Overcome Your Fears

 

Week of May 1, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Joshua 1:11, 16-18.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about identifying and overcoming the fears that prevent us from being the spiritual leaders God wants us to be.

 

Accept Your Responsibility:  Joshua 1:1-5.

 

[1]  After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, [2]  "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. [3]  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. [4]  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. [5]  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. [ESV]

 

[1]  Moses’ death was an important event in the life of the new nation of Israel. Yet his death should not cripple the nation. The Lord was faithful in all ages, and He would be in this instance as well. Joshua was designated as Moses’ successor, and the people were to carry on under him. The Book of Joshua is concerned with showing how God’s earlier promises were now in process of being fulfilled and with how God’s commands were being carried out. Many of these promises and commands were spoken by Moses, who is depicted in this book as the Lord’s special servant. Joshua’s name means “Yahweh saves or delivers.” He was given this name by Moses in the Numbers 13 passage. Joshua is the first person in the Bible to be explicitly given a name that incorporates God’s holy, personal name, “Yahweh.” Verse 1 tells us that Joshua was Moses’ assistant. Joshua is distinguished from Moses in that he is not called the servant of the Lord. A question throughout the book is whether Joshua would be worthy of filling Moses’ shoes. The Book of Joshua carefully refrains from calling Joshua by this honorific title until the very last chapter when Joshua dies [24:29]. In contrast, Moses is called by this title seventeen times in the book.

 

[2-5]  The initial portion of God’s charge to Joshua is concerned with (1) the land that God had promised to Israel, (2) God’s encouragement of Joshua in his new role as Moses’ successor, and (3) God’s promise to be Israel’s strong protector. In verses 2-4, God addressed not merely Joshua, but all of the Israelites; in verse 5, Joshua himself is addressed. Portions of these verses are very similar to Deuteronomy 11:24-25, where Moses promised the Israelites the land and God’s protection. Such careful repetitions assure us that God was indeed committed to keeping His promises. The very same words He had uttered earlier through His servant Moses indicate that there was no reneging on the promises and no revising of them. Both of these passages hark back to earlier promises of God, beginning with the promises to Abraham [Gen. 12:7; 15:18-20]. Why did the people enter the promise land by crossing the Jordan River? The most direct route from Egypt to the land of Canaan would not involve crossing the Jordan River. However, the Israelites had earlier forfeited their right to enter the land directly when they embraced the spies’ discouraging report about the impossibility of taking the land [Numbers 13-14]. God sentenced the people to wander in the wilderness for forty years, during which time the generation that came out of Egypt would die. In spite of God’s sentence, the Israelites attempted an entrance directly into the land from the south, but they were rebuffed by the Canaanites there [Num. 14:40-45]. Consequently, they wandered in the wilderness for the forty years and arrived at the entrance to the land of Canaan at a different spot, this time east of the Jordan River, on the plains of Moab. This is where the Book of Joshua begins.

 

God stated in verse 2 that He is giving to them the land. According to verse 3, He has given the land to the Israelites. In both verses the pronouns are plural, embracing not just Joshua, but all Israel. Also in these verses, the two forms of the verb “give” are different in Hebrew, and their use here reflects two significant truths about God’s giving of the land to His people. In one sense God was still in process of giving Israel the land. After all, Israel had not yet even crossed the Jordan River, and only the land east of the Jordan actually had been taken by Israel. Most of the land remained to be taken. But in another sense God had already given Israel the land. It is as though Israel already possessed legal title to the land ever since Abraham’s day, but they were awaiting God’s timing for the actual possession. In Genesis 15:16 God promised Abraham that it would be several generations before his descendants would actually possess the land. Verse 3 ends by stating that this gift of the land was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses. The giving of the promised land to Israel is an important theme in the Book of Joshua, and it is viewed from several different perspectives. Each of these contributes something important to our overall understanding of the theme. For example, the land was Israel’s inheritance or possession, promised to Israel many years earlier. It was God’s gift to Israel. Yet, another perspective shows that it was taken by Israel. The extent of the land that God was giving Israel is detailed in verse 4. The description is general, giving the southern and northern boundaries first. After the general north-south boundaries are given, the east-west ones are given. The intent here is not to give the specific boundaries of the land. Rather, it is a general summary painted with broad brush strokes. The details will come later. Verse 5 is the spiritual climax and highlight of the first part of God’s charge to Joshua. It is a heart-warming promise to Joshua himself that (1) his and the Israelites’ efforts would succeed and (2) God would never leave him. It is doubly encouraging when we see that God promised to be with Joshua in the same way that he was with Moses. The words in the first part of the verse are identical to those in God’s promise to Moses in Deuteronomy 7:24. God’s impressive promise to Joshua in the second half of the verse that He would be with him just as He was with Moses begins to answer the question whether Joshua would be able to fill Moses’ shoes as a leader. The words I will be with you recall identical promises made to Isaac [Gen. 26:3], Jacob [Gen. 31:3], Moses [Ex. 3:12], and Joshua himself [Deut. 31:8,23]. The promise to Moses in Exodus 3:12 is especially significant, since it is tied in with the revelation of God’s very name, Yahweh. This God whose name was Yahweh promised Moses that He would be with him; indeed, His name was inextricably tied in with this idea of His keeping covenant to be with His people. In the last clause of the verse, God expands on this promise to Joshua of His presence: He would never leave nor forsake him.

