Joshua 1:3-18

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites 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. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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 courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

10 And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 11 “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’ ”

12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, 15 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” [1]

Transitions from one government leader to another are always times of uncertainty and stress. Conventional wisdom for the new leadership is that there should be time to settle in, familiarize oneself with the situation, and weigh the options before launching into any decisive action. That is particularly the case when the previous leader has been greatly revered or when the future is unsettled and problematic. But Joshua is afforded no such luxury.

As we saw in 1:2 last week, God does not say, “Moses my servant is dead. Now take some time to settle in. Win the confidence of the people gradually. Don’t do anything too demanding just yet.” What we actually saw was a peremptory command to get ready to cross the Jordan into the promised land “now.” God has given his command a sense of urgency, as if he cannot wait to fulfill his promises.

The structure of chapter 1 is significant to our understanding of the rest of the book. This is a history book. Some students of the Old Testament believe this book should be attached to the Pentateuch as the natural climax of the sequence of covenant promises beginning with Abraham and stretching through the exodus and the wilderness wanderings. However, it is also easy to see the book of Joshua as the first of the historical narratives that lead from the period of the conquest through the judges to the institution of the monarchy and on through the division of the Kingdom, including Israel’s ultimate defeat by the Assyrians and Judah’s exile into Babylon. This unit runs from Joshua to 2nd Kings.

Joshua is not the author of the book which bears his name. Some speculate it was the work of Samuel or an unknown historian. Calvin speculates that it was Eleazer the priest. Nevertheless, the book presents a true record of events that actually took place. At the start of the book Israel is still awaiting the crossing of the Jordan, and by the end much of the land has been conquered and all of it allotted to the 12 tribes.

Hebrew scriptures categorize Joshua as the first of the “former prophets.” It seems strange to call a history book prophetic. But biblical prophecy is not written in advance. Instead, it is the telling of what God has done and will yet do from the divine perspective. The prophet’s job is to declare the mind of God to the people, to speak God’s infallible Word into their situations, and this is accomplished by learning the theological implications of history.

The book is both prophecy and history because it is God’s interpretation of what happened and why. The book of Joshua has its own unique contribution to Biblical theology as we observe the work of God begun under Moses now being more fully accomplished through Joshua, because he is the faithful covenant keeping God who always keeps the promises he makes. Seeing that theme repeatedly in the book of Joshua also makes this a teaching book. Paul reminded the congregations in Rome that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

That is why the book of Joshua can benefit even the 21st century church. Joshua’s God is our God. He does not change his purposes or go back on his promises. God is the faithful hero of this story and, by learning more about him, his Word will build our trust, which will build our obedience. Naturally, we will study this book as New Testament believers and preach it has followers of Christ rather than as Jewish rabbis.

But the Christ who is the center and focus of all scriptures (Luke 24:44) is not difficult to find. Joshua means “savior,” and Jesus is another form of the same name. Joshua is a type and shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate great fulfillment of all that the Old Testament deliverer foreshadowed. We will find it easy to identify with the people of Israel in this book because we are God’s new Israel (Galatians 6:16), the universal community of the people of God.

We also are in a battle to possess fully all that God has given to us. We also have not yet reached the fullness of rest in the heavenly Kingdom, but we are set free to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil and so enter into more and more of the blessings of the everlasting gospel. We also have life changing lessons to learn about the priorities of trust and obedience.

In verses 10 and 11, Joshua passes on the instruction to the people through their officers. Then comes a special word to the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh reminding them of Moses instruction that they are to cross the Jordan and fight in the conquest with their brothers. Although their inheritance will be east of the Jordan, they must fight to receive it. But their families can already settle in that land (vv. 12-15).

In return the tribal leaders assure Joshua of their obedience and loyalty, along with the hope that he will experience strength and courage through God’s presence (vv. 16-18). The only conditional element in these exchanges is that Joshua will lead the people by his own example of trust in the promises and obedience to the commands.


After the original command we saw last week in verse 2, the next three verses are entirely promises. God declares his intentions and connects them to his character as he proclaims the integrity of his covenant faithfulness. God unreservedly commits himself to three things: (1) to give them the land to its fullest extent (vv. 3-4); (2) to overcome their enemies (1:5a); to be with Joshua as he was with Moses (1:5b). Each of these promises is guaranteed as fulfillment of the word already spoken (“just as I promised to Moses,” 1:3) and continuation of the blessing already experienced (“as I was with Moses,” 1:5b).

Notice that in verses 3 and 4, although none of the land is yet in their possession, God can say, “I have given [it] to you” (1:3), using the past tense to express the absolute certainty of a future event. There is no doubt about who will receive the land, nor about its amazing extent. The area described in verse 4 is huge, in tune with the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-20. The entirety of the promised land would cover modern Israel, the whole of Jordan, a large part of Saudi Arabia, half of Iraq, the entirety of Lebanon, part of Syria, and all of Kuwait. Even at the height of David and Solomon’s rule, Israel actually occupied a small section of this total area.

