Joshua 1 – At the Border of Canaan Again
1. The LORD (1:1)
The nation of Israel has again arrived at the border of Canaan. They had been at this border before (see section 3), but now the time has come for them to actually enter Canaan and take possession of it. However, how could they ever do that without Moses who had died?
To answer that question, it must be clear that Israel's entry into Canaan was not Moses' work; Canaan was a gift from the LORD, who had promised this country to his nation. The beginning of the book of Joshua shows that the LORD takes the initiative. (In the history of redemption, the LORD always takes the initiative.) He commands his nation to advance.
Question 1: Give several examples from redemptive history that show that God takes the initiative. How does this knowledge affect our lives?
Joshua receives the mandate to cross the Jordan (1:19). He passes this order on to Israel (vv.10‑18). He does not only pass it on to the leaders but to all of Israel (vv.12‑18; outline 1.5.1).
2. Joshua instead of Moses (1:2)
The beginning of this first chapter is remarkable. If you read the page that comes before Joshua 1, in particular Deuteronomy 34:9‑12, you will notice that there is a connection between Deuteronomy and Joshua.
The LORD had entrusted his covenant people to the care of Moses. However, Moses had passed away.
The LORD calls Moses 'the servant of the LORD'. Read Numbers 12:1‑9 to find out what that means.
Question 2: Who in the Bible was called 'my servant'? Where do we read about him? This servant died also. However, did he, like Moses, die as a result of his sins? (See also HC, LD 16, Q&A 40 and 42.)
Despite Moses' death, the LORD fulfils his promises; his work must be completed. For that reason, Joshua must assume leadership. The LORD himself makes sure that the work of Moses would be continued. The LORD makes Joshua competent so that he can become leader (read Deut 34:9). Finally, many years after the Exodus from Egypt, Israel is ready to enter the Promised Land.
Question 3: Moses could not complete God's work, but would Joshua be able to do so? (See Heb 4:8.)
3. Joshua's strength (1:3‑9)
Joshua's task as leader is difficult. After Moses' death Joshua is faced with this task, even though he had no previous experience. Where would he seek his strength?
Question 4: For how many years had Moses led the people of Israel? (E.g., see Num 14:34.)
Using uncompromising language, the LORD repeats his promise to Abraham (v.3). He describes the land in very concrete terms.
Many powerful nations lived in the land of Canaan, especially in the north (cf. 11:4). Joshua was well aware of this fact: he himself had been one of the twelve spies.
Question 5: Read Numbers 13 and 14. What had been the terrible consequence of Israel's lack of trust in the LORD?
The LORD commands (!) Joshua to be strong and very courageous. For which two reasons did Joshua require these two characteristics? (See v.6 for the first characteristic and vv.5 and 9 for the second.) Faith, as well as the obedience of faith, is Joshua's weapon against the enemies. (See vv.7 and 8.)
Question 6: Which of the two should inspire greater fear in the Israelites: the Canaanites or disobedience to the LORD? (In connection with this, read Eph 6:10‑20.)
The LORD would not forsake Joshua, if only Joshua would continue in faith.
Question 7: Did the LORD forsake Jesus on the cross? (Mt 27:46; Is.53:5,6).
4. Joshua's obedience (1:10,11)
In faith Joshua carries out the LORD's command. Joshua orders the people to make preparations for crossing the Jordan, for entering the Promised Land.
Israel is encamped in the vicinity of Shittim. The location of this place cannot be identified anymore, but it is thought that the distance between it and the river Jordan must have been approximately sixty stadia. That equals the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus (Lk 24:13), about ten kilometers. It would take a few hours to walk this stretch. However, for all the Israelites with all their little children and their cattle and all their possessions it must have been quite a significant distance.
The crossing of the Jordan (the entry into the promised land) was going to be a great miracle, especially during this season, the time of harvest (see 3:15).
Not only are the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, they also have to take possession (!) of it. The LORD their (!) God would give it to them as a possession (v.11b).
5. All of Israel
Joshua addresses the tribes who lived on the east side of the Jordan separately.
Question 8: Which tribes lived on the east side of the Jordan? (See Num 32.)
In Numbers 32, we read what the danger was that threatened these tribes. Moses had at first believed that these tribes had despised the Promised Land and he concluded that they neither were interested in God's promises nor trusted in them. The terrible consequences of such unbelief, which Israel had experienced once already, must have been well known (3:3).
These two‑and‑a‑half tribes are supposed to cross the Jordan with the rest of Israel. Whatever their brethren's objective is, and whatever the objective of the LORD and his people is, is their objective also. They belong to God's people. That is how the covenant functions.
Question 9: Would these two‑and‑a‑half tribes have been able to enjoy their peace if they were to simply stay on the east side of the Jordan? What does this involvement of the these tribes signify when it comes to our attitude towards God's promise of the new heaven and the new earth, and towards God's congregation and the church federation? (See 1 Cor 12.)
The two‑and‑a‑half tribes have to pass over the Jordan ahead of their brethren. They are able to do so (read v.14a).
In vv.16 and 17 we read that not only Joshua, but also the two‑and‑a‑half tribes, follow the instructions that were given. They are faithful to the words they had once spoken. In Joshua 22 these matters will be addressed again.
The two‑and‑a‑half tribes use strong language also (v.18): "Whoever rebels against your commandment..." (See Outline 3, question 7.)