 

Hear God’s Command:  Joshua 1:6-9.

 

[6]  Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. [7]  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. [8]  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. [9]  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."  [ESV]

 

[6]  The second part of God’s charge to Joshua consists of His instructions and encouragement. Three things stand out prominently here. First, as in the first section, much of the language derives from God’s earlier instructions and encouragement. Second, the threefold command to be strong and courageous [6,7,9] is important, and it also helps to give structure to the section. Third, the emphasis on Joshua’s keeping of the law in order to succeed in his responsibilities [7-8] is significant. The command to be strong and courageous brackets this paragraph, introducing it and bringing it to a close [6,9]. The middle occurrence of this command is highlighted by the addition of the modifier very. This introduces the heart of the paragraph, God’s instructions about Joshua’s keeping the law [7-8]. The verb be strong is common in Hebrew occurring almost three hundred times, but the verb be courageous occurs only forty-one times. Both words are actually similar in meaning. The need for Joshua to be strong and courageous was acute because he was the instrument for the people to inherit the land.

 

[7-9]  The heart of God’s instructions to Joshua is introduced by a variant of the command in verses 6 and 9, adding the word very, which highlights the instructions here about keeping the law which would be key to Joshua’s success. It is striking that God’s instructions here to Joshua are not about military matters, given that Joshua and the Israelites faced many battles ahead. However, the keys to his success were spiritual, directly related to the degree of his obedience to God. The keys to Joshua’s success were the same as those for a king: being rooted in God’s word rather than depending upon military might. The command in verse 7 to be strong and very courageous is to ensure Joshua’s scrupulous obedience to the law of Moses. The importance of obedience to the law as the key to Joshua’s success cannot be overestimated. This is emphasized over and over in these two verses. (1) Joshua was to be careful to do according to all the law. (2) It was all the law that was to be obeyed. (3) Joshua was not to deviate from it even slightly, neither to the right nor to the left. (4) The Book of the Law was not to depart from Joshua’s mouth, since he was to meditate upon it by day and by night. The idea of meditating here is not the one commonly familiar in our day, namely, of emptying the mind and concentrating on nothing or on self or on visualizations of various types; much of this type of meditation is indebted to Eastern mystic religions. Rather, the Old Testament concept of meditation involves two things: first, a focus upon God Himself, His works, or His law; and second, an activity that was done aloud. This is why God told Joshua that this law book should not leave his mouth (as opposed to his heart or his mind). (5) Joshua was to be careful to do according to all that is written in it. This represents something permanent, since it was written down. The result of Joshua’s keeping the law was that his way would prosper and be successful. Joshua’s obedience to God’s will [7-8] and God’s presence with him [9] guaranteed this. Many Christians make much of passages such as this in the Old Testament that speak of prosperity and success. They read these passages as guarantees that all Christians will succeed in every venture they undertake and that they will prosper financially if they are truly following God. Christians who do not succeed, or who are not financially well off, are condemned as living in some persistent sin or lacking in proper faith. But the two words (prosperous … success) are almost never used in the Old Testament to speak of financial success. Rather, they speak of succeeding in life’s proper endeavors. This happens when people’s lives are focused entirely on God and obedience to Him. The focus of people’s endeavors is not to be prosperity and success but rather holiness and obedience. A believer’s consuming obsession should be holiness, for God Himself is holy, to love God with one’s entire being, to keep His word with the same fervor, and to fear God and keep His commandments. When this happens, then God does bless, although not always in exactly the ways we might like Him to bless us. In this, the Old Testament has the same message that Jesus spoke when He said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you [Matt. 6:33]. Our priority is to seek God. The context here in Joshua is very clear about what is to be the key to Joshua’s success [7-8]: he is to be careful to obey all the law; he is not to turn from it to the right or the left; he is to have it constantly on his lips and to meditate on it at all times; and he is carefully to do everything written in it. His focus is to be upon God’s word and will; then, as he leads Israel in taking the land of Canaan, success will come to him. Nothing at all is said here about financial success. Thus, in the Old Testament prosperity is not financial in its primary orientation, if at all. Rather, it refers to succeeding in proper endeavors. Also, it comes only when it is not the focus of one’s efforts in any case. It comes when one’s focus is on God and one’s relationship with Him. The success is granted by God, not attained by human achievement. Here in Joshua 1:8 is the only place in the entire Old Testament that these two words (prosperous … success) are found together. Their use in this fashion underscores the importance of Joshua’s mission in leading Israel in taking possession of the land of Canaan, particularly the importance of his obedience and faithfulness to God. The same, it can safely be said, would be the case today: the keys to success in life lie in being intensely focused upon God and in consistent faithfulness to Him and His revealed word. God’s charge to Joshua ends by reiterating words of encouragement and commitment. Joshua was not to fear or be discouraged precisely because the Almighty God promised him His presence.

