As a retail employee, there are always things that frustrate me, but at the top of the list would have to be the playlist that I’m forced to listen to day in and day out. When you hear the same (what feels like) ten songs every day for over a year, it gets very old very fast. However, when this is the case, you also have the opportunity to dissect the lyrics in your mind, which is something I enjoy doing. The lucky song most recently is sung by Charlie Puth, is called, “Then There’s You,” and is dangerous if you take its title line all by itself. If you were to text it to your significant other, and they’d never heard the song, they could break up with you for calling them ugly. Here it is, “There’s beautiful and then there’s you.” Now yes, in the song it’s clear he’s saying that the girl is “beyond beautiful,” but if you were just to hear the main line, you could understand it completely differently (though wrongly of course). It’s the same way in Biblical studies. We need to understand the context or we will understand the passage wrongly. Let’s read today’s text and then I’ll talk more about context.
Our historian writes, “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites. I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses. Your territory will be from the wilderness and Lebanon to the great Euphrates River—all the land of the Hittites—and west to the Mediterranean Sea. No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you. “Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Something I failed to mention in the previous installment is that whereas the book of Joshua is categorized with the Historical Books in our English Bibles, originally—in the Hebrew Scriptures—it was the first of the Former Prophets. In order to better understand exactly what is going on in the book—and the author’s intention in writing it—we need to understand what a prophet is.
To get to that understanding, we must ask what makes Joshua different from Deuteronomy or Leviticus (other than the obvious fact that on the surface it’s much more interesting). Deuteronomy 34:10 says, “No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” And as such, why isn’t Genesis to Deuteronomy referred to as prophetic books? And here’s my musings on the answer: God gave Moses the Law, and thus we refer to the first five books as “the Law.” Genesis isn’t law, but it falls under because it sums up the story of God’s dealing with mankind from the beginning of time and intensified and focused in His relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus gives us a visual picture of exactly who God is and then turns into law, which goes from the middle of Exodus to the end of Numbers (with some history thrown in as well). Deuteronomy forms a fitting conclusion with Israel on the verge of receiving the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and shows Moses recounting the Law to Israel, reminding them that they must obey the Law to be successful as God’s people. As such Moses was the first prophet, by which all other prophets were to be judged. Since God spoke directly to Moses, the words Moses recorded as Scripture are (in a way of understanding) the only Scripture we really need.
Now don’t misunderstand. God—in His goodness and grace—gave us sixty-one other books of Scripture, all of which expand upon and clarify the themes laid down within the first five. The word translated “prophet” in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from a root that means “to call out” or “to be called.” Thus, to be a prophet is to be one who is called by God to call out for God. From my understanding—a certain way of thinking—the only truly original prophecies occurred by Moses, and the other prophets that followed simply expanded on what he had first spoken. This view makes sense especially when we look at books like Amos or Isaiah or Hosea, where the prophet says, “Thus says Yahweh,” and then proceeds to delineate how the nation’s failure to live in covenant obedience with God is why God is bringing trouble on them. So, in Joshua, our historian is showing God fulfilling His promise to Abraham so that in the future the people of Israel can look to their history and know that Yahweh is faithful and good, so that they have no excuse to live in covenant disobedience to God.
So that’s the wider context of this book. And it’s fitting that this book falls under the category of “Prophetic” because from verse 2 to verse 9, we have a recording solely of God speaking to Joshua. We discussed verse 2 last time, but in the discussion of context I must share one thing. Verse 2 starts with God reminding Joshua, “Moses is dead.” Origen—an early church father—writes,
The book does not so much indicate to us the deeds of the son of Nun as it represents for us the mysteries of Jesus my Lord. For he himself is the one who assumes power after the death of Moses; he is the one who leads the army and fights against Amalek. What was foreshadowed there on the mountain by lifted hands was the time when ‘he attaches [them] to his cross, triumphing over the principalities and powers on it.’
Thus Moses is dead; for the law has ceased. . . . Do you want me to bring forth proofs from the Scriptures that the Law is called Moses?
We have to keep context in mind, and Origen completely failed here. While the book of Joshua does speak of Jesus in many ways, this is not one of them. First, the Law can’t possibly have ceased with Moses’ death, because of what God says in verse 7 (keep reading). Secondly, Origen messed up his own analogy; he wants Jesus to be Joshua, but Moses was the one with outstretched arms on the mountain in Exodus 17:11, so his analogy is that Moses died on the cross. This is what we call mixing metaphors. It is also a plain example of why we must refrain from allegorical explanations of Scripture. They ignore context and make things say what they don’t say.
What our historian wants us to see from the text today is God’s faithfulness, through His keeping His promises, through His intimacy with His people, and through His Law. In showing these three ways God proves faithful, our historian also gives us a general outline of the book.
First, our historian shows God’s faithfulness through keeping His promises in verses 2-4. God says, “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites. I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses. Your territory will be from the wilderness and Lebanon to the great Euphrates River—all the land of the Hittites—and west to the Mediterranean Sea.”
