You remember that scene in The Fellowship of The Ring when the travelers emerge from the Mines of Moria? They are devastated, forlorn, almost hopeless. Gandalf, their leader, was dead. What were they to do? How would they finish their journey and accomplish their mission?
That must have been how the people of Israel felt when Moses died. Who would lead them? How would they face the conquest to take the Promised Land? They stood on the brink of an unknown land populated by warrior peoples and even giants. They had just wandered in the wilderness for more than forty years. Their future was far from certain.
Except it wasn’t uncertain because God had made a covenant. He had declared that He would uphold His side – to make Israel a great nation in this land – if they upheld theirs. (If they didn’t and decided they no longer needed to obey, the consequences would be dire.) But the nature of God’s promise meant that the person leading Israel wasn’t the key to their success; obedience to God’s law and trust in His Word was.
Well before Joshua led Israel across the Jordan River into battle, God had made a promise: “I will give you this land, just be strong and courageous.” He promised to go ahead of the people and fight for them. The battle was His. The people simply needed to trust and obey.
But camped on the border of the future, Joshua needed reassurance. And God gave it to him. He didn’t give Joshua strategy or a battle plan or a pep talk. He gave Himself. He said, “Remember My Word. Keep it with you at all times. Never forget it and always obey it. Do this and the land will be yours. Be strong and courageous because I am with you and am going before you” (Joshua 1:8-9, my paraphrase).
Strength and courage in the Lord and obedience to God’s Word – these are the themes of Joshua. It is not a book about a man as much as it is a book about God establishing His people. Joshua is the man God appointed to lead Israel. But his leadership rests fully on faith and obedience.
This is stunning in its simplicity. What are God’s people called to when facing adversity? Or when we are called to lead above our capacity? Or when we have a challenge ahead of us that seems insurmountable? We are called to be strong and courageous because God is with us.
Our strength is not our own. Our successes are not our own. God’s hand guides and works as we follow His Word in obedience, and it will root us and establish us.
Written by Barnabas Piper