Called of God
When we begin to read the book of Joshua, which chronicles Joshua’s great work as the conqueror of Canaan, we are immediately and not unexpectedly introduced to Joshua. The introduction, however, is brief. It simply states that Joshua is the son of Nun, that he had been the minister of Moses, and that he is now the successor of Moses. This introduction in the first two verses of the book of Joshua does not say anything else about the person of Joshua or about the particulars of his calling from God to be Moses’ successor. But we can find more on these subjects elsewhere in Scripture. So in this initial study of Joshua, we will examine other books of the Bible besides the book of Joshua to learn more about the person called by God to be Moses’ successor and about the particulars of that call. It will give us a good introduction to Joshua and help us much in our study of Joshua in the book named after him.
A. THE PERSON FOR THE CALL
Before a man is hired for or appointed to an important job, he is often given a background check. That is, his past life is examined to see just what sort of man he has been in his life. His family, places of employment, habits, and other aspects of his life are examined with care. Here we will, through examination of Scripture, do the same with Joshua. Our examination will concern Joshua in his role as a son, slave, soldier, servant, superior, and spy. As we examine each of these roles which Joshua had in life before he became Moses’ successor, we will discover a number of important characteristics about him which gave him good credentials and qualifications to be Moses’ successor and to be the conqueror of Canaan. These discoveries will also provide us important lessons concerning what sort of persons we all need to be in order to be placed in service for God and to be a conqueror of the evils of Canaan in our own lives.
Joshua was "the son of Nun" (Joshua 1:1). This role of a son was, of course, the first role Joshua had in life. To examine it we will consider the mentions of his sonship, the meaning of his names, and the matter of his birth order.
The mentions of his sonship. Thirty times in the Bible, Joshua is mentioned as a "son"—specifically the "son of Nun" (the KJV spells "Nun" with an "o" in 1 Chronicles 7:27). Because of Joshua’s character over the years, these thirty mentions of him as Nun’s son are an honor for Nun. Joshua was the kind of person who brought honor, not disgrace, to his parents.
In contrast, there was another man in Scripture who, like Joshua, was of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26), whose name also began with a "J," and whose father’s name also began with an "N" who was a far different story. He was Jeroboam the son of Nebat who was a wicked man whom the Bible reports again and again as one who caused Israel to sin (1 Kings 16:26,31; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29; 13:2,11, etc.). Twenty-one times in Scripture Jeroboam is listed as the son of Nebat, and many of those times it is specifically mentioned that Jeroboam caused Israel to sin. What a great disgrace to Nebat to have the Scriptures frequently mention that Jeroboam was his son.
There are many sons like Jeroboam that no parent wants to be identified with. If Joshua had lived like them, it would have been a great disgrace to Nun to have Scripture frequently mention that Joshua was his son. But Joshua lived a noble life and thus his mentions as Nun’s son honored Nun. We need to live likewise, for how we honor our parents affects God’s interest in using us in His service. Those who disgrace their earthly parents will be of little use to God. If you disgrace your earthly father, you will also disgrace your heavenly Father. Is the presence of your name on some church roll an embarrassment to His church? Is your claim of being a Christian a dishonor for His Son?
The meaning of his names. When Joshua was born, he was named Oshea (the KJV also spells it "Hoshea" in one reference to Joshua [Deuteronomy 32:44] and in a number of references to the last king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and "Hosea" in reference to a prophet who wrote a book in the Old Testament of that title). The name means "salvation." Moses was the one who changed Joshua’s name from Oshea to Joshua: "And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua" (Numbers 13:16). "Jehoshua" is usually abbreviated "Joshua." This new name means "Jehovah is salvation." To change the name, Moses simply prefixed to the name Oshea (spelled "Oshua" in the new name) the name "JEH" (more often spelled "JAH"), an abbreviated form of the name "Jehovah." So the combination of "Jeh" plus "Oshua" became Jehoshua which is usually shortened to Joshua (the "J" being another abbreviation for "Jehovah"). Though the matter of the name change is not mentioned until the text about the selection of the twelve men to spy out Canaan, that does not mean the name change occurred then. Keil believes "It is very probable that Moses may have given him the new name either before or after the defeat of the Amalekites." That certainly would have been a most fitting time for the name change.
