Moses is dead. For forty years under the most challenging of circumstances there have been two constants: God’s provision and Moses’ leadership. What now? No one feels the weight of that question more than Joshua. For forty years he served as Moses’ right hand. To him now falls the full weight of responsibility.
Throughout human history few have felt
such heaviness. In the history of our country
only a handful have experienced such trauma
of leadership; George Washington,
Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt to name
but three. They, like Winston Churchill, knew
that the lives of millions would be impacted by
their every decision. Try to imagine the pressure, the sense of obligation, the fatigue, and yes, the fear.
Now put yourself in Joshua’s place. It’s one thing to serve as an assistant. It’s an entirely different thing to be positioned at the very front of an army facing a fearsome foe, to bear responsibility for the fate of a people, and to keep that people focused on achieving a common goal that will require great sacrifice. Are you there? Can you feel a bit of what Joshua must have been feeling as he stood gazing across the Jordan River? Is your stomach tied in knots yet? Is your brain churning under the strain?
Now here’s reality. Neither you nor I will ever face anything quite so overwhelming. That is not to say we won’t experience trials that stretch us beyond what we believe are our limitations. In fact, we have been facing just such a reality over the past year. Add together the health and financial impact of COVID-19, serious racial and cultural turmoil, a bitter presidential election, and the mandated loss of Body Life in much of the country as our governmental leaders declared the Church of Jesus Christ a non-essential activity and the result is . . . I struggle to find appropriate words.
How then should we respond? Do we rise up in revolt? Do we put on a happy face, pretending that things aren’t as bad as they appear? Do we curl up in the fetal position, trembling in fear? Do we join the chorus declaring the whole world an irredeemable mess? I suspect that you would agree with me that none of the aforementioned responses best represent the mind of Christ. What then can, indeed what must we do? Here are some thoughts to consider as we begin this New Year.
Trust God’s Promises
As Joshua ponders what to do next God breaks into his heart and mind with this message: “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:2-3).
Our Lord makes a similar promise to you and me, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me . . . And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20). COVID-19 will not be the end of this world. It is possible that you or a loved one may be infected, become ill, and even die. Here, however, is another of God’s promises, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
In reality everyone one of us will walk through that valley because as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “It is appointed unto man once to die”. It may be painful to contemplate but here is reality: There is nothing in this world more certain than death. And while we should not live foolishly as so many do, death is an unavoidable consequence of life in a fallen world. I appreciate how C.S. Lewis reminds us of this reality when he writes, “Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs.”
That brings to mind another of God’s promises revealed through the pen of the great Apostle Paul. “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). And remember that Paul writes this from a Roman prison.
Focus on God’s Word
After reminding Joshua of His promises concerning the land of Promise God then reminds Joshua of the importance of His Word.
“Only be strong and courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
Now pay careful attention to what comes next. “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
How, then, can we possibly know of God’s promises apart from His Word? We can’t. How can we know of God’s will apart from His Word? We can’t. How can we know how to act during times of trauma and uncertainty apart from His Word? We can’t. How can we understand true justice and true Truth apart from His Word? We can’t. Apart from His Word we are condemned to wander aimlessly in a wilderness of error and oppression from which there is no escape.
Two interesting phrases stand out in that text. We are first instructed to not let the Book of the law depart from our mouths. That is an interesting turn of phrase that simply means that Joshua, like us today, “was to be conversing about the Bible in his normal day-to-day contacts with family, soldiers, friends, and others who were part of the nation” (James Boice). I’m not sure that we take that admonition as seriously as we should.
Let’s be honest. How much of our daily conversation is shaped by the Scriptures? In fact, I suspect we are constantly being reminded that we should avoid two topics in public conversation: Politics and Religion. How we talk about the Word matters for sure. We can be winsome or, we can be a scold. We should pursue the first approach and avoid the second. What we can’t do, however, is be silent – we can’t let the Word depart from our mouth; not if we hope to live according to that Word.
The second phrase is equally compelling. We are told to meditate on the Word day and night. As Boice reminds us, “Mediation is a step beyond mere knowledge of the Scripture or talking about it. Meditation implies reasoning about the Word and deducing things from it. Meditation has application as a goal.” He then goes on to observe, “Unfortunately, this is a discipline far too few Christians today know anything about.” And as a consequence, “We live in an age of superficiality and spoon feeding.” If we are to be strong and courageous, however, we must know, understand, and apply what the Scriptures teach us about life in a world broken by sin.
Be Strong and Courageous
The word that most readily comes to mind when I read Joshua 1:8-9 is resolute. Joshua resolutely set his face to the task of leading a group of former slaves with little military experience in conquering a hostile land. It’s what Jesus did when facing execution at the hands of the cruel Romans. It was true of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin. It was true of Bonhoeffer and Neimoller in Nazi Germany.
Bonhoeffer we know. We are not so familiar with Martin Neimoller but we should be. Standing before an irate Adolf Hitler in 1934 Neimoller was told, “You confine yourself to the church. I’ll take care of the German people!” We need to ponder with care Neimoller’s response,
“Herr Reichskanzler, you said just now: ‘I will take care of the German people.’ But we too, as Christians and churchmen, have a responsibility towards the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.”
Cited in Living on the Cutting Edge: Joshua and the Challenge of Spiritual Leadership, R. Kent Hughes
