The first unit of the first chapter of the book of Joshua (1:1-9) details how the conquest and occupation material should be read and identifies the key themes recurrent in the message of the book. This structure encourages us to read Joshua in light of these opening verses. Joshua reads like a military war narrative told from the perspective of God’s relationship with His people. It is about the Lord’s covenant relationship with Israel, established and solidified with Abraham in connection with the Exodus and the giving of the Law. It is about land, leadership, the Law, and supernatural victory over land inhabitants. It is about the Lord, the divine actor in conquest and settlement.
All these things were important to the original readers and continue to have relevance for us today. Our specific purpose at this point is to understand how God calls and equips leaders to fulfill His will. We could summarize our thoughts with the declaration, God is the Divine Caller who enables servants for leadership. The Good News of this declaration is that He did it with Joshua, He did it with Christ, He can do it with you!
How does God call and equip leaders? In Joshua 1:1-9 we see that God installs Joshua as a Mosaic successor and enables him for leadership of the covenant nation. When God called Joshua, He outfitted and equipped him for this colossal task of leadership. In 1:1 the Lord spoke to Joshua, singling Him out for this assignment. In 1:5 the Lord repeated to Joshua the promises He had made to Moses, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” Joshua was God’s choice as Moses’ successor.
But what happened to Moses? Moses disqualified himself from leading the conquest in Numbers 20:12. It was at the waters of Meribah that Moses struck the rock for water instead of speaking to it. The Lord viewed what Moses did as an act of unbelief. According to the Text, Moses did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the Israelites (Numbers 20:12). In other words, Moses, “you did not regard me as trustworthy for the purpose of treating me as One who is holy.” Noah, unlike Moses, led and built the ark with holy fear (Hebrews 11:7). Moses’ lack of leadership faith disqualified Him from leading the nation any further.
The Lord then selected Joshua to lead the nation into the land of promise (Deuteronomy 1:37-38). In this transition, the Lord instructed Moses to encourage Joshua with the leadership responsibility of land occupation (Deuteronomy 1:38; 3:28). The 31st chapter of Deuteronomy (31:7, 23) documents Moses’ exhortation to Joshua. The Joshua 1:1 reference to the death (cf., 1:2, 18) of Moses recalls the Numbers 20 event.
It reminds us of God’s weighty leadership expectations. God warned His people that he would punish disobedience. Note the warning of 1:18. In an amazing expression of grace, we see that God will advance His promises despite the disobedience of individual leaders.
God will give His people a leader. God favored and verified Joshua as the new leader. How do we see this in the text of Joshua? God communicated with Joshua like He talked with Moses. In Joshua 1:2-5 God speaks to Joshua about Himself. In Joshua 1:6-9 God speaks to Joshua about Joshua. God promised to be with him and to exalt him (1:6, 9; 3:7, 10; 4:14; 6:27). The nation acknowledges that Joshua is Moses’ successor (1:16-18).
The book of Joshua narrates the leadership role of Joshua as a military commander and land distributor. Joshua acts as the God-appointed leader of the nation by sending (2:1, 23) and by commanding (4:14-17). The Lord exalts Joshua in the eyes of the people (3:7; 4:14). The Captain of the Host appears to Joshua prior to the battle of Jericho (5:13-15) to assure him and challenge him. This event is similar in design and intent to God’s appearance to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
Now what do we do with what we just read? How do we get to Jesus from here so we can appropriately apply this text to our lives? What is the good news of the gospel in this opening episode of Joshua 1? Redemptive History illustrates the good news of how God gets things done; He calls, he outfits His servants with His presence. He chose Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon. He chose his apostles (Matthew 4:18-22). He selected Paul for a critical work among the Gentiles (Acts 18:6; Romans 1; Galatians 1:11). The eternal deliberations of the Triune God resulted in Jesus being the servant called and outfitted to pay the debt of sin.
The pattern of calling and outfitting is modeled in the life of Jesus (cf. Isaiah’s Servant Songs). Redemptive History illustrates the good news that we need a righteous leader. In the story of biblical history we learn that God requires His leaders to be distinguished with godly character (Deuteronomy 17-18; Psalm 147:10-11 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Despite this, all the leaders in Redemptive History before Jesus were flawed or fell short of getting the job done. However, the righteous holy Jesus got it done and will get it done. The only way we will get it done is to keep our eyes and our affections on the Lord. God expects that His leaders will be committed to His Word — “Be careful to obey.” God calls His leaders to the Word; to obey the Word; and to a growing fear of the Lord (Deuternomy 17:19; 31:12-14). This is Torah-style Leadership!
God works among His people to affirm His grace in the call and outfitting of leadership. God did this with the life of Joshua (3:7; 4:14). God did this with Paul (Galatians 1:8-10). Although Redemptive History warns us, it offers us hope. We can be godly leaders; we can be instruments of God’s grace. We can be people of influence within and without our homes. But how? By looking to and by trusting in Jesus alone. The Scriptures call us to model His character, let this mind be in you [Philippians 2:5]; to model His obedience [Hebrews 5:8 and 1 Peter 1:2]; to model His loyal commitment to the Word, [Matthew 4].
What I have tried to illustrate is a legitimate canonical pathway from the Joshua 1 leadership theme to the person of Christ. The text of Joshua 1 takes us from the flawed Moses, to the emerging leader of Joshua through biblical history to the ultimate leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. We began with an explanation of the transition from Moses to Joshua in light of Numbers 20. We gave attention to the leadership role of Joshua throughout the period of conquest and as presented in the book. The trajectory of this theme to Christ involves considering how God calls, equips, and outfits leaders in Redemptive History. The larger story of Redemptive History demonstrates how God gets things done through called leaders, illustrates the need for a righteous leader, and offers us hope by fixing our affection and trust on Christ, the righteous leader.