"It is very significant that the name ‘Joshua’ is the same as the name that our blessed Lord bore here on earth. Jesus is the anglicized Greek form of Joshua . . . and we may see in this Joshua of the Old Testament, a type of the Jesus of the New Testament" (Henry Ironside). Joshua’s bearing the name of the Great Redeemer reminds us of a most necessary credential for serving God and for conquering the evils of life, namely, the prominence of Jesus Christ in our life. We will never be of much service for God or have much success in defeating the evils of our life apart from Jesus Christ. His name must be upon us, not literally as it was in Joshua’s case, but in redemption, in spirit, and in power.
The matter of his birth order. Birth order was significant in Joshua’s life. However, birth order did not then and never has been since a factor in determining and predicting one’s behavior—contrary to what some psychologists and psychiatrists of our day say. Their thinking is a bunch of nonsense and will never find a bit of support from the Scriptures. It is nothing more than some sick excuse to justify poor behavior.
The significance of Joshua’s birth order which we particularly note here is its relationship to the final plague upon Egypt. According to 1 Chronicles 7:27, Joshua was the firstborn of Nun. This meant that on the first Passover night in Egypt, it was essential that Joshua be protected by the blood of the lamb. The last great plague that came upon Egypt before the exodus of Israel from Egypt was the death of the firstborn. Protection from this plague was obtained by putting blood from the lamb on the top and the two sides of the door frame of the house. When this was done, "The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague [death of the firstborn] shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:13). Joshua was protected by the blood of the lamb that night or he would not have become Moses’ successor. This emphasizes the fact that an important credential in any age for serving God and conquering the enemies of our soul is to be protected by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in soul salvation.
Joshua was born in Egypt when Israel was suffering under the cruel Egyptian slavery. Hence, Joshua knew all about the crack of the taskmaster’s whip and the weary bodies and the unjust and oppressive orders that were the continual lot of the Israeli slaves in Egypt. He saw the suffering Egypt inflicted upon the Jews and doubtless experienced much of it himself.
While no one with any charity would ever wish such unjust slavery on anyone, yet we need to note that tough times do not hurt us as much as some would have us think. They can help to build character. Affliction is a better friend of character than affluence. The dark days of the depression and dust storms developed a lot of character in many folk (including my parents) back in the late twenties and early thirties. The luxury which so many young people live in today does just the opposite. Some (particularly the politicians) would argue that poverty holds folk back. But the condition of the welfare crowd does not justify the politicians’ claims. The problem of the welfare people is not money, it is morals. It is not a lack of cash but a lack of character that keeps them down. Put them in a luxurious hotel and in a few weeks it will look like skid row because they do not have the character to work at taking care of things. In contrast, Abraham Lincoln, without any government welfare programs to help him, rose from a log cabin to become the president of our nation. And Joshua rose from slavery to be the great conqueror of Canaan. If we expect to amount to anything for God and conquer the Canaan evils we face in our life, we will have to have a faith that can endure hardship. Those who have so little faith they cannot endure when the church pews are not padded or when the church is not air-conditioned will never do much for God or conquer many evils in their lives.
The first appearance of Joshua in the Bible is about Joshua as a soldier. It had to do with Israel’s war with Amalek near Mount Sinai. When Israel arrived at Rephidim near Mount Sinai a few months after their exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Moses then appointed Joshua as Israel’s military leader to conduct the war against the Amalekites. "And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek" (Exodus 17:9). We learn some good things about Joshua here in this reference to him as a soldier. We learn that he was a proven, perceptive, prompt, and promoted soldier.
