It was the end of an era. Moses was gone! For forty years he had lead Israel: out of Egypt, to the borders of Canaan. For forty years he had relayed to the people God’s instructions and commands. Now, on the very edge of the Promised Land, he was gone, and Joshua was responsible under God for leading the people forward into what the Lord had promised. Leadership can be scary!
In v2-9, the Lord speaks to Joshua, giving a mixture of promises and commands. The Lord reminds him that he will give what he has promised – from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. He also reminds Joshua of one of the greatest promises in the Bible: that God is continually present with his people. In addition, God gives Joshua two commands: ‘be strong and courageous’ (repeated 3 times – because Joshua was feeling weak and afraid!); and ‘be careful to obey God’s word’ – don’t turn from it, keep it always on your lips, meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:1 & 2) – which is what we’re doing right now!
In v10 & 11, Joshua speaks to the officers of the people, telling them to ‘Get ready to move out and take possession of what God is giving you.’ Then, in v12-15, Joshua speaks to the 2 ½ tribes who had been given land on the east bank of the river Jordan (see Numbers 32). They had promised that their fighting men would accompany the other tribes over the Jordan, to help them take possession of their land. (They eventually cross back over in Joshua 22.) He reminds them here that they were called to help their fellow Israelites take possession of what God had promised, and thereby experience the same rest that they had already received east of the Jordan. This idea of ‘rest’ looks back to God himself resting on the 7th day of creation (see Genesis 2:2 & 3), and also forward to the completion of the new creation when Jesus returns (read Hebrews 4:1-11 ‘the promise of entering his rest still stands … there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God).
Their reply to Joshua in v16-18 is so encouraging. ‘We will do whatever you command us, and go wherever you send us. We obeyed Moses, and we’ll obey you.’ Then they pray for him: ‘May the Lord be with you as he was with Moses’. v18 perhaps sounds rather drastic, but we must remember that Joshua would not be not acting and speaking as a mere human individual, but as God’s chosen ambassador to Israel; when Joshua spoke for God, to disobey Joshua was to disobey God himself. The final wish/prayer repeats the recurring theme in this chapter; ‘Be strong and courageous!’
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:13 ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.’ The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!