If you had to draw up a short list of the greatest men of the Old Testament, who would you include? The Jews in the time of Jesus often talked with great respect about Abraham and Moses – and surely, along with David, these men were some of the greatest characters of the Old Testament. Moses, as a prophet, was unique. Deuteronomy 34:10 tells us that no prophet in Israel was like him because he knew the Lord “face to face.” Yet Moses was human and therefore mortal. The time came when he had to face death, and Israel was left without its great leader. Who could possibly take his place and step into his shoes? It was a tall order. Joshua was the man appointed by God to carry on the work Moses had begun. The book in the Old Testament that bears his name tells us a lot about his call, his service as a leader, and his death – but it is not the only source of information about him. Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy also contain references to Joshua and introduce us to this man who became an outstanding servant of the Lord in his own right.
The first time Joshua is mentioned is in Exodus 17. The Israelites were journeying from Egypt towards their Promised Land when the Amalekites came out to attack them. Without any record of his ancestry or any other information, the name of Joshua suddenly appears in Exodus as the man chosen by Moses to lead the Israelites into battle. Moses must have recognized potential in this young man. Israel had never before had a commander to lead the army. Indeed, when facing Pharaoh’s armies earlier they were told to leave the fighting of the enemy to the Lord (Ex. 14:14).
Now the situation had changed. Knowing he was not alone, but that Moses would be standing on the hilltop with the rod of God in his hand, “Joshua did as Moses had said” (Ex. 17:10). Notice his obedience. Joshua was to discover on this occasion and on many later occasions that success in the Lord’s service is impossible without obedience. Just as he obeyed Moses, his superior, by leading the Israelites into battle, the Christian’s aim should be to please the Lord Jesus who has enlisted him to be His soldier (2 Tim. 2:3-4).
What’s In A Name?
To discover something about Joshua’s background we need to turn to Numbers 13. In this chapter we find that he was a member of the tribe of Ephraim and was originally named Hoshea, which means “deliverer.” His father’s name was Nun, meaning “continuation.” This was a fitting name for the one appointed to lead God’s people as a deliverer – a man characterized by continuance. However, Moses gave him a new name, Joshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation” (Num. 13:16). Joshua himself was not the deliverer of the people. Rather, through his life and service the salvation of the Lord was to be seen. For us today perseverance in the things of the Lord is vital too (1 Cor. 15:58). Like Joshua, our lives should display His salvation.
All of us, to some degree or other, are products of our environment. Influences in our earlier lives mold us – and Joshua was no exception. In Exodus 24, Moses was summoned into the presence of the Lord along with Aaron, two of his sons, and 70 of the elders of Israel. All would ascend the mountain, but Moses would climb higher into the immediate presence of the Lord. And Joshua, his assistant, went with Moses on that occasion and witnessed something of the glory of God while he waited for Moses to reappear. Those sights and sounds of divine majesty must have made a deep impression upon Joshua.
A little later, when Joshua descended from the mountain in the company of Moses, his inexperience was evident. Hearing the noise of shouting in the camp, he told Moses that a war must be raging. But Moses, the experienced man of God, knew otherwise. A golden calf had been made by the people and the noise to be heard was singing and celebration (Ex. 32:17-18). A new Christian does not always have proper discernment. Helpful lessons can be learned through fellowship with a wise, older believer.
Joshua, in his early days, was thoroughly loyal to Moses. When Eldad and Medad displayed the gift of prophecy, Joshua instinctively felt it was wrong and tried to defend Moses from what he perceived to be competition. Surely they should be silenced, he reasoned! Moses used the occasion to teach Joshua to be large-hearted. He had no wish to monopolize any gift! He was happy to recognize the gifts possessed by others (Num. 11:26-29). Younger Christians can often be defensive or possessive. We need to learn to cultivate the generous spirit so clearly seen in Moses.
