The Lord Commands Joshua (1:1–18)
1–2 The book of Joshua continues directly from the end of Deuteronomy. Moses had just died, and Joshua had been commissioned to succeed him as the leader of Israel (Numbers 27:18–23; Deuteronomy 31:14,23). Joshua is here called Moses’ aide, because he had been Moses’ chief assistant from the beginning (Exodus 34:13; Numbers 11:28).
The first responsibility the Lord gave Joshua was to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River into Canaan. The time for taking possession of the promised land had come.5
3–5 The Lord then assured Joshua that He would give him every place on which he set his foot (verse 3). But Joshua was not free to go anywhere he pleased; he was under the Lord’s direction.
Then the Lord outlined the general area of the promised land that Joshua would be authorized to conquer. Indeed, the full extent of the land would not be subdued until the reigns of DAVID and Solomon. The area of the promised land described here is the same as that which God originally promised Abraham6 (see Genesis 15:18–21; Deuteronomy 1:6–8; 11:24–25). It was the land that God had sworn to give to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:7; 13:14–17; 18:13–14); now the time had come for the Israelites to inherit their land (verse 6). The fulfillment of God’s ancient promise was at hand.
The Lord promised Joshua that no one would be able to stand up against him (verse 5). That was because the Lord would be with him (verses 5,9) and never forsake him (see Deuteronomy 31:7–8). If the Lord is with us to guide us, sustain us, and empower us, the success of our endeavors for Him will be assured (Genesis 28:15; Matthew 28:18–20).
The Lord’s promise to Joshua applies to every believer today. Our success, our spiritual fruitfulness, is assured; our future in the Lord is secure. There is no one on earth who can block the Lord’s future for us—except ourselves.
6–9 These verses summarize the two central themes of the book of Joshua. The first is: Be strong and courageous (verses 67,9). This is another way of saying: “Have FAITH.” Joshua could have faith and courage because the Lord would be with him. The Lord Himself gives us faith and strength, but then at the same time He tells us to “have faith” and to “be strong.” The point is that we must use the gifts God gives us; we must put our faith into action. God gives us the power; we must put it to work (see Exodus 17:10–13 and comment).
Yet we must always beware the temptation to place our faith in our own work, in our own actions. The whole book of Joshua proclaims the fact that the Israelites’ victories were won by faith in God, not by the arm of man. This book proclaims a central New Testament teaching: This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4).
The second theme of the book of Joshua is this: Be careful to obey all the law (verse 7). Success is not guaranteed unconditionally (see Deuteronomy 8:1; 11:8–9). All of God’s gifts and blessings are conditional; we receive them only as long as we obey God’s law (see Exodus 19:5–6 and comment). We must not deviate from the law; we must not turn to the right or to the left. We must keep the Book of the Law7 in our mind and in our mouth,8 so that we might do everything written in it (verse 8). “Then,” says the Lord, “you will be prosperous and successful” (see Deuteronomy 5:32–33; 30:9–10).
Notice that the Lord says to obey all the law, to obey everything written in it (verses 7–8). Many of us try to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we will obey; we fashion the Bible to our own liking. But that will not work: to disobey one part of the law is, in effect, to disobey all of it (James 2:10–11); it is to disobey the Lawgiver.9
Have I not commanded you? (verse 9). Whenever we feel unable to carry out a command of God or a clear call from God, we need to remember these words: “Have I not commanded you?” God is totally faithful. He will never command us or call us to do something without also giving us the means and the power to carry it out.
10–11 Here Joshua issues his first commands to the Israelites. The people respond with a willing and obedient spirit (see verse 16).
12–13 The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had already received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32:33). But in exchange, Moses had commanded them to send their fighting men to help the other tribes take possession of Canaan (Numbers 32:16–22,31–32; Deuteronomy 3:12–20). So here in these verses Joshua is reminding the two and a half tribes of Moses’ command.
In verse 13, the giving of the land is equated with the giving of rest—rest from enemies, rest from hunger and deprivation and fear. The land is pictured as a secure and peaceful haven (see Deuteronomy 12:8–14 and comment). In the New Testament, this “promised land”—this “rest”—has been given a deeper meaning; it is symbolic of our spiritual salvation in Christ (see Hebrews 4:1–11). Canaan is not symbolic of heaven; rather, it is symbolic of our present position in Christ: we have “rest” from fear and insecurity; we have PEACE with God and spiritual victory through faith in Christ.
The conquest of Canaan, then, was an earthly foreshadowing of our experience as Christians. Canaan was a land of physical rest, physical bounty and physical victory; our position in Christ is one of spiritual rest, spiritual bounty and spiritual victory.
14–15 When all the fighting was over and each tribe had taken possession of its inheritance, then the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh would be free to return to their land east of the Jordan. Their return to their homes is described in Joshua Chapter 22.
16–18 All the Israelites agreed to obey Joshua’s commands. The people expressed their hope that God would be with Joshua as He had been with Moses. They even agreed to put to death anyone who disobeyed Joshua (verse 18). This punishment would soon be carried out in the case of the disobedient Achan (Chapter 7).