A Successor for Moses (vv. 1-2)
Some Shoes Cannot Be Filled
Moses shoes were impossible to fill. There was never another prophet like Moses, “to whom the Lord spoke face to face” (Deut. 34:10). He was a faithful servant and builder of Christ’s house (Heb. 3:1-6). He stood with our Lord upon the mountain of his Transfiguration. Yet, the kingdom of God and his purposes did not die with Moses. As our Lord said, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Moses’ death opened the way for Joshua to serve. The Lord does not depend upon the great men, as we call them; he does not need them and most often uses weaker servants to further his purposes. Moses was the servant of the Lord, and Joshua was Moses’ servant. He was the right man to follow Moses – not riding on Moses’ coattails or being the first president of the Moses’ memorial association. He had a distinct work, and he did it faithfully. He had his own talents, and he used them to the utmost.
But, Arise, Go Over Jordan, Joshua
At the end of the thirty days of mourning for Moses, the Lord spoke to Joshua. “Arise, go over this Jordan.” Joshua could not have moved forward without this word. Moses was dead. Joshua may have felt paralyzed. It was a numerous people. They had a great work before them. Joshua was getting older. Many were the excuses that might have been given for melancholy and passivity, but then the Lord’s word came – arise, go over. We lose a loved one and grieve. We know not where to turn. Our feelings of regret, loss, and emptiness swell like a tidal wave. Unless we obey these words, the grief of death will eat up our souls for the rest of our lives. By faith, we hear, “Arise, go over:” obey me, the Lord says. Fulfill the calling that I have for you. If you are unsure of the path, trust my word and obey it. It may be with tears, but move forward step by step in obedience to me.
This is the way we face and overcome the loss we feel when we endure the death of those whom we love and need. Keep obeying. Keep moving forward in faith. We shall see again those whom we loved and who faithfully served the Lord. They played their part in God’s story, and now it is our turn. You see your elders getting older, and they will be passing off the stage in the next years – will you arise and follow their faith? Our faith does not ultimately rest upon the wisdom of men but upon the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5). This is true of a congregation’s attitude of dependence and affection for its leadership, a wife for her husband, a child’s for his parent. Yes, our hearts break when the Lord takes them to himself, but we cannot stop trusting the Lord. If we would meet them again with joy, we must follow the path of faith and obedience they walked. Let us serve the Lord as they did, and then He will guide us with his counsel and then receive us into glory so that we may rest with our fathers (Ps. 73:24).
Joshua needed encouragement to move forward to take possession of the land. He was a man of faith, but he knew that God’s enemies were formidable. He fought an early battle against the Amalekites and won only through the intercession of Moses (Ex. 17). He had seen the walled cities of the Canaanites. He also knew the fickleness and fearfulness of God’s people. Would this new generation prove more faithful than their fathers? With Caleb, Joshua alone had been one of the faithful spies Moses sent to search out the land (Num. 14). Joshua had witnessed all the glories of the past forty years – the plagues upon Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the voice and glory upon Sinai – and the miseries of the wilderness wanderings and death of a generation. Joshua had seen the greatness of Moses, and, in earlier years, had been very jealous for Moses’ honor (Num. 11:28). Now, he will learn that it is the Lord who makes men great – it is never the men themselves. And therefore, lesser men may serve the Lord, for they are made strong by his strength (Col. 1:29). Moses was not a self-made man but a God-made man, a God-humbled man whom the Lord made usable. Can we forget Moses’ cowardly unbelief at the burning bush? His despair at the first failures when he returned to Egypt? All men are weak; only the Lord is strong.
The Call of Joshua (vv. 3-5)
God’s Vision: I Have Given You This Land
We must repent of “great men” idolatry, which paralyzes, and instead trust the great Yahweh who inspires hope and courage! What prompted Joshua to move forward? The Lord’s word. What gave him courage? The Lord’s word. In calling Joshua to move forward, the Lord gave Joshua a vision to seek – all this land, I have given to you, as I said unto Moses. Joshua did not create his own vision – this is a bad principle of leadership – find a vision within you. No, our vision must be the Lord’s word applied to our lives. The vision of his promises will be quite large enough for us. Think of his vision for your family – the promise to your children’s children (Ex. 34:7); or his vision for the church – “all the ends of the earth will remember, and return unto the Lord” (Ps. 22:27); or for his worldwide kingdom – “the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas” (Hab. 2:14); or, his vision for you – “I am your shield and your exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). These are but snippets of God’s great purposes for us, revealed in his word. Let us not seek man’s vision and dreams, but the Lord’s, and we shall find our hearts filled with courage and hope! Be much in the Bible, and you will there discover God’s great purposes for you and for the salvation of the world (Jer. 29:11; Eph. 1:10). His vision will settle you; he always fulfills his promises (1 Kings 8:56).
God’s Boundaries: Push Forward to Victory (v. 4)
Verse 4 gives boundaries, or the breadth of the vision – it was very large. These are not simply ideal boundaries but what the Lord had promised – from the Desert of Sin in the south, to the Mediterranean as the western boundary, and the Euphrates River eastward. Joshua’s victories never reached that far. Only 500 years later did the boundaries of David and Solomon approach these, and they were quickly lost through the sins of the people. Yet, the boundaries in v. 4 were but a down payment for the whole world (Rom. 4:13). The whole world is in fact the boundary of God’s kingdom. Joshua was God’s hand of judgment upon the wicked Canaanites; we now proclaim God’s gospel of peace to the world’s nations. Joshua received an initial word of encouragement, vision, and power; the church begins her conquest of the earth with the word of God and outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-9; 2). Our work is contiguous with Joshua’s, but far greater. Joshua could not give the people rest; the greater Yeshua, Jesus Christ, has now come and brought us to the rest of redemption accomplished, heaven opened, and God indwelling by his Word and Spirit (Heb. 4:8-12). Thus, God has also given us our boundaries and marching orders – the whole earth.
We cannot blunt this command. God gave Joshua a vision and a boundary and a promise. He has given us the same. “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth; therefore, go, and make disciples, teaching them all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). Keep this vision and boundary in front of you. As a believer in Jesus Christ, it is not simply the salvation of your family that God has promised to you. There has been a great narrowing of vision in the present day, a lessening of the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom. Part of this is because we think the world is much bigger than it in fact is, and the enemies of God stronger than they in fact are. In such times, it is tempting to limit the scope of God’s vision to personal or family salvation. But what we have done is make the Lord smaller, his word less than it is. We have a small Christ – that is why our kingdom vision and boundary have suffered. Have we forgotten? “He must reign until all things must be put under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 10:12-13). A small God magnifies the size of his enemies. It paralyzes with the largeness of the task of discipling the nations. It makes us think we are dependent upon miracles rather than upon faithfulness to God’s vision and boundaries. All the earth is my Son’s; now, go and tell men who owns them, who died to save them from their sins, and who reigns over them. He has cleared the field. He has judged the prince of this world (John 12:29-31).
Many churches are doing all they can to make peace with the Canaanites. We have adopted so many of their practices – immorality normalized, life by our feelings, hope in the words of men, salvation by technology and science. We have forgotten that we are not called simply to be survivors by compromise, lowest common denominator Christianity, and making our peace with an evil age. We are called to fight with God’s armor and to speak God’s word. We have God’s announced boundaries – “from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We do not march forward with a message that says, “Hey, we are just like you.” No, we come with God’s completed Scriptures, a crucified, raised, and exalted Savior, and a message of faith and repentance, hope and joy. Begin where you are, child of God. Begin fighting, perhaps for the first time in a while. Push back against the darkness of our age (Eph. 5:11-14) not by making your peace with it but by resisting it with the sword of our Savior’s mouth. Speak with friends and neighbors. God’s great program of the nations discipled to his Son moves forward. It will move forward with or without us, even against us. I pray it will move forward with us. But we must hear God’s vision – I have given this world to my Son and to you. These are God’s boundaries – all the nations discipled to his Son. His Son’s mountain the highest; the city of man falling lower and lower (Dan. 2:44-45).
God’s Promise: I Will Be with You (v. 5)
Of course, this is all too large for us. It is, frankly, overwhelming, especially since the Lord’s vision and boundaries to Joshua are greatly expanded to us after the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We must understand the greatness of God’s plan, or we will not feel our need for God’s promises and presence. Even God’s greatest servants feel overwhelmed by his commission (Ex. 3:11). The Lord meets our weakness with his promise. “There shall not be any man able to stand before you.” Men are terrible. They build their Babels and make threats and live as they please. Do we take seriously what God says? “Do not fear men” (Matt. 10:28). “Let the Lord be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). Men are already defeated (John 16:33). Their hour is short, and they will soon be overturned (Rev. 12:12). Do we believe that the Lord is more powerful than man’s threats? Are we more afraid of his displeasure than man’s mockery? Yes, of course ungodly men will make fun of us, for they are mockers of God. But, are we being transformed by his word (Rom. 12:1-2) so that we are not afraid but ready to bear witness to his love and grace? Do we love our Savior enough to be mocked for him (Acts 5:29)?
We must return to what the Lord said to Joshua. No one will be able to resist you. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Not that we have the kind of immediate power that the Lord sometimes demonstrated through Moses, but the same Lord is with us. Here, we must walk more by faith, not that we are invincible, for God’s people often suffer. But in our suffering, we are more than conquerors, and the Lord works mightily through the suffering of his obedient people. Since the Spirit of God is with us, we cannot lose the battle (2 Cor. 2:14). If we walk in his company, we shall do our Savior’s mighty works (John 16:13), especially love, hope, patience, and endurance. But if we fear men, want them to accept us, and adopt their lifestyles and priorities, it shows we have a small God and a cold heart to the living God. It is no wonder that we grow afraid and reduce our faith to nothing but a few ideas running around in our heads rather than a burning heart for the living Lord and watching for him to help us.
In all our weakness, his promise stands firm. “I am with you. I will not fail you, or forsake you.” Meditate upon this each day. God’s presence is not something you feel; it is something you believe. It is a sworn promise he has made to you, a promise sealed with the blood of his Son. Give yourself to this promise, Christian businessman, when you are tempted to fear the mockery of your associate. Walk in this promise, college student, when you are tempted by the fleshly enticements and moral indifference of those around you. Can you say with Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Or is God little more to you than an idea? He must be the consuming fire he is in our lives (Heb. 12:29). To move forward, we must hide his word in our hearts (Col. 3:16). Put down your phones and pick up your Bible. We must walk with the Spirit (Gal. 5:17): prayerful, submissive, obedient. We must put on the Lord’s holy armor (Eph. 6:10-18). Your struggles are part of the Lord’s battle. Each time you resist and cry to him when tempted, you are fighting. Each time you run back to Jesus in repentance after you have been pierced, you are fighting. Why is he not winning more in our lives? In our churches? In our nations. It is our unbelief and pride. We do not trust him to do as he promised. We trust ourselves and try to gut it out by our strength. We do not receive his word meekly, as Joshua did, and then move forward on the strength of his promise. Let us humble ourselves before him and repent for provoking him (Jer. 44:4-10). Let us walk humbly with him (Mic. 6:8) and believe his promises.