A proven soldier. Moses would certainly not appoint Joshua to head up the military unless Joshua had already proven somewhere and at sometime that he could do the job. It is possible that Joshua’s first proved his military prowess in the Egyptian army, for "foreigners were common in the army of Egypt" (John Rea). Moses would learn of that prowess upon returning to Egypt. Also, Moses, who was "mighty in . . . deeds" (Acts 7:22) which would include military deeds when he was still a member of Pharaoh’s household, would give Joshua some training in this area; for smart leaders look out for good men like Joshua to train. We can easily conclude that Joshua did well in this training just as he did well in the Egyptian army. So because Joshua had proven himself well when a soldier in the ranks, Moses appointed Joshua a man of rank in the army. As we will see repeatedly in Joshua’s life, because he proved himself in a lesser responsibility, he was given greater responsibilities. It is the same with us in God’s service.
A perceptive soldier. Moses ordered Joshua to "Choose" (Exodus 17:9) men for the army to fight Amalek. Hence, Joshua was in charge of the draft. He was responsible for putting the right men in the military. To choose the right men meant that he had to be perceptive. He had to be able to discern the military abilities and qualities of men. Lack of perception would have filled Israel’s army with incompetent men which would have been disastrous for Israel in the battle against Amalek.
The ability to discern people is a most valuable ability not just in selecting soldiers, as in Joshua’s case, but also in every walk of life. It is an ability which will be greatly helped by knowing the Word of God. Especially is this true when it comes to discerning character. When you apply the rules of the Word of God to people’s lives, it is no trick to perceive who does and who does not have character. We may not be able to discern some abilities and skills, but we have no excuse for not discerning character in our choices. The people some Christians vote for in elections is indicative that they have not been in the Word of God much, for they often vote for the worst of the candidates. The people Christian young people often court and marry also reveals a discernment problem plus it emphasizes the great peril of lack of discernment in the matter of character.
A prompt soldier. Perhaps the most important trait of Joshua which we learn about him in this first mention of him in Scripture is that he knew how to obey orders. "Joshua did as Moses had said to him" (Exodus 17:10). His obedience was prompt—which is true obedience. Anything less is delinquency. As soon as Moses commanded, Joshua obeyed as a good soldier does.
Obedience is very important in life. A story told about a boy applying for a job at a store illustrates this fact. The owner of the store asked the boy what he could do. The boy said he could do as he was told. The boy was hired on the spot which is not surprising. It is the same in the Lord’s work. If you can obey God’s orders, you will be employed in God’s service. If you cannot obey God’s orders, you lack one of the most important qualifications for service in God’s army. It will not only disqualify you from God’s service, but it will also keep you from successfully combating the evils in your life.
A promoted soldier. Joshua was very successful in his military work against the Amalekites ("Joshua discomfited Amalek" [v. 13]). His success, not surprisingly, was followed by a promotion. The promotion was from God. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Exodus 17:14). The fact that God ordered Moses to review this Amalek war with Joshua is a "plain hint of his [Joshua’s] future work as an appointed instrument to execute Divine vengeance upon His foes" (Pink). While neither Moses nor Joshua realized at this time that this order from God was given because Joshua would replace Moses, we can still see the promotion from God in the order. Joshua did a faithful job as the appointed military leader in this battle with Amalek, so God began to promote him to a higher office. This promotion teaches us a lesson we have already seen in our study of Joshua. It says that if we are faithful in the lesser duties, we will be promoted to greater duties. Joshua was faithful in subduing the Amalekites; therefore, he was later given the job of subduing all of Canaan. Be faithful in the lesser duties and God will entrust you with greater duties. The reason many do not grow in grace and are not used much in God’s work is that they are not faithful in the lesser assignments. If God cannot trust you in small things, He certainly will not put you in charge of much more important things.
In the first verse of the book of Joshua, Joshua is described as the "minister" of Moses. Three other times the same Hebrew word is used to describe the fact that Joshua was Moses’ servant (the KJV in reference to Joshua twice translates the Hebrew word as "minister" and twice as "servant"). The word means "to wait upon, to serve, to minister unto" (Gesenius). Another place in Scripture describes Joshua’s servant position as "which standeth before thee [Moses]" (Deuteronomy 1:38). That same description is used by Elijah to express his servant relationship with God— "before whom I stand" (1 Kings 17:1). It speaks of one’s readiness to serve another. It says you are standing close by ready for orders.