 

Act Courageously:  Joshua 1:10-11, 16-18.

 

[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.'" [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." [ESV]

 

[10-11]  The officers here are more administrative officials than military officers. Previously, God had appointed them to help Moses in his administrative duties. They were respected leaders in Israel, who had the Spirit of the Lord on them, and who had some judicial and/or religious duties. A key word in chapter 1 is order or command, which occurs in 1:7,9,10,11,13,16,18. The word is especially important in the Pentateuch and in Joshua, referring most often to God’s commands for His people. However, God also delegated His authority to various representatives. Here, God commanded Joshua [7,9], who in turn commanded the officials [10]. The officials were to pass on Joshua’s commands to the people [11], and the people pledged to respond in obedience to Joshua’s commands. This adds to the picture of Joshua’s leadership painted in this book. In keeping with the nonmilitary instructions that God gave to Joshua in verses 6-9, Joshua’s instructions to the people here likewise concern not military strategy or equipment, but for breaking camp, for readying food supplies for their journey. The possession of the land was, in effect, an already-accomplished fact; the Israelites merely needed to load up with supplies, since God would be giving the land into their hands. The purpose of the Jordan crossing was that Israel might go in and actually take possession of the land that the Lord their God was giving them as part of their inheritance. Just as God’s giving of the land is important in Joshua, so also are the related concepts of Israel’s inheriting and taking possession of the land. Israel inherited the land that God gave and then had to take possession of it.

 

[16-18]  The people’s affirmation of Joshua was warm and enthusiastic, and it echoed elements of God’s charge to Joshua in verses 1-9. They blessed him with the statement about the Lord his God being with him, just as He had been with Moses. Also in these verses is the fourth and final occurrence of the exhortation to be strong and courageous, which forms a fitting conclusion to this chapter, one that is full of exhortations and encouragements. On the face of it, the people’s pledges of obedience and loyalty to Joshua certainly must have been encouraging to this new leader who was not yet worthy of being called the servant of the Lord. And there is no indication in the text that the people were anything but sincere in their words. However, the Israelites had been a very disobedient people over the years, despite earlier promises to obey. So, we must wonder about the people’s words here, if their promise was to obey Joshua in the same way they had obeyed Moses, the prospects were not as bright as they might first appear, since, of course, they did not fully obey Moses. And Israel did not fully follow through on their obligations in Joshua’s day either. For example, it is abundantly clear that the Israelites were to annihilate the Canaanites when they entered the land. God had so informed Moses that Israel was to carry out this complete destruction in Canaan [Deut. 7:2; 20:16-17], and Moses had so instructed Joshua. And yet, Israel did not follow through on these instructions in many instances. The most notorious incident of disobedience was Achan’s taking of the spoils of Jericho when the explicit instructions were to the contrary [6:17-19]. Furthermore, on several occasions the people as a whole did not follow through on their obligations to drive out the land’s inhabitants. Thus, a tension is introduced here between the people’s words and their actions, one that simmers below the surface throughout the entire book. This tension is evidenced by use of the adverb only, which occurs in the middle of verse 17. Before an imperfect verb form, it expresses something which either contradicts or varies from that which precedes it. The question is, What is there in verses 16-17a that contrasts with what follows in 17b? In light of the discussion immediately above, the answer should be obvious: Joshua would not be able to rely on the people’s obedience – despite their promises! Rather, his success would come from the Lord’s presence, not from the people’s obedience (or lack of it). The people’s words may have been well-intentioned, but their use of this word – and what follows – makes it very clear where Joshua needed to look for help: not to their obedience to him, but to God. The words in verse 18 echo the sentiments already expressed several places in the chapter. Here, the next generation commits itself, in word at least, to obeying Joshua’s commands and to imposing severe sanctions (death) to anyone who would disobey.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         The opening verses of Joshua describe a major turning point in the life of Israel. Their leader, Moses, the servant of the Lord, had died. They were on the brink of finally entering the land that God had promised to give to His people. And they had to enter this land with a new leader. What qualifications did Joshua have to become Israel’s new leader? Imagine how Joshua may have felt taking over for someone like Moses at such a crucial time in the history of God’s people. Why would verse 5 be so important for Joshua at this time in his life?

 

2.         What commands does God give to Joshua in 1:6-9? What promise does God give to Joshua? What does this tell you about the key to Joshua’s success as a leader? Is this the same key to success for every Christian leader?

 

3.         Why do you think be strong and courageous is repeated four times in 1:6-18? Three time these words are spoken by God and once by the people; but all four times they are directed towards Joshua. How was Joshua to be strong and courageous?

 

References:

The Book of Joshua, Marten Woudstra, Eerdmans.

Joshua, David Howard, Jr., NAC, Broadman.