Joshua’s First Steps as Leader (vv. 10-15)
Officers, Get the People Ready (vv. 10-11)
Upon receiving the Lord’s commission and encouragement, Joshua began obeying. It is likely that he had sent out the spies, who had not yet returned. Joshua had been this way before, but only as part of a small group of spies. He needed fresh intelligence about the condition of the land and roads, the best routes to take, the stores of food they would need. Joshua could not do this alone. The fighting force of the people, men aged 21 and up, numbered over six hundred thousand (Num. 26:51). It would not be easy to move such a large army, and Joshua needed help. He called upon the shoterim, the officers of the people, to pass through the host and get everyone ready to march – hopefully, within three days. They must take sufficient food for the initial stages of the conquest of the land – manna had already ceased (Josh. 5:12). Joshua’s officers must motivate God’s people with his promises – the Lord is giving you this land. Rise up, and take it. Our motivation is the same, as we have seen. Our Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven in glory. He has planted his gospel flag on the whole earth and calls us to move forward to make disciples of the nations. Our pastors, teachers, and elders are our Captain’s officers, encouraging us to take the food of the gospel with us for our warfare, the readiness of the gospel of peace, and urging us forward to occupy the land that belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ.
People, All Unite to Obtain God’s Promised Land (vv. 12-15)
There was a potential issue – the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh had already been given their inheritance on the eastern side of Jordan. This portion of Canaan had been conquered while Moses was alive. He gave them this portion upon condition that they help their brothers obtain their inheritance. It was now time to make good upon their commitment. They were “resting,”but they must help their brothers obtain their rest. Would they fulfill their pledge and help their brothers? Their affirmative answer is given in vv. 16-18; they would keep their commitment.
Some believers are at ease; others are persecuted. Some have plenty; others live in the “dens and caves of the earth.” Some believers have much of the battle behind them; others are just starting their warfare. If you are more mature, you have learned much of Satan’s craftiness and the deception of your own heart. You have also seen our Savior’s glory and learned that he is your strength. Other believers are behind you in the lines. They are stepping up to the firing line, especially younger believers. Will you help them? Will you unite with them to keep the battle going? Perhaps they are already wounded, hit by a stray bullet or injured by their own foolishness. We learn here that we must fight together. There can be no sense of entitlement or retirement in the body of Christ – that there is nothing left for me to do. Are you older or weak in body? Write letters to the younger, encouraging them. Do you lament the shallow experience of the present generation and their divided hearts? Speak to the weak. Pray for them. The whole body of Christ must be united in helping one another, fulfilling our oaths of commitment to one another. For, in swearing our allegiance to Jesus Christ, we also swear to one another, to love, uphold, help, pray for, encourage, and share with one another so that we reach the unity of the faith and maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:13-15).
The People’s Oath of Allegiance (vv. 16-18)
We Will Do All Your Command (v. 16)
Their renewed oath of allegiance encouraged Joshua – nothing is more settling to a leader than when the people follow him in serving the Lord. If a people are stubborn, a godly elder’s heart is grieved (Heb. 13:17). It creates antagonism and anxiety that distracts elder and people from the work to which the Lord has called us. Here, however, there was no division. “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go.” By so swearing they swore to the Lord. The new generation began very well – we will follow you, Lord, wherever you send us. We will obey. We will not be like our stubborn fathers and mothers, whose bones lie buried in their wilderness. Our Lord makes this same requirement of us – follow me wherever I lead you. If you would come after me, deny yourself and carry your cross daily (Luke 9:23-24). It is an oath of allegiance we make to him, as well as to his leaders, who stand in his place to us. We must by God’s grace learn to take more seriously our faith, our Christian discipleship, and our corporate responsibilities. Life is about allegiance to Jesus Christ, consciously seeing ourselves in his service, under his Lordship, following his blessed Word. Many are sluggish and easily deceived by the world because they are not serving Christ with alert, willing hearts. They do not see themselves as under oath to him – not to follow their feelings but to follow him.