Joshua, like Elisha (1 Kings 19:21), was a servant to his successor for a number of years before he took over his successor’s position. And in this position as Moses’ servant, Joshua displayed some important character traits. We see these traits of character in his humility, his honesty, his hearing, his holiness, and his heroes. All of these aspects of character are important credentials for promotion in God’s service and for conquering the evils of Canaan.
Humility. The first mention of Joshua as Moses’ servant is found in Exodus 24:13. This comes shortly after Joshua, as Israel’s military chief, led Israel to victory over Amalek. You would think that after being appointed to such a high position as the head of Israel’s army and then being so successful in the appointment, that we would be reading about Joshua’s servants, not about Joshua being a servant. But not so. Rather, we read of Joshua being a servant. This would require a great deal of humility for Joshua. But Joshua had that humility.
It requires much character to perform well in the lowly after you have been in high position. Usually in thinking about humility and service, we think of the humility required to serve in the lowly before we serve in the high positions—and humility is required. But the humility Joshua had to have in going from a high position to a minister for Moses would have to be much greater. Joshua passed the humility test with flying colors. We also must pass the humility test if we are going to serve God well and conquer the evils of Canaan. Pride brings defeat, not victory. But humility knows the way to victory.
Honesty. In his position as a servant, Joshua revealed well his trustworthiness. When Moses went up into Mount Sinai for the first forty-day stay, he took Joshua with him (Exodus 24:13). Somewhere on the way up the mount, Moses had to leave Joshua alone as Moses went on to be alone with God to receive the wonderful revelations from God. Thus Joshua was left alone on the mount for forty days. "What a testing of his . . . fidelity was that!" (Pink). Aaron and the children of Israel in the plain below the mount did not do so well when they were left alone, however. They ended up engaging in gross idolatry and the licentious conduct it produced.
What we are when we are alone really reveals our true character. Joshua’s conduct when he was left alone on the mount certainly proved that he could be trusted. God can and will use that kind. But if you lack fidelity, your service for God will be extremely limited.
Hearing. When Moses and Joshua descended from the mount after Moses’ first forty-day session with God on Sinai, they heard the noise of the idolatrous revelry that was going on in Israel’s camp. "When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp" (Exodus 32:17). But Moses said, "It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear" (Exodus 32:18). Though Joshua did not hear as distinctly as Moses, do not be too critical of Joshua’s hearing here; for it compliments him even if he did not hear as distinctly as Moses did. Joshua heard noise coming from idolatrous revelry, and he had nothing good to say about it. He did not describe it as art or esteemed culture as some describe such sounds today. His hearing was a lot better than that! He heard evil. His hearing could discern evil. Moses simply defined what kind of evil it was.
We have many today who have hearing problems spiritually. It is especially evident in the music they tolerate. What gross stuff is heard in our churches today. People who cannot hear evil in those sounds do not have Joshua’s hearing! The discernment of our hearing often reveals our spiritual condition. If you cannot hear well spiritually, you will not be chosen by God for much service.
Holiness. We have already seen that Joshua had good spiritual qualities, but the holiness of his heart prior to his becoming Moses’ successor is especially seen when he is in the position of a servant of Moses. Following the judgment of God upon the Israelites for their idolatrous venture, Moses moved the tent of meeting outside the camp where he went to speak with God. When Moses finished speaking with God at the tent, he left the tent to return to the camp where the Israelites were. "But his servant Joshua, the son of Nun . . . departed not out of the tabernacle [tent of meeting, not the great tabernacle described later in Exodus]" (Exodus 33:11). Remaining in the tabernacle said Joshua was not uncomfortable in the presence of God. He could tarry in the presence of God for a lengthy period of time without being bored. He would not rush home from church in a hurry to turn on the TV and watch sports on Sunday. Special meetings would not upset him, but he would be eager to be present at every meeting. Joshua was spiritually-minded. He was concerned about holiness. Being earnest about holiness was a necessary qualification for Joshua to be Moses’ successor and for him to be a conquer of the evils of Canaan. Concern for holiness is important for all of us. If you have little interest in holiness, God will have little interest in you serving in His vineyard.
