The book of Joshua is a record of the conquering of Canaan by Israel under the leadership of Joshua who was Moses' successor. Joshua's task as Israel's leader was a very difficult task. Besides becoming Moses' successor, a giant task in itself, he had to lead Israel in conquering a land that was filled with strong war-like nations who outnumbered the Israelites. This first chapter of Joshua records the commission given to Joshua to conquer the land and his immediate response. Joshua 1 can be divided into three major parts as follows:
Joshua 1:1, 2
The moment of the commission to conquer Canaan was a special moment in the history of Israel and the life of Joshua.
"The Lord spake" (Joshua 1:1). The moment of the commission was God's moment. He chose the time for Joshua to begin the conquering of Canaan. "No work, however high and holy, should be undertaken without the express intimation that it is God's pleasure we should attempt it" (J. J. Lias in the Pulpit Commentary). Circumstances often confirm the moment, and in Joshua's case it certainly did. The faith of the Israelites, the fear of the Canaanites, and the flooding of the Jordan river were all current circumstances that God wanted and needed to be present to do His work. God knows when the conditions are right for His work and will speak and commission at the right time.
There was much sorrow in the camp when Joseph was given his commission for conquering Canaan.
• The area of the sorrow. "After the death of Moses... Moses my servant is dead" (Joshua 1:1, 2). The sorrow in the camp was caused by the death of Moses.
• The attitude of sorrow. The attitude of many about Moses' death would be one of despair, thinking without Moses they could not go on. But the giving of orders to Joshua said, "Moses the servant is dead, but God the Master is not" (Henry). God's workers may die , but that does not end God's work!
• The antidote for sorrow. "Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan" (Joshua 1:2). The best antidote for sorrow is doing your duty. God did not tell Joshua to disband and return to Egypt because Moses was dead but told him to get busy with his work of conquering Canaan.
The commission for Joshua was a mandate. It was not only a mandate for Joshua (the precepts in the mandate), but it was also a mandate for God (the promises in the mandate).
There are at least seven different precepts for Joshua in this mandate from God to commence the conquering of Canaan.
• The precept about his moving. "Arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land I do give to them" (Joshua 1:2). First, the duty in the moving. "Arise, go over this Jordan." Joshua's commission involved action. There is to be no delay, but work is to be done promptly. Second, the difficulty in the moving. "Go over this Jordan." No bridges were available and the Jordan was flooded (Joshua 3:15). Besides that the enemy was on the other side. That this duty was difficult is a great understatement. Third, the descendents in the moving. "Thou, and all this people." "This people" were descendents of Abraham to whom God first gave the promise of the land. There were as many as two million of them plus their livestock which only added to the difficulty of the moving. Fourth, the destination in the moving. "Unto the land which I do give to them." They were to head west, cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan. Fifth, the design in the moving. "The land which I do give them." The design of the moving was to begin the conquering of the land of Canaan which God had given them.
• The precept about his might. "Be strong" (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). This does not mean Joshua was weak. What it means is that he was to do what was necessary to keep himself strong for his work. Spiritual strength is the primary application. The world does not honor such strength and few are interested in it, but to serve God well you must be spiritually strong.
• The precept about his manliness. "Be... of a good courage... very courageous... good courage" (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). Three times God told Joshua to be courageous. You can actually say four times if you include "be not afraid" (Joshua 1:9). We need to be courageous as well as strong. Being strong but lacking courage makes us "a strong coward" (Maclaren). The courage is in two areas. First, manual courage. "Be... of a good courage" (Joshua 1:6, 9). This is physical courage that is needed in battle. Second, moral courage. "Be... very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law" (Joshua 1:7). Many flinch not in the face of enemy fire but are afraid to be seen reading the Bible. We need courage not only for dangerous physical tasks but also to stand true to God.
• The precept about his morale. "Neither be thou dismayed" (Joshua 1:9). This precept says do not be discouraged. There are many times when the servant of God faces this problem, but if you are obeying God, you should not be discouraged.
• The precept about his Manual. "This book of the law" (Joshua 1:8). Joshua's guide for his work was the Word of God.
• The precept about his mouth. "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth" (Joshua 1:8). This means that what Joshua says must be in accordance with the Word of God. This is a good precept for preachers, too.
• The precept about his meditation. "Thou shalt meditate therein day and night" (Joshua 1:8). There are three parts to this precept. First, the steadfastness part. "Day and night" (Joshua 1:8). Meditation on the Word of God is to be done continuously, not spasmodically. Second, the submission part. "That thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein" (Joshua 1:8). Meditation promotes consecration. If you do not meditate on the Word, you will not be obedient to the Word. Third, the success part. "Then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Joshua 1:8). This success needs to be understood as spiritual success, not necessarily material or financial success. Defeated Christians are not people of the book/Bible.
The promises are the mandate for God. The promises are given to encourage obeying the precepts.