May the Lord Be with You (v. 17)
The previous generation saw many mighty works of God, but they did not really believe the Lord was with Moses. They had no fear of God. It is very different for the new generation. God’s judgments had taught them a holy fear of the Lord, as witnessed by their confession: “As we listened to Moses, we will listen to you: only the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses.” O, the joy of a generation more faithful than their fathers! Remember that these younger Israelites had some experience fighting the wars of the Lord. Their fathers had disobeyed Moses, but they had obeyed. And why? One reason was their persuasion that the Lord was with Moses, and now was with Joshua. Our faith is never to be in men (1 Cor. 2:5). The reason we obey our pastors, teachers, and elders, as well as our parents, is because they stand in the Lord’s place to us. He is with them. It is the Lord we respect when we submit to our husband and obey our elders. These faithful Israelites will obey because they know the Lord is with Joshua. In following Joshua, they are following the greater Joshua, the true Captain of the Hosts of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Christians in positions of authority must learn, first, that they have no intrinsic but a delegated authority. Second, they must exercise that authority in humble obedience to the Lord, for they will give account to him. Third, the people must earnestly pray for the Lord to be with his leaders in the home, church, and state, for men in themselves can do nothing against sin and Satan. But if Christ Jesus is present with us by his Spirit, we can and will do valiantly. Are you praying for those in authority over you (1 Tim. 2:1-2)? In the Lord’s presence and blessing upon them, he will bless and guide you.
Let the Disobedient Perish (v. 18)
It perhaps shocks us to read as part of the confession of these two and one-half tribes their declaration of deserved death upon the disobedient. But obedience to the Lord in his camp, his church, is a matter of life and death seriousness. The apostle wrote in the new covenant era: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed; yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14-15). God’s word is a dividing line. On one side, are those who are committed to obey him; on the other hand, are those who may give an outward profession of faith but are walking disobediently. Two directions the Spirit gives. First, mark out the disobedient and have no fellowship with him. He should be ashamed, for he professes to follow Christ but in fact serves himself. Second, do not yet count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Here is the weakness we find in many today – they focus upon the “do not count as an enemy,” but they will not admonish.
To admonish is a command; it means to warn and to exhort to repent. Many think that being nice and hoping for the best is the same thing as admonishing – or that an apology is the same thing as repentance. It is not. An admonishment aims at the conscience. When we are confronted for our sins, our consciences should burn with guilt, as a warning, urging us to turn to the Lord with all our heart. The admonishing is necessary to expose the heart of the wayward. If they repent, all is well. If they will not, further separation may be required. Many people are nice as long as you do not confront them and warn them to repent. In those times, the faithful people of God understood that obedience to God’s word was life and death. Their fathers disobeyed; everyone died. Now, they were determined to obey. Whoever would not obey must be put away. It greatly increases the weakness of the church and makes us unable to disciple the nations or even face the world boldly when we are aware of so much filth in our own members that is not being confronted. What is worse, many equate this confrontation with not being gracious, so that those who do the admonishing are condemned while those who do the sinning are viewed as misunderstood victims, even heroes. May God awaken us and deliver us from the spirit of Cain and Esau in our midst who are still persecuting righteous Abel and Jacob.
You, Joshua, Be Strong and Courageous (v. 18)
To hear from God’s people the same words of encouragement that the Lord gave him must have thrilled Joshua’s heart. Whatever doubts he may have had at this early stage were quenched by the spirit of encouragement. He remembered the grumbling and complaining of the previous generation, their unwillingness to serve, and their worldly, divided hearts. It had cost him much personally – forty years delay and discouragement. But all that is past now. The people are now “willing in the day of the Lord’s power” (Ps. 110:3). “Only be strong and be of good courage, Joshua.” Can a leader hear better words than these? Not like some speak to their leaders: “Joshua, you really have all these problems yourself, and we do not like the way you are talking to us, and why should we have to continue the battle since our portion of the land is won?” No – Joshua, be bold and courageous in doing God’s will, and we will follow you. If only God’s people today would have the same spirit, there would not be so much attrition of pastoral leadership and so much discouragement on the part of elders. Would not parents be greatly stirred to faithfulness to hear their children talking like this – not, why do I have to do this? Come to church and prayer meeting? I want to play games. But, dad and mom, you follow the Lord, and we will follow you. Discouraging our leaders brings great harm to us: leaders who will not lead us for fear of displeasing us, or leaders who have to be very firm with us because we will not listen, or leaders who insulate themselves from us out of an unhealthy desire to protect themselves from a disobedient and complaining people.