Another interesting feature of Joshua’s early life emerges in Exodus 33. Moses’ tent, pitched outside the camp, became a kind of oracle. Those who sought the Lord went to his tent. Joshua, described as “a young man” (Ex. 33:11), would not leave that meeting place. He knew it was important to be there. Any young person who wants to make an impact for God today must do the same. In the words of an old hymn, we must “spend much time in secret with Jesus alone” (Take Time To Be Holy, W. D. Longstaff).
Joshua’s greatest test came when he was chosen with 11 others to spy out the land of Canaan. He, along with his friend Caleb from Judah, and 10 other spies spent 40 days evaluating the Promised Land before staggering back under the weight of an enormous bunch of grapes. Ten of the spies were pessimists who lacked faith in God. Conquering the giants would be impossible, they declared. Caleb objected to their appraisal, and in Numbers 14:8 we find Joshua endorsing his comments. The Lord was able to bring them into Canaan and defeat all their enemies, he maintained. While the 10 unbelieving spies died in a plague, Joshua and Caleb were the only men of Israel living at that time who eventually entered the Promised Land. Joshua truly was “the son of continuation,” and he teaches us that faith is rewarded. Like him we need endurance to enter into the good of all God’s promises to us (Heb. 10:36).
A Shepherd, Please
Moses had already pleaded with God for extra helpers and had been provided with 70 elders to assist him in his responsibilities. However, as he neared the end of his life, Moses became profoundly aware of the need for a man with a shepherd’s heart to care for the people of God. It really comes as no surprise to us to discover that God had already prepared His man – and that man was Joshua. Filled with the Spirit of God, he was equipped to lead God’s people across the Jordan river (Num. 27:15-18). There is no substitute to being filled with the Spirit of God. Ephesians 5:18 stresses the need to be continually filled with His power. The closing verses of Numbers 27 describe the occasion when Joshua was publicly commissioned to be the new leader of the people. It was a solemn moment and marked the beginning of tremendous responsibilities for Joshua. How would he cope? The book of Deuteronomy explains.
As far as Moses was concerned, the Promised Land was closed. Even though he pleaded with the Lord to be allowed to enter it, access was denied. However, Moses still had something important to do. The Lord told him to “charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him” (Dt. 3:28). In his addresses to the people, preserved for us in Deuteronomy, we find Moses doing that very thing. Not only does he remind Joshua of his heavy responsibilities, he also gives him personal encouragement. Many believers, ever since, have found his words reassuring and a source of great strength. “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Dt. 31:6). The Lord is with His people! We can depend on Him for all of the unknown future.
The Moment Of Truth
When we open the book of Joshua, the Lord’s first words to the new leader of His people may take us by surprise: “Moses My servant is dead” (Josh. 1:2). Surely that was obvious! Why was he being told such a thing? Very simply, God deals with realities and always wants us to face the situation as it really is.
It was the end of an era. Moses had completed his work; now it was time for Joshua to take up the mantle and step into the former leader’s shoes. This may have been the first time the Lord spoke directly to Joshua – but what a time to speak! Joshua probably felt crushed and alone. The man he admired so much, the one he had looked up to so often, was gone. It was true that Moses had encouraged him, but how could he take on the new responsibility? Now was the time to cross the Jordan with all the people of Israel, even though the Jordan was in full flood (Josh. 3:15), and take “possession” of the land (Josh. 1:1-3). It was time to “be strong and of a good courage” (Josh. 1:18), even though he might be feeling weak and overawed. For his part, that initial obedience noted at the beginning of this article must be maintained. He must carefully obey “all the Law” of God and meditate constantly upon that holy book. For the Lord’s part, he heard again those familiar words that Moses had spoken, but this time they came from the Lord’s own lips: “The LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:7-9).
Are you facing a new task or do you find yourself in a new situation? Has a prop been removed from your life? Perhaps someone you loved and respected has gone. Learn from Joshua. Meditate upon God’s Word and be careful to obey its teachings. Rely on His promises, for they cannot fail. As God was with Joshua, He will also help you face the unknown with boldness and with confidence.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org