That presents us with a rather glaring question to answer. If Joshua’s advance on the promised land was dependent on believing God’s promises in detail, how is it that so much of this promise went unfulfilled? There are two things to examine in order to understand the situation. The first is that the actualization of the promise is dependent upon the wholehearted obedience of God’s people.

The sad ending of the book is that the conquest was far from complete, compromise and comfort took over, and many of the original pagan inhabitants of the land were never dislodged. The same unbelief that prevented their parents’ entry to the land 40 years before surfaced in the next generation in an unwillingness to push forward with the full conquest after the initial gains had been secured. “They were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).

They failed to appropriate all of the liberality that their loving God was offering them. They simply stopped believing or caring that there was more land to be had and it was theirs for the conquering. Of course, even their sin was part of God’s grand design for history. The fullness of what God promised had to wait for its completion until Messiah came. Christ offers a superior rest than that achieved by Joshua, and he offers a Kingdom more glorious in its extent than any earthly empire has ever been or could ever be.

That great massive land could have been Israel’s had she risen to the challenge in trust and obedience, but we all know only too well what it is to settle for the attainable and the miss vast dimensions God’s potential grace. Because there is never any shortage of power or depletion of God’s purpose on his part, it must be true that none of us has less of God and his promised blessings than we truly desire.

The promise in the first part of verse 5 is quite personal to Joshua. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” This is YHWH’s commitment of limitless divine power to overcome all merely human and therefore merely transitory and mortal opposition. No man can stand in opposition to God.

Joshua knew what was facing him, innumerable tribal groups and city states that were well entrenched in the land, their security and wealth, their technology and war machines. It would be easy for him to see God’s command as an impossible mission. But he was more than fully equipped to accomplish God’s purposes because he had God’s promises and God’s Spirit.

The parallels with the contemporary church are striking. The fortresses of atheistic materialism and reductionist psychology seem formidable. And they are formidable to mere human beings, but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:35). Yet “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Nothing can separate his people from the love of Christ, and nothing can stand in the way of the fulfillment of his promises.

In the second part of verse 5, God gives his greatest promise of all, which is the foundation of everything else he has said. “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” When God threatened to withdraw his presence from Israel after the golden calf orgy, Moses pleaded passionately and persuasively that if God were to desert his people they would lose everything distinctive about themselves (Exodus 33:12-16).

God’s presence was what made Israel unique. And God graciously assured Joshua that this blessing would be his as well. God will never let Joshua down and will never let him go – an assurance that is equally our own, sealed with the blood of the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ’s sacrificial death. The Lord is more committed to his people than we can ever be to him. Jesus promises us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In verses 6 through 9, we have the commands that follow from his promises of power and presence. When we trust his promises, we begin to obey his commands. Three times God exhorts Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9). By the end of chapter one, even the people are saying the same words to Joshua. Clearly, he is no powerful superhero. The same command had already been issued three times in Deuteronomy. Now, on the edge of the Jordan River, it would not be at all surprising if his knees were knocking and that the people sensed it.

There is no Moses now upon whom the people can fall back. There is a grand and glorious prize ahead, a land flowing with milk and honey, but the prospect of actually fighting the Canaanites with an almost untried army was terrifying. Additionally, Joshua had seen the weakness and fickleness of Israel. Even God had spoken about giving them up. We can understand why Joshua required show many repeated exhortations.

Joshua was granted extraordinary faith in the face of an extraordinary challenge. It wasn’t that Joshua was fearless. It was simply that the Holy Spirit had given him great trust in God’s promises enabling him to follow God’s commands. “You shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” God equips those he commands. He makes the promises. He generates the obedience.

The courage Joshua is called to exercise is of divine origin, generated by the divine Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. In God’s plan there are no imperatives without indicatives, no commands without teaching on how those commands can be obeyed and what it means actively to trust God’s promises. Our passage is no exception.

Verse 7 tells us that strength and courage are directly dependent on careful, detailed obedience to the written Word of God in the law given to Moses. Joshua is to be under the authority of God, mediated by his written word, as is every believer who has received direct revelation through the Word of God. In this sense, Joshua stands with us and for us as we face the spiritual battles and challenges of our time in history.

Notice the kind of trust for which God calls – an unswerving devotion to practice in detail everything God has commanded. Obedience like that keeps the channels of grace open so that goals are achieved, ministries are effective, and God’s purposes are fulfilled. In turn that means a deep and detailed acquaintance with the content of God’s revelation. Joshua’s meditation is to be done both day and night (1:8). The Hebraism “day and night” is a merism, meaning the first thing to the last thing and everything in between.

