted leader, a warrior of great renown. But that doesn’t matter here!
In v1, “…the Lord said…” That’s what counts here! “The Lord said to Joshua…” That’s what’s going to make all the difference in this saga. “The Lord said to Joshua…” That’s where all the examples of courage come from. Not primarily Joshua. God! From what God says to Joshua.
And what God says to Joshua in this first chapter is amazing…full of promise! V5, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” Just as God first took hesitant, argumentative, slow of tongue, bumbling Moses and through him did so many great wonders and mighty signs and miracles, so God promises to take Joshua and do the same thing!
First thing! A promise. A promise from God. Joshua may indeed have been better prepared to take on leadership than Moses had been at the beginning but that counts for nothing here. What counts is God’s promise to Joshua.
V6, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” Like Jesus in the ultimate sense, Joshua is going to be the one by whom God makes the Promised Land a reality. No…Joshua will not be crucified in order to do this, but there will be blood…there will be a lot of blood shed along the way. Joshua will need to be strong and courageous…like Jesus in Gethsemane…on Good Friday…Joshua will need courage to accomplish all of this.
V7, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the Law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” Joshua is told not to fiddle with the plan. This is God’s plan…not Joshua’s.
But for this plan, Joshua will certainly need to be very courageous. Remember last summer’s series with Moses? Moses’ work leading the Israelites was no picnic. The Israelites were stubborn and quarrelsome. They turned against Moses, violently, whenever things got tough.
In fact, at one point God Himself was so angry with the Israelites that He told Moses to step aside while God wiped them all out with the blast of His anger. The Lord intended to start over with Moses. But Moses did the Jesus thing. He stepped between God’s anger and rebellious Israel and pleaded with God to remember His promise and spare them. The chosen nation is hardly going to become more compliant and faithful now just because they’re in Canaan with a new leader!
So where is Joshua going to get the necessary wisdom to inspire this necessary courage? God tells him, v8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” The Book of the Law, the Word of God to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Read it, Joshua. Study it, Joshua. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, Joshua, so that it rolls off your tongue like your second language. Then, v8, “You will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Indeed, from ancient times God’s people have recognized “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom. Courage. Strength. From Moses back to Abraham and beyond. And now God caps His call of Joshua as He began, with words of promise! V9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
“God with us.” Immanuel. For Israel as a nation that promise was located first in Moses, now in the person of Joshua. Ultimately that promise finds its located-ness for all people in the person of Jesus. And where the promise is, there is the source of courage and strength!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, struggling with his Canaanites of Nazi Germany, once preached in a sermon, “This is faith: it does not rely on itself or on…favorable conditions; it does not rely on its own strength or on other people’s strength, but believes only and alone in God…. It is the only faith that…does not let us slip back into fear, but makes us free of fear.” [“Overcoming Fear” 1933]
Armed with the promise of God, Joshua steps into leadership in faith, reminding us of that greater Yeshua, whose promise calls us in faith: “Follow Me.”
Next week, we march around Jericho.