Heroes. It was in his position as a servant of Moses that revealed who Joshua’s heroes were. It came about when there was a serious problem in the camp during Israel’s stay in the wilderness. The problem resulted in Moses being given seventy men to share the load with him. These men in evidencing their spiritual enduement for the job did some spontaneous prophesying (forthtelling more than foretelling, preaching more than predicting) in the camp. When several men (Eldad and Medad) whose new position Joshua was unaware of began to prophesy, Joshua protested to Moses: "Joshua . . . said, My lord Moses, forbid them" (Numbers 11:28). Joshua’s protest, though unwarranted as he would soon discover, revealed that Joshua was very attached to Moses and, thus, protective of Moses’ honor ("Enviest thou for my sake"-[Numbers 11:29]). In today’s terms we would say Moses was Joshua’s hero and role model.
Who our heroes and our role models are reveals a great deal about our character. Who young people are attached to is an indicator of where they are going. The Elvis crowd, as an example, is not going to the mission field! Those who admire and are drawn to men of character will help their own character. But when your heroes are the popular but putrid stars of the world, you are headed for trouble.
When Moses selected the men to spy out Canaan, God told Moses the men were to be "every one a ruler" (Numbers 13:2). Moses obeyed, and each of the twelve spies were "heads of the children of Israel" (Numbers 13:3). Since Joshua was one of the twelve men selected by Moses to spy out Canaan, it meant he had superior position in the camp. He was the head (or one of the heads) of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 13:8). Joshua’s grandfather, Elishama, had been the chief of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 10:22, cp. 1 Chronicles 7:26,27) when Israel came out of Egypt and began their march in the wilderness. Whether he was still the chief and Joshua a subordinate ruler under him or whether Joshua was the chief now is incidental. The point here is that Joshua had a high position in his tribe—if not the top position at least one of the highest.
Being a superior in the camp did not necessarily mean you were a good man as the ten unbelieving spies proved. But how well you handled that position did reveal what sort of man you were. Joshua handled the position well. He was not like politicians who when they gain high position decline in character. High position ruins many men—we could almost say most men. Once a man gets in high position, he learns how to compromise to try to stay popular with the people. Position and popularity become more important than truth and righteousness. But that was not the case with Joshua. The way in which he conducted himself as one of the heads of the tribes of Israel gave him some good credentials for being Moses’ successor. It said he could be elevated to a high position without corrupting his character. Do you have the character to survive high position? If not, you can forget about God entrusting you with any important position in His vineyard.
As mentioned above, Joshua was chosen to be one of the twelve men to spy out Canaan (Numbers 13:8). This duty revealed some more of Joshua’s excellent character qualities. The spying especially tells us about his stoutheartedness, steadfastness, and seniority—all which speak well of Joshua’s character.
Stoutheartedness. To be willing to go into Canaan and spy out the land for forty days (Numbers 13:25) took a great deal of courage. Besides having to rough it in the wild—there were no motels or hotels to lodge in and no fast-food places at which they could eat—they had to be very careful about revealing themselves; for Canaan was not a hospitable land to strangers. The mission of the spies was dangerous. Each spy literally laid his life on the line to do this work.
It is true that you can be a bad man and still have the courage to risk your life in some adventure. Ten of the spies were brave men though they were also bad men. So bravery alone does not necessarily mean good character. However, lack of courage here certainly would have exposed bad character. But Joshua passed the courage test well. Thus, when he later sent the two men to spy out Jericho, he was not a hypocrite asking them to do something he did not have the courage to do. He was not like some of our politicians who were draft-dodgers but when they became elected officials they hesitated not to order the country’s military into action. We have some in Christian work like these politicians. As an example, some leaders in church, who themselves are unwilling to sacrifice for the Lord’s work, will not hesitate to ask and exhort others to sacrifice. They are like the wicked religious leaders of Jesus’ day of whom He said to do as they say but not as they do: "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matthew 23:3).