This is showcased through the second major portion of the book—the distribution of the land. Here God is reassuring Joshua by telling him, “Yes, Moses is dead, but regardless of that fact, I am giving this land to Israel like I promised.” One commentator explains, “The boundaries of Canaan as presented here are listed in their widest extent (cf. also Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; 11:24). Only during the period of Israel’s greatest territorial expansion, under David and Solomon, were these boundaries approximated.” This is proof that God keeps His promises, because David and Solomon both came after the dark period of the judges and before the split of the kingdom that turned into the descent into idolatry and wickedness. As long as the people sought God—clearly seen when their leader was a seeker of God (Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David)—they possessed more of the land; when they forgot God, they lost land. God is faithful, and the book will expand on this fact.
Second, our historian shows God’s faithfulness through intimacy with His people in verses 5-6. God says, “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance.”
This is showcased through the first major portion of the book—the taking of the land. With their leader having recently passed—a leader who had direct discourse with God on a daily basis (often for extended days)—the people, and Joshua especially, would be wondering, “Is God still here with us?” In addition, Moses, and his whole generation—except Joshua and Caleb—had died because they were too fearful to take the Promised Land. Even though Moses had just told the people they would enter the land (see Deuteronomy), he had also just died, which could cast doubt on his statement.
By God telling Joshua, “I will be with you as I was with Moses,” God is proving His faithfulness to the people. By Him adding, “Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance,” God is pointing out the needed attitude to be successful in the venture. Fear kept it from being possible forty years earlier—fear isn’t faith—and God wants them to be faithful, not fearful. By God saying, “I will be with you,” He is grounding the command to be strong and courageous in a theological reality. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul will later ask. What Paul means by asking it, is a very loud, “No one!”
John Calvin writes, convictingly, “If Joshua, who was always remarkable for alacrity, required to be incited to the performance of duty, how much more necessary must it be that we who labor under so much sluggishness should be spurred forward.” And it’s on this note that I want to pause for a moment. This was the last book John Calvin commented on before he died. His translator explains, “The Commentary on Joshua was the last literary labor of its venerable author. When he engaged in it, his constitution, which had never been strong, was completely worn out by excessive exertion, and almost every line of it must have been dictated to his amanuensis during momentary intervals of relief from severe bodily pain.” As a dying man, Calvin wanted to stay busy. People told him to relax and rest, and he replied by saying, “Would you that the Lord, when He comes, should find me idle!” As we progress through this wonderful book, we will see better just how being strong and courageous looks in our day and time, but for now let me ask this: “what are you doing for the Kingdom of God?”
Let it sink in. It hits me too. I write, but it’s questionable how much that actually accomplishes for the kingdom. I should be out vocally proclaiming the gospel to the lost in my city. I should be out spending my money helping believers through tough times instead of spending $200+ dollars on video game consoles and games. What should you be doing for the Kingdom? Are you going to stay fearful and not enter the land God is giving you, or are you going to courageously trust Him and do what He’s called you to? God is with you; you cannot fail if it’s what He has called you to.
Third, our historian shows God’s faithfulness through His Law in verses 7-9. God says, “Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
This is showcased through the third major portion of the book—holding onto the land. Quite clearly, courage and strength are not solely a thing for achieving victory, but also for continuing victory. And God’s faithfulness is clearly shown in that He points Joshua and the people to the Law as their source of success. Since God gave the Law, and since God doesn’t change, it follows that the Law doesn’t change either. The statutes that God gave Moses reflect His perfect nature, and thus we have more reason to trust God. What He says is true, because He never changes. The day will never come when God can condemn someone because He came up with a new law. He is faithful!
And God goes so far as to give very specific instruction on how to know God’s faithfulness through the Law. He says, “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it.” We have to get God’s Word in us. We have to read it! We have to pray over it! We have to memorize it! And this is not just the case for Genesis through Deuteronomy. Those were the only books of Scripture that existed at this point for the world. Now we have sixty-six books, all of which are birthed from the themes that originate in the first five. God is faithful, and we need to know all of what He says about His plan for the world, and the growth of His Kingdom, and the Love He has for the world. When we spend time on all these things, God promises that we will have success.
And this is again why context matters. Success here is not worldly, monetary, health success. This success is specifically speaking in the original time and place about what God says to Joshua in verse 5. “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live.” The Israelites had to know the Law to rout the enemy. They couldn’t just know of the Law. They had to intimately, experientially know the Law. We will never have victory for God’s Kingdom in the spiritual realm until we are intimately acquainted with God’s Word.
How acquainted with God’s Word are you? Even more than the written Word, I would ask you how acquainted are you with the Living Word? Jesus Christ came to earth 2,000 years ago, lived a perfect life—fulfilling every point of God’s Law—was crucified on a cross—satisfying God’s wrath that our failure to follow God’s Law brought upon us—rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He is now LIVING! He pleads with you to believe in Him today.
And in a much fuller way than they could ever know in Joshua’s day, Jesus says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The writer of Hebrews sums up the point beautifully when he says of Jesus, “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus is here. If you believe in Him He makes you one with Himself. This truth should make us strong, courageous, and full of faith, all because we know intimately that He is faithful!
Soli Deo Gloria
 See extended discussion in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Bruce K. Waltke, ed., “1277: נָבָא,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 544; also, G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, H. J. Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 9, Revised, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 09/16/2016), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 129.
 This also necessarily means—since I argued for early authorship of this book last time—that Genesis through Deuteronomy had to be finished prior to the writing of Joshua (before Moses died).
 John R. Franke, ed., Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 2.
 John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.
 Henry Beveridge in John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.