Joshua's Installation as Head of the Nation
The Book of Joshua opens with his elevation to leadership after the death of Moses. Joshua has just seen how fervently the people loved and admired their dead leader. For thirty days they have mourned him with an intensity beyond what was merely customary. Mourning in the Middle East is always expressed with wailing and weeping. Yet their sorrow was much greater, because they keenly felt the loss. Most of the Israelites had been born in the wilderness and had known no other leader. Those who resented him were few, since God had, through many judgments, purged out the rebels. No wonder that Michael fought with Satan for possession of his body (Jude 9). Satan evidently wanted to mark his burial place so that it would become a shrine to the nation, the center of a cult devoted to worshiping the person of Moses. But God overruled and buried him in a secret place (Deut. 34:6). The idolatrous proclivities of the Israelites were so great that although they had no opportunity to worship Moses’ body, they preserved the bronze serpent that he had made in the wilderness and used it as an idol (2 Kings 18:4).
As soon as the mourning for Moses was finished, God spoke to Joshua and instructed him to lead the nation (Josh. 1:1-9). Joshua recognized that to step forward and take up the reigns except under God’s immediate direction would have been presumptuous. Although he had long been the designated successor, it still remained God’s prerogative to guide the transition and formally confer authority upon Joshua. The speech we read in these verses is Joshua’s coronation, as it were—his formal installation as the new head of the nation.
Admonition to Be Courageous
Three times in His commissioning of Joshua, God admonished him to have courage. The first time He was referring to the courage necessary to complete the task of conquering the land and dividing it among the tribes (v. 6). The second time He was referring to the courage required to keep the law of Moses, disregarding all the pressures to compromise (v. 7). He would have to maintain the law even when he saw advantages in sidestepping it—advantages in terms of his own convenience or popularity. The third time God spoke of courage, He emphasized the message He was communicating by twice rewording and repeating it (v. 9).
- “Be strong and of a good courage.”
- “Be not afraid.”
- “Neither be thou dismayed.”
This, the conclusion of the whole speech, is also its summary, showing that God’s main purpose in speaking to Joshua was to allay his fears. Joshua had always been a brave man. Why might he have succumbed to fears at this moment of taking power?
- He was succeeding a great man greatly mourned by his people. In the previous month, Joshua has seen just how much his predecessor was revered. He himself, after working as Moses’ assistant for almost forty years, regarded him almost as a father figure. An aura of awesome authority and holiness must have emanated from the person of Moses, making him larger than life in the eyes of his people. Once in the past God had encouraged a godly fear of Moses by making his face shine with the reflected glory of God (Ex. 34:29-35). Hence, Joshua felt incapable of filling Moses’ shoes. We detect here evidence of Joshua’s humility. To relieve his doubts about his ability to succeed Moses, God assured him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (v. 5).
- Across the river he would encounter a formidable enemy. The ten spies had been right in reporting that the Canaanites were a strong people. Indeed, they were populous. Indeed they had chariots and walled cities, and among them were giants.
Like the giants that existed before the Flood (Gen. 6:4-6), these may have descended from unions between fallen angels and the daughters of men. The mythologies of all the ancient Middle Eastern peoples are full of stories about godlike men consorting with human women, giving rise to offspring of unusual prowess. Such creatures were known as demigods, the most famous being the mythological figure named Hercules. Even in Jesus’ day, the report that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God brought fear to Pilate’s heart because, as a Roman steeped in Roman religion, he thought it possible that Jesus was in fact a demigod fathered by a Roman deity (John 19:7-9). Whatever their exact origins might have been, it is likely that Satan introduced giants to Canaan for the express purpose of preventing Israel from taking the land. There is no record of giants there in Abraham’s day.
Joshua would have found the strength of the Canaanites intimidating for two reasons. First, because they threatened the safety and success of his armies. Second, because they put his counsel of many years ago to the test. He had urged Israel to enter the land, saying confidently that they would triumph over the Canaanites. Now, to demonstrate that his counsel had been the wiser, he must lead Israel to victory over them. To remove this cause of anxiety, God promised that no foe could stand against Joshua (v. 5).
- Joshua was now the supreme leader over a nation numbering perhaps two million people, a nation with a history of being extremely difficult to lead. God more than once had called them “a stiff-necked people” (Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16). No doubt Joshua sensed a real possibility that they might rebel against him as they had against Moses. Perhaps they might repeat the scene of years gone by when the whole multitude tried to slay him (Num. 14:6-10). How did God deal with this fear? In His assurances to Joshua, He told him the measures he could take to keep his followers from mutiny. God said, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth” (v. 8), and also, “Observe to do according to all the law” (v. 7). In other words, he need not fear revolt if he faithfully schooled the Israelites in the law and if he himself set an example of keeping it fully. If the people walked in God’s law, they would not reject God’s leader.
- Joshua rightly felt dependent on God for success. Yet with this sense of his own need for God’s help, he doubtless also had a fear that God might abandon him. After all, God had once before threatened to remove His presence from the nation. While Moses was receiving the law on Mt. Sinai, the people had made a golden calf and had worshiped it with sensual rites after the manner of pagan religion. In His anger, God directed Moses to continue leading the people into Canaan, but He would not accompany them. Rather, He would send an angel before them. He said, “I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way” (Ex. 33:3). When Moses pleaded with Him not to remove His presence, the Lord relented. Yet now, years later, perhaps Joshua was wondering whether the waywardness of the people would again drive the Lord to exasperation, with the result that He would require Joshua to lead the nation alone, without His aid. But the Lord assured Joshua that He would never withdraw His presence from Israel so long as Joshua led them. He said, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (v. 5).
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.