JOSHUA 1:1-9:




by Doug Ward

During the Paschal season it is customary for both Jews and Christians to place themselves at the scenes of the events they commemorate each year. Jewish participants in a Passover Seder traditionally think of themselves as being personally liberated from slavery in Egypt. On the other hand, Christians reenact the Last Supper, Jesus' final Seder, in their liturgy.1 At other times during the Days of Unleavened Bread or Holy Week, we might picture ourselves by the shores of the Red Sea, at the foot of the cross, at the empty tomb, or on the road to Emmaus.


One further location at which we might profitably place ourselves during the Paschal season is on the banks of the Jordan River, at the beginning of the biblical book of Joshua. As the book of Joshua opens, it is almost time for Passover (Joshua 5:10-11), and the children of Israel have reached a crucial juncture in their history.


Moses has recently died (Joshua 1:1), and it will be up to his assistant Joshua to lead the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. It is a time for the Israelites to reaffirm their covenant with God and prepare for the challenges ahead. At this pivotal moment, God offers encouragement to Joshua, reminding him of some principles that will be essential for the successful completion of his mission (Joshua 1:1-9).


For Christians, the season of Passover is a time of self-examination and reflection, a time when we consider the meanings of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, give thanks for the gift of salvation, and renew our own covenant with God. It is also a time to prepare for the challenges ahead, the "Jordans" we will have to cross. As we stand on the banks of those Jordans, God's words to Joshua still provide vital guidance and encouragement. Let's look at the important lessons contained in Joshua 1:1-9, lessons that are just as important for our success as they were for the success of Joshua and the Israelites.


Servants of God

The book of Joshua begins where the book of Deuteronomy leaves off:


"After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: `Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites" (Joshua 1:1-2, NIV).


Joshua 1:1 marks the second instance in the Bible in which Moses is designated "the servant of the Lord." The first is a few verses earlier in Deut. 34:5, at the initial announcement of Moses' death. The book of Joshua refers to Moses in this manner fourteen times, and it becomes a standard designation for Moses thereafter (2 Kings 18:12; 2 Chron 1:3; 24:6; Rev 15:3). This is certainly a fitting summary of his life. Although Moses experienced a number of setbacks during his lifetime-in particular, his failure to enter the Promised Land-he was, above all, a faithful servant of God.


Moses is not the only one called a servant of God in the Bible. Joshua is identified in this way (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8), as is King David (Ps 18:1; 36:1). The apostle Paul referred to himself and other early Christian leaders as servants-or more precisely, slaves-of God, of Jesus Christ, and of their congregations (Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; 2 Tim 2:24; Titus 1:1). So did Peter (2 Peter 1:1), James (James 1:1), and Jude (Jude 1).


In fact, all of the covenant people-not just leaders-can rightly be called servants of God. When God rescued the children of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh, his purpose was to make them his servants instead.2 Similarly, when we are delivered from the bondage of sin by the sacrifice of Jesus, we become servants of God. In his epistle to the young Christian congregations in Rome, Paul wrote, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life" (Romans 6:22).


Remembering who we are is one key to our success. Our identity as servants of God should guide our actions and decisions. Paul admonished Christians in Corinth, "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor 6:23, KJV). Later in the same epistle, he added, "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men" (7:20).


Joshua's Preparation

Joshua was one of only two men from the older generation of Israelites still alive forty years after Israel's departure from Egypt (Num 14:29-30; Deut 1:34-38). During those forty years he had gained much valuable experience as Moses' assistant.


In the early days of the journey Joshua served as a military commander, defending his people against the Amalekites, the terrorists who attacked the weak and infirm at the rear of Israel's ranks (Exod 17:8-16; Deut 25:17-19). When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the commandments of God, Joshua accompanied him part way and was not involved in the sin of the golden calf (Exod 24:13; 32:17). Joshua was one of the twelve scouts who explored the land of Canaan (Num 13:8); he and Caleb were the only two of the twelve to give a positive report and resist the people's demands to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt (Num 14:1-9). At the end of the forty years, God chose him as Moses' successor (Num 27:18-23).


By the time the Israelites reached the banks of the Jordan, Joshua had learned some important lessons. For example, he once protested to Moses about some unauthorized "prophesying in the camp" (Num 11:26-28). Here Moses corrected his loyal assistant, instructing him to let God be in control (v. 29). Such lessons would help Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land.


In Joshua's example we see another key to success: When God chooses us for a task, he gives us the experiences we will need in order to carry it out. These experiences teach us valuable lessons.


Claiming the Promise

God urged Joshua to lead Israel forward to occupy the Promised Land. This land was a free gift from God. All the Israelites had to do was go forward in faith to claim the promise.


In verses 5-9, God gave Joshua further instructions in how to carry out his assigned mission. These instructions are arranged in a chiastic structure that emphasizes some main points and shows how those points are related:

(a) At the beginning and end of the passage, in verses 5 and 9, is the promise that God will always be with Joshua and the Israelites. It is God's continued presence that provides the necessary setting for Joshua's mission. Without God's presence, Joshua would not be able to succeed.

(b) In the protective environment of God's presence, Joshua could be "strong and courageous", as is mentioned in the second and next-to-last parts of the chiasm (verses 6 and 9).

(c) Strength and courage would be needed for Joshua and the people to implement the Torah, the commandments God had given through Moses. By obeying the Torah, the Israelites could enjoy the full measure of blessing that God intended for them. This is brought out in the third and third-to-last parts of the chiasm, in verse 7 and the end of verse 8.

(d) The beginning of verse 8 is the admonition that occupies the central position in the passage: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night ...." To carry out God's commandments, the Israelites would need to study them, commit them to memory, and internalize them.



In Joshua 1:1-9, God encourages Joshua in his new role as leader of Israel. These verses lay out a program for the success of Joshua and the Israelites in taking over the Promised Land and thriving there.


These verses provide valuable instruction for God's people throughout the ages. They remind us that God has delivered us from bondage from sin and made us his servants. He has given us the gift of salvation and assigned a mission for us to accomplish (see Matt. 28:19-20), providing us with experiences that will help us carry out our parts of that mission. Along the way, we will have "Jordans" to cross. Because God is always with us, we can walk across those Jordans with courage and live victoriously, immersing ourselves in his ways.

Acknowledgment: Much of the material in this article is taken from a Bible study given by Dr. Richard S. Hess at Oxford Bible Fellowship on March 25, 2007. Hess, a professor at Denver Seminary, is the author of one of the top commentaries on the book of Joshua: Joshua: an Introduction and Commentary (InterVarsity Press, 1996).


1For further discussion, see "The Biblical Concept of Remembrance" in Issue 12 of Grace & Knowledge.


2This point is explored in detail by Göran Larsson in the book Bound for Freedom: the Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Hendrickson Publishers, 1999).

Issue 23



File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
15 Jun 2007, 19:34.