There is never to be a moment when, whatever decision has to be made, the book of God is not in control. God’s book is to be read aloud to Joshua and others, constantly rehearsed, and remembered, and constantly obeyed in action that is meticulous and enthusiastic (1:8). Mission Impossible becomes mission accomplished when the divine power of God through his revelatory Word and the work of his Holy Spirit is at hand.

If such was the case when only 5 of the 36 books of the Bible were yet written, how much more must it be so for God’s people today who have been given the full and complete revelation? Yet, with all the confusion and debate about how the modern church is to meet the challenges of this generation, we hear very little about the centrality of daily, disciplined, and detailed obedience to all that the Lord has spoken in his Word of truth.

The quest for the bizarre and unusual, through feelings, visions, dreams, and prophecies, has taken over the central place in many congregations today. Biblical teaching, we are often told, is out-of-date, boring, ineffective. But Paul instructed us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Without trust there will be no obedience. Without obedience there will be no fundamental change, no gospel advance.

This text shows us that refusal of the centrality of scripture produces nothing but fear and dismay, something forbidden to Joshua in verse 9. It is not unusual to find many other idols in the church to replace the Word of God. Major denominations continue to turn their backs on God’s revealed Word and to embrace a compromise arrangement with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But God in his kindness has shown his people how we are to live in relationship to him, so obedience that is active, not mere intellectual assent, is the only way to fully appropriate his goodness. If we want to know God’s promises in practice and experience their growing potential in our lives, we must obey God’s commands. That is what a life of trust into Christ is all about.

However, we need to remember that neither Joshua nor you and I have the capacity to simply roll up our sleeves and manufacture trust and obedience for ourselves. Only the Holy Spirit can do that in us as we feed upon God’s Word. The Spirit moves us to see and repent of our lack of trust into God’s promises. We dance the two-step: repent and trust into to Christ, asking him to live out more of his perfect trust and obedience through us. The promises of God are unconditional in terms of God’s own commitment, but their enjoyment depends on our detailed obedience, and that includes our trust, which shows itself in works (James 2:21-26). And not one of those human conditions (faith, obedience, enjoyment) come from anything inside of us. They come from the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

If we merely hear God’s word but never presume to act on it, all that will happen is that our hearts will harden (Psalm 95:7ff.). Knowing and walking with God requires trust and a willingness to act within the terms of God’s covenant. Those terms are trust and obedience. We are called to say yes to God’s resources – his grace and power, his constant presence, his Word, and the Holy Spirit’s work through it – and appropriate them to the exact point of our conscious need.

That is the source of strength and courage. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Faith responds to promise by action through Christ. He is the dynamic, the energy, and he will take me where he wants me to be.

Trust does not fear and give up. Trust does not underestimate the enemy and relax. Trust watches and prays for the Lord’s help, the Lord’s courage, the Lord’s strength to help in our time of need. Theologically accurate intellectualism does not always translate into active obedience, which is costly and completely dependent upon God.


The first sign of Joshua’s response to his Commission is that he relays God’s Word to the people through their tribal leaders in verses 10 and 11. His instructions are very practical and include everyone in Israel. They are to prepare food for their travel. We find out in chapter 3 that the Jordan river “overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest” (3:15). So we have some hint of the logistical difficulties involved in God’s command.

The final portion of chapter one covers Joshua’s special instructions to the 2 1/2 tribes who will settle east of the river in the lands taken from the Moabites (Numbers 21:21-35). Moses gave them this good grazing country provided they agreed to join forces with the other tribes to invade Canaan. God has indeed paved the way for Joshua, because the two tribes agree not only to crossover and fight but to place themselves under Joshua’s leadership.

Not only do the 2 1/2 tribes affirm their loyalty to Joshua, they also agree that whoever rebels against his commands will be put to death (1:18). The people are with him. Plans are in place to cross the river, and soon they will be at Jericho, the fortress city that guards the entry into the land of promise. All this is orchestrated by God himself. He is the central character of this chapter, as he is of the whole book.

The overall theme that strikes us in this chapter is the divine urgency about the situation. This day of crossing has been a long time coming, but when it dawns, there’s simply no room for delay. The problem of our sin nature is that we often fail to act as we know we should because we do not believe sufficiently to launch ourselves upon the bare Word of our God who promises his all-sufficient power and grace.

When God applies his word to our lives for something he is calling us to do, we must begin to do it in the strength that he supplies as soon as we are able. All I need to do for my heart to harden after God has spoken his Word is …nothing. This is why Israel never received the entirety of her promised land. They settled into a comfortable life. They settled for what they had. They settled for unbelief. St Author of Hebrews warns:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [2]





[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 1:3–18.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 4:8–13.