Commit to Obey and Follow Jesus Christ
Captain: Swear Your Loyalty (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9)
We should see in Joshua a living picture of the greater Joshua who gives us the true rest, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). He is the one who “has tread out the winepress of the wrath of God alone,” thereby obtaining our eternal redemption. He is also the One whom we follow into battle against sin and Satan. While not pressing the military metaphor too much, our temptation is to press it too little. We are in a fight. There are no sidelines. We are either fighting with the armor God has provided (Eph. 6:10-18), or we are soon to be struck down on the field – if not mortally, at least seriously wounded. Either we are “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” or we are running into a blind alley and must soon be pierced for our folly. One of the soldier’s first lessons is that he must be loyal to his commanding office. He must keep his eyes upon him and follow his orders. We must, to use New Testament terms, “confess Christ” (Matt. 10:32). We must profess our submission to his Lordship and his specific Leadership. We must see ourselves as under him as our commanding officer. This is a significant failure on the part of many today. Christian discipleship is treated casually, as one commitment among many, never too exclusive or demanding, and never meaning that I am absolutely bound to follow his orders or obey his word – yes, of course, unless there is something else I really want to do.
Obedience: The Path of Love and Service (John 14:15)
But we are bound to follow his orders. Ours is an oath of love – “If you love me, keep my commandments." His oath to us is one of love and grace. He pledged to obey in our place, and he “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). How would we view the two and one-half tribes had they not fulfilled their commitment to help their brethren? Had they refused the oath of allegiance to Joshua? As rebels and turncoats. It is much worse for us, for Jesus Christ is much greater than Joshua. He asks for our allegiance, and we profess to have given it to him. In this case, you cannot withhold your allegiance from him, for he is your King. It would greatly enhance our sense of obligation to him, yes, obligation, if we thought of obedience in terms of being loyal to him. Obeying his word is the same thing as obeying him. Disobeying his word is turning our back upon our Savior and our Lord – disobeying our commanding officer. And notice that he binds us in this relationship with love. Peter, do you love me? “If anyone love not our Lord Jesus, let him be anathema” (1 Cor. 16:22) – under the curse. And how do we know that we love him? Why, we consult our feelings, of course. If we feel like we love the Lord Jesus, then we love him. And do not bring up that old Bible to me. But that old Bible is the word of the old Jesus, the same Jesus who is our Lord as he was Joshua’s, Moses’, and all who have gone before us. And how did they overcome in the warfare? They loved the Lord Jesus and saw the hardest, most painful paths of obedience as service done to him. They overcame by growing in love for him, love that sometimes demanded their lives, but love that was freely given.
Commit: The Only Way to Overcome the World (2 Cor. 2:14)
It is personal allegiance to Jesus Christ by which we move forward to fulfill his calling to make disciples of the nations. It is personal allegiance to Jesus Christ that arms us to stand fast in our individual callings, to deny our flesh, and to serve him in the face of the bitterest persecution and the hardest temptation (1 Cor. 7:20,24). How, to take one very pertinent example, does a young believer deny his sexual desires and live in purity? He sees himself as married to his Lord and therefore bound to “possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Cor. 7:34; 1 Thess. 4:3-5). We are crucified to the world, and the world to us – we live out this death to sin and the flesh by boasting in our Savior alone (Gal. 6:14). The great motivation to “come out from among the world” is that we are in covenant with God in Christ, bound to him and bound to pursue holiness in his fear (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). I suggest we are not reading Scripture correctly and personally. We should not read it as containing interesting religious facts and hopeful possibilities for holiness when the mood strikes. No, Scripture is the revelation of our commanding officer’s will for our lives. Scripture is our living marching orders – the way we keep the terms of our enlistment under his banner. Scripture is not wishful thinking, pious advice, or motivational literature – it is the will of our Captain.
And it is commitment to him that focuses our lives where they should be – upon him. We are here for him, his glory. Why could Paul speak of counting everything else but loss, and actually mean it, but because he sought only “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8)? It was because he desired Christ. He wanted to please his commanding officer, to know him better, and to be with him. In other words, that which enables us to fight rather than make peace with the world is when Jesus Christ is the center of our affections, when we are committed to him, feel ourselves under a blood-sealed oath to him, and consider our allegiance to him the most important thing in our lives; when what actually controls us is Jesus Christ, his Lordship. Now, this commitment can certainly be attacked, and we must feed it by “setting our affections upon him” (Col. 3:1-5). He is a real person, and commitment to him can grow – even as it can decline – if we neglect his word, jump head first into sin, skip worship with his saints, and replace serving Jesus with serving self. The hardships that the Israelites would soon face were overcome because they first began with commitment to their commanding officer. We will follow your orders, Joshua. Death to the man who does not. Do we have the same commitment to Jesus Christ? He does to us, and love demands that we return allegiance for his submission unto death for us.