“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying:
‘Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them–the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go'” (Josh. 1:1-9).
And so begins our study of the Old Testament book of Joshua! This section of text is clearly transitional from the leadership of the great man Moses to his assistant Joshua, traditionally believed to be the author of this book bearing his name. Moses died at the end of Deuteronomy because it was time for the Israelite nation to enter into the land of promise, but he was not permitted to go (cf. Num. 20). Joshua had great leadership skills, but he had followed Moses’ lead for decades. How would he do as the earthly leader of this great nation? Would he be faithful like Moses or would he falter under the pressure and forsake the way of the Lord?
As the book unfolds, it is clear that he would do the former. It seems reasonable to suggest that immediately after Moses’ death, Joshua was full of doubt and fear. Thus, God exhorts him (at least three times) to be strong and courageous! With a little encouragement to simply do what he knew was right, Joshua would be an outstanding leader, the likes of which would not be seen for generations (e.g., Judges 2:7ff). Moses had obviously trained this capable man well!
The LORD informed Joshua that He had given (past tense!) the land to Israel which had been promised to their fathers long ago (cf. Josh. 1:3; Gen. 12:7). The great territory described already belonged to them, but they still had to trust and obey in order to lay hold of this great gift from God. As He did for Moses, God essentially promised Joshua invincibility in battle (cf. 1:5), conditioned upon His fidelity to the Lord’s way. He would have to be mighty, fearless, and submissive to the word of God (which had been recorded in the Law of Moses), and then he would be unstoppable. God promised Joshua that He would never leave him or forsake him. He would be with him everywhere and at all times. What a comforting thought! Joshua believed it, and it no doubt enabled him to “be strong and courageous.” What about us, friends? Are we strong and courageous for the Lord and His church today? We must be, and it is easier knowing that God has promised to never leave or forsake us either! With God as our helper, there is nothing to fear–period (cf. Heb. 13:5,6; Matt. 28:20)!
God explicitly told Joshua not to turn from His word “to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7). We might say it like this today: “Don’t bind where God has not bound and don’t loose where God has not loosed. Respect the words that God has delivered; don’t add to or take away from them.” Furthermore, Joshua was instructed to continually be thinking and speaking about the Law. If he was careful not to let his mouth or mind stray from God’s words, he would be able to properly obey. As a result God would bless him with success (and so it is today). Be strong and courageous–like Joshua!