• The possession of the land. "The land... I do give to them" (Joshua 1:2). The possession of the land was a great promise. Note five features about this possession. First, the freeness of the possession. "I do give... have I given" (Joshua 1:2, 3). Israel did not deserve the land but received it as a gift. Likewise is soul salvation. Second, the folk for the possession. "I do give [the land]... to the children of Israel" (Joshua 1:2). This does not include the Arabs or Palestinians. The land belongs to the Jews. Third, the feet in the possession. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you" (Joshua 1:3). This speaks of responsibility. "Assurances of Divine assistance must never be regarded as nullifying our accountability" (Pink). Fourth, the faithfulness in the possession. "As I said unto Moses" (Joshua 1:3). God is faithful to keep His promises. Fifth, the fullness in the possession. "Wilderness [south border]... Lebanon [north border]... Euphrates [east border]... land of Hittites... great sea [west border" (Joshua 1:4). The borders extend beyond any present day views of the politicians.
• The power for the land. "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee" (Joshua 1:5). When God commands, He will enable. Power is needed to conquer the land and it will be supplied by God as it is needed.
• The presence in the land. "As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee... with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:5, 9). This is the greatest promise of the promises, for no place is a good place if God is not present with you.
• The partitioning of the land. God promised Joshua that "unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land" (Joshua 1:6). This promise is encouraging for it means Israel will be successful in conquering the land. The promise also honors Joshua, for it gives him the privilege to partition the land.
• The prosperity in the land. "Thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest... good success" (Joshua 1:7, 8). The context of this promise emphasizes the need of obedience on the part of Joshua. Promises are often conditioned on obedience. The disobedient Christian will come up short on blessing.
After God gave Joshua the mandate to begin his work, Joshua began to mobilize the people to cross the Jordan and enter Canaan. "Then" (Joshua 1:10) speaks of the promptness of Joshua to begin his work. As soon as God gave the commission, Joshua began to mobilize the Israelites for conquering Canaan. Joshua's promptness was like David who said, "I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments" (Psalm 119:60). "Once a duty is discovered, it should be discharged, Peril attends the neglect of any acknowledged obligation" (Pink). The mobilizing recorded here involved giving two messages. One was for the executive officers of Israel and the other was for the eastern tribes of Israel.
Joshua's first act in mobilizing Israel to conquer Canaan was to speak a message to the executive or chief officers of Israel.
• The character of the message. "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people" (Joshua 1:10). Joshua did not call the chief officers together to give some advice or to seek their counsel or to have them vote on what to do. He called the leaders together to give them orders. That does not make every Christian leader a dictator, but it does put them in a different category than a mere negotiator or moderator.
• The contents of the message. The message to the officers was twofold in content. First, the preparation. "Command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals" (Joshua 1:11). The word "victuals" means food. The manna would soon cease as they went into Canaan, so the Israelites needed to have some food on hand for arrival in Canaan. Second, the promise. "For within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land" (Joshua 1:11). The order to prepare victuals was a promise the Israelites would move into the land.
The second message in the mobilizing the people to cross the Jordan was a message to the eastern tribes. A third of this first chapter of Joshua is about the message Joshua gave to the eastern tribes ("Reubenites... Gadites... half the tribe of Manasseh" (Joshua 1:12) concerning their responsibility in conquering the land. These tribes had already received their allotment on the east side of the Jordan (Numbers 32) but they were to help the others settle on the west side.
• The reasons for the message. The reasons for the message to the eastern tribes is threefold. First, to remind them of their agreement. "Remember the word... until the Lord have given your brethren rest" (Joshua 1:13, 15). These two and a half tribes had made an agreement with Moses to help the other tribes (Numbers 32:17, 18) conquer the land west of the Jordan if these two and a half tribes could have their allotment on the east side of the Jordan. Second, to remind them of their assistance. "The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land" (Joshua 1:13). These two and a half tribes received assistance from the Lord through the other tribes in conquering the land east of the Jordan. Therefore they were obligated to help the others conquer their land on the west of Jordan. Third, to remind them of their advantage. "Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle" (Joshua 1:14). They already had the advantage of land and protection. Advantage or privilege begats responsibility. The two and a half tribes needed to be reminded of this advantage to inspire fulfilling their agreement.
• The response to the message. The response of the two and a half tribes to the message of reminder by Joshua was excellent. First, the promise in the response. "All that thou commandest us we will do... so will we hearken unto thee" (Joshua 1:16, 17). These two and a half tribes would not shirk their duty. Blessings had not spoiled them. Second, the punishment in the response. "Whosoever... doth rebel... put to death" (Joshua 1:18). To show the sincerity of their response, they vowed to put to death any of their number who rebelled against the agreement. Third, the prayer in the response. "The Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses" (Joshua 1:17). Their prayer for their leader, Joshua, exhibited an excellent attitude about doing their duty. Fourth, the precept in the response. "Be strong and of a good courage" (Joshua 1:18). This precept would be an encouragement to Joshua, a pat on the back that said, "Go to it." They did not grumble to him and criticize him as many Israelites had done so often before with Moses.