Steadfastness. This excellent attribute of Joshua’s character is probably the one that is most readily revealed from his spy work. When the twelve spies returned, ten of them gave "an evil report" (Numbers 13:32) to the people. But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, spoke the truth (Numbers 14:6–9). So Joshua, along with Caleb, demonstrated he would remain faithful to the truth. Later in the book of Numbers, this steadfastness is summed up as follows: "Caleb . . . and Joshua . . . have wholly followed the Lord" (Numbers 32:12). "Wholly followed the Lord" is a great commendation. You cannot do better than that. That is absolute steadfastness to the Sovereign, and it is most necessary to be of service for God.
The excellence of their steadfastness was proven by the test of popularity and the test of persecution. These are two tests that will quickly reveal the quality of anyone’s steadfastness, too.
First, it was tested by popularity. Joshua and Caleb were in the minority. In the spy group they were outnumbered ten to two. Then, as we will see more about next, their report was not popular with the people, either. But in spite of that, Joshua and Caleb stood steadfast for the truth. Such steadfastness is not the norm, for popularity controls so many folk in where they stand. The typical attitude of most people is expressed in a humorous anecdote from the Reader’s Digest. The anecdote told of an applicant for the position of a city manager being interviewed by the city council. In the interview, one council member asked the applicant how much two plus two was. The applicant answered by asking, "How much do you want it to be?" This answer pleased the council and so they hired him. The answer said the applicant was ready to do what was popular whether it was right or wrong; and the council was obviously of the same character. Most people care little about truth, righteousness, facts, and fidelity. They are mostly interested in what is popular. The crowd is their guide. But that was not the case with Joshua. Popularity was not the principle that guided him. He could stand alone—a prerequisite for being a Christian leader.
Second, it was tested by persecution. Because the congregation did not like the message of Joshua and Caleb, "all the congregation bade stone them with stones" (Numbers 14:10). Not only did Joshua and Caleb experience lack of popularity, but they also experienced some rough persecution. But that did not change them. They abode faithful in their commitment to the truth. Thankfully, God intervened and delivered Joshua and Caleb from being stoned. "The glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel" (Ibid.) and stopped the attempt to stone them. But had God not delivered them, it was evident they would have perished before they would have compromised.
Unlike Joshua and Caleb, many people change their positions because of persecution. In church some are so weak in the faith, that it only takes just a bit of inconvenience to adversely affect their commitment. But unless you can stand true under duress, you will not be of much use for God.
Seniority. Because of his faithfulness in the spying work, Joshua was one of the two oldest men of the Israelites to cross Jordan and enter the land of Canaan. When Joshua died, he was either the oldest man or second oldest man (if Caleb was alive and was older) then living in Israel. This came about because of the judgment of God upon the Israelites for giving honor to the evil report of the ten spies instead of to the good report of the two spies and thus refusing to enter Canaan as God commanded. God said to the rebellers, "Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness . . . from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me . . . ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun" (Numbers 14:29,30). Longevity is not always an indication of godly living nor is dying young always an indication of ungodliness, but longevity was certainly a testimony of godliness in the case of Joshua (and also Caleb). Joshua’s age was a living testimony to the Israelites of his obedience to God. His seniority spoke of sanctified living. Senior saints need to ask themselves if in their old age they are an example of strong and mature faith or if they are just a cranky old person.
B. THE PARTICULARS OF THE CALL
God has given us in His Word some significant details about Joshua’s call to be Moses’ successor. The Divine calls recorded in Scripture given the great saints of God, though varied in details and circumstances, all embody important principles which pertain to every call and revelation of the will of God to man. Such instruction is eagerly sought and received by good people. But those who have little interest in the will of God will, of course, find these calls of little interest.
To examine the particulars of the Divine call given Joshua to be Moses’ successor, we will consider the preparation, supplication, revelation, and ordination involved in this call.
