Joshua, the early years
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Joshua, son of Nun
One of at least seven Joshua’s in the Bible, if one includes the three Jesus in the New Testament, as Jesus is Greek form of Joshua.
This morning we are looking at Joshua’s development from Moses’ young assistant into the man to lead the people over the Jordan into the promised land. We first meet Joshua in Exodus 17:
Exodus 17:8–9 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.’
Exodus 17 and 18 contain several illustrations of effective leadership. Before Moses learns about wider delegation in chapter 18, here we see him instructing Joshua to lead a chosen band of fighters while Moses holds up the staff of the Lord, the sign of God’s miraculous intervention as they had seen often on their exodus from Egypt.
Exodus 17:10–11 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
Both roles were essential. Without Joshua’s trust in and obedience to Moses there would be no battle. But Moses had to hold up the staff of God.
Exodus 17:12 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
Joshua needed the support of his chosen men. Moses also needed, and accepted, support. Through God working with the co-operation of God’s people the marauding Amalekites were defeated: the power of the Lord had prevailed. What took place was under God’s control and the praise for what happened did not go to Moses or Joshua, but to God.
For us, whether doing, praying, or supporting, we are called to co-operate with God in his work. Each part is essential. We have various parts at different times, and in the many aspects of God’s work, at home, at work, with families, neighbours, communities, the church, or the wider world.
We must be reconciled to God through the blood of the cross of Christ. Then, as we follow Jesus as his disciples, God is in us and with us with that same power that resurrected Christ, to equip us and to develop us as we grow in holiness, obedience, and love: we must expect to be involved in becoming holy and perfect.
More than a soldier
We next find Joshua, in Exodus 24, at the giving of the law:
Exodus 24:12–13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’ Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God.
Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. When God tells Moses to return to the camp quickly because the people are rebelling, Moses and Joshua go down together:
Exodus 32:16–17 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, ‘There is the sound of war in the camp.’
So Joshua played no part in the rebellion of the people.
Joshua also spent long times with God. In Exodus 33:
Exodus 33:7 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’. Anyone enquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.
Exodus 33:11 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young assistant Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
We need to spend time with God, using all the means that God has provided for us to get to know him better.
“One’s devotion is seen in one’s stamina in worship and in service.”
[John G. Butler, Moses: The Emancipator of Israel, vol. Number Twelve, Bible Biography Series (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 1996), 578.]
Not that Joshua got everything right. Numbers 11:
Numbers 11:27–29 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them!’ But Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’
Joshua the spy, Numbers 13.
Numbers 13:1–3 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.’ So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.
Numbers 13:8 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;
Numbers 13:16 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)
Moses changed the name of Hoshea to Joshua. Joshua was the grandson of Elishama, the head of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Chron 7:27, Num 1:10).
We know the result of the reconnaissance. They spy out the land for forty days, return with reports about how bountiful the land is, but most warn the people they could not defeat the inhabitants. However, two of the spies submit a minority report:
Numbers 14:6–8 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.
Numbers 14:9–10 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’ But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.
The result was forty years of wandering in the wilderness, one year for every day the spies had been on their mission. Of the adults, only Joshua and Caleb were ever to enter the promised land.
Joshua is designated as leader
Joshua was Moses’ assistant from his youth. We have seen something of his qualifications: loyalty, fidelity, military expertise, humility as a servant, separation from defilement, devotion to the Lord God of Israel. All these were necessary as the occupation of the promised land would be at least as much against spiritual forces including idolatry, rebellion, and distraction. Yet, when the time came, Moses asks God to identify his successor.
Numbers 27:15–17 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Moses said to the Lord. ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’
Despite all the training Joshua has received and his evident suitability, Moses does not assume that Joshua should take over. Moses, rightly, recognises that God must choose the leader of his people. We need to seek God’s wisdom, even when the answer seems obvious.
Numbers 27:18–20a NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so that the whole Israelite community will obey him.
Numbers 27:22–23 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
Even though Joshua is now the leader-designate, blessed by Moses, Moses still encourages him as opportunities arise. For example, in Deuteronomy 3, Moses recalls:
Deuteronomy 3:21–22 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
At that time I commanded Joshua: ‘You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.’
God’s charge to Joshua (Joshua 1)
We don’t have time today to look at Joshua’s career as the leader of the people. How he depends on God for the strategy and tactics for the military and spiritual campaign entrusted to him. For example, the choreography of the ark, priests, trumpets, and troops marching around Jericho (Josh 6). A signal success, but Joshua did not use that strategy again to repeat the victory: he listened afresh to the Lord each time.
He would also have to deal with failures, such as that at Ai that followed a breach of the covenant between the Lord and his people, brought about by the sin of one man (Josh 7), and also when Joshua himself acted before enquiring how God wanted him to act (Josh 9:14-15).
We will end with parts of God’s commission to Joshua in Joshua 1.
Joshua 1:1–2 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.
John Calvin wrote on this that, “… while men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails.”
[John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary on the Book of Joshua (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), xix.]
But, rather than quote Calvin at length, here is a recent commentator,
“It is against this background of the death of ‘Moses the Incomparable’ that the writer sets the continuity of Yahweh’s promise. ‘Moses my servant has died, so you must wait’? No. ‘You must weep’? No. But, ‘Rise, cross over … into the land.’ Moses may die; God’s promise lives on. There is the passing of an era yet the endurance of the promise. Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievements of men, however gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.”
[D.R. Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 17–18.]
Later, the charge from the Lord continues with
Joshua 1:8 The Message
And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed.
The word ‘meditate’ is not just a mental reading. Silent reading is a relatively recent development. ‘Meditate’ has the sense of ‘mumble’ or ‘chew’; involving the body and the mind, the whole person, in this work of teaching ourselves what God wants, and demands, of us.
Joshua 1:8 BE:NT
This instruction document will not move away from your mouth. You’re to murmur it day and night in order that you may keep by acting in accordance with everything written in it, because then you’ll make your journey successful, then you’ll thrive.
[John Goldingay and Tom Wright, The Bible for Everyone: A New Translation (London: SPCK, 2018), Jos 1:8.]
And the commissioning ends with …
Joshua 1:9 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
This promise echoes through many Bible stories, and is a promise to every disciple of Jesus
Matthew 28:19–20 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
And God’s presence is not just subjective, making me feel better about things, but also objective: a guarantee that God is working his purposes out through us and with us as we, through his grace and in the power of his spirit, co-operate with him and accept
“a call to recognise the truth … that we are called to hard work, knowing that God is at work in us.”
[N. T. Wright, God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2020), 50.]
Romans 8:28 RSV
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
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