Before Joshua became Moses’ successor, he was given some forty years of specific preparation. Some of that we have noted above in looking at the person of Joshua. Of course, Joshua’s whole life could be said to be a time of preparation for the task, for God guides all our lives in such a way that He is preparing us day by day for what’s ahead in His service. But specific preparation began for Joshua at least as far back as the time Israel was in the Mount Sinai area. There Joshua got experience as the general of the army. There God ordered Moses to review the war facts with Joshua. And there Joshua became a servant of Moses, a task he had for over thirty-eight years. Being Moses’ servant gave Joshua some good on-the-job training. It gave him a close view of the day-today work that faced Moses in his leadership position.
The lengthy preparation given Joshua to be Moses’ successor emphasizes that much preparation is often required for service for God. This, however, does not go over well with the flesh. The flesh does not like the day after day work, practice, instruction, and study that is necessary to prepare one adequately for a position or task ahead. But lengthy preparation is a must if we are to succeed in the task. When Joshua took over for Moses, Scripture says "Joshua . . . was full of the spirit of wisdom" (Deuteronomy 34:9). You do not become "full of the spirit of wisdom" overnight! And Joshua needed to be "full of the spirit of wisdom," for he was taking on a huge task. He had some enormous shoes to fill in taking Moses’ place. No wonder he was given so much preparation for it. Moses himself was given such a lengthy preparation for his task that he was eighty before he took over the task of leading the Israelites. Joshua could easily have been the same age when he succeeded Moses.
Procrastination is often a problem with some in assuming a responsibility, but presuming can be just as big a problem. Presuming by going into battle before you are prepared or taking an office before you are qualified and ready can be chaos for all concerned. A football player who is in too much of a hurry to put on all his protective pads will not do well on the field and before long will be on the sidelines unable to play. So it is in God’s service.
We need to emphasize the preparation time more in church. Many times in church, people are thrust into positions of large responsibility long before they have been adequately prepared for the task. Putting people in spiritual positions too quickly hurts both them and God’s work. Paul warns about putting a "novice [young convert]" (1 Timothy 3:6) in high office in the church. Whether we appoint or elect or personally aspire to service in God’s vineyard, we must not despise the lengthy time of preparation that is involved. Preparation is vital if we expect to serve God successfully.
That which initiated the revealing of the fact that Joshua was indeed to be Moses’ successor was the supplication of Moses to God for a successor: "And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd" (Numbers 27:15–17). Moses made this supplication right after God had reaffirmed that Moses would not be permitted to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land which meant Israel was going to need a new leader.
An important prerequisite for learning the will of God is prayer (the prayer responsibility here was primarily Moses’ responsibility not Joshua’s although the call concerned Joshua—Joshua’s noble interest in prayer will be seen later in the book of Joshua). Those who give little time to prayer will not do well in discovering the will of God. Lack of prayer regarding the will of God reveals a lack of interest regarding the will of God. And those not interested in the will of God will not learn the will of God. You do not fall into the will of God by accident. You naturally go astray, not aright. Hence, to do the will of God, you must take positive and earnest steps to do it. Lack of earnest prayer says you are not doing that.
Moses’ prayer indicated that he did not have Joshua particularly in mind before he prayed. This may surprise us, but it is not a bad reflection upon Moses. Joshua himself may not even have thought of himself as a candidate for Moses’ successor. Being of a humble spirit, Joshua would doubtless think of others as more likely to take Moses’ place. "Joshua may have joined [in Moses’ prayer], thinking all the while that Caleb, the lion-hearted, or Phinehas the priest [his gallantry is recorded in Numbers 25], or one of the sons of Moses, might take his place" (F. B. Meyer). But prayer helped to reveal the right choice. How many bad choices we could have avoided had we been more earnest in prayer about seeking God’s will.
After Moses prayed for a successor, "The Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him" (Numbers 27:18). This revelation from God gives us another important help regarding knowing the will of God, namely, we must know the Word of God if we would know the will of God. It was the Word of God (oral in this case) that revealed the will of God to Moses. There is an alarming de-emphasis upon the Word of God in our churches today, and this fosters ignorance about the will of God. Therefore, it is no accident that so many church members are far from the will of God in their lives.
The Word of God may not spell out the exact name or decision or calling you are to make or have as it did in the case of Moses and Joshua. But it will provide plenty of principles in both precepts and recorded experiences to give us an adequate guide for knowing the will of God in our lives. Be well acquainted with God’s Word and you will be well acquainted with God’s will.
It is not necessary to have a formal public service to confirm the will of God in every situation or calling, but when the calling is a significant and public one, public services are wise and helpful and give due honor to the will of God. Thus in the case of Joshua, a public ceremony was understandably decreed by God to make known to the congregation in a solemn way that Joshua was to be Moses’ successor when Moses died. God said, "Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient . . . And Moses did as the Lord commanded him" (Numbers 27:18–20,22). There were two main parts to this ordination—the laying on of the hands and the charge. Our ordination services normally include these two parts, too.
The laying on of the hands. A public laying on of the hands is a solemn way to recognize a call in an ordination service. It can be a very meaningful time for both the called one and those in attendance at the ordination service. We need to remember, however, that the public laying on of the hands does not determine the call, it only recognizes the call in a formal fashion. It is God Who determines the call. Our calling is not determined by men. We seek God in prayer and in His Word to know His will about our calling. Hence, while public ordination services are proper, they are not necessary for either the determining or the fulfilling of a calling. There are times when men truly called of God may be unpopular with the powers that be and, therefore, are not given a public ceremony to recognize the calling. At such times we need to remember that the main recognition needed is not men’s recognition but God’s recognition.
The charge. We generally have a sermon or two at our ordination services. Often we call them the "charge to the church" and the "charge to the candidate." They are sermons of exhortations both to the congregation and to the one being ordained (often called the candidate). In Joshua’s ordination, both charges were given by Moses. Deuteronomy 31 records both the charge Moses gave the congregation and to the candidate.
First, the charge to the congregation. The message Moses gave to the congregation (which is repeated several times in Deuteronomy 31) had at least four points.
(1) Moses spoke of the leader of the congregation. The congregation was informed that Joshua was to be their new leader (Deuteronomy 31:3). Ordination denotes the position of the one being ordained.
(2) Moses spoke of the land. He said God would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua.
(3) Moses spoke of the life which the Israelites were to exhibit. He exhorted the people to "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them" (Deuteronomy 31:6). Their life was not to be one of fear and weakness but one of courage and strength.
(4) Moses spoke of the Lord. "The Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee: he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Deuteronomy 31:6). The message about the Lord was to help them have the kind of life he had just exhorted them to have.
Congregations need to be preached to at an ordination service; for if they do not understand a minister’s calling or respect and follow him, the work will not go forward. Joshua would be a great leader, but the Israelites must follow him or they will not experience the blessings God has for them. Thousands perished in the wilderness though Moses was a superb leader, for they rejected his calling and would not respect or follow him.
Second, the charge to the candidate. After addressing the congregation, Moses then spoke to Joshua and "gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded" (Numbers 27:23). Much of this message to Joshua will be repeated by God Himself as we will see in our next chapter. We note three main points in Moses’ message to Joshua.
(1) Moses spoke of Joshua’s attitude. "Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him, in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage . . . fear not, neither be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:7,8). This exhortation was much like what he told the Israelites their life should be like. Joshua was not to be weak and fearful, but strong, brave, and steadfast.
(2) Moses spoke of Joshua’s assignment. "Thou must go with this people [as their leader] unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers . . and thou shalt cause them to inherit it" (Deuteronomy 31:7). Preachers need to be reminded of their duty when preached to at an ordination service. Many preachers evidence they do not know their duty today or else they do not want to do it.
(3) Moses spoke of the assistance Joshua would have in doing his work: "The Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee" (Deuteronomy 31:8). Moses’ message to Joshua did not minimize the difficulties ahead, but neither did it minimize the dynamic (God’s power) at hand.
Moses gave some good messages in Joshua’s ordination service. Preachers who preach at ordination services would do well to use Moses’ outline. By the sound of some ordination sermons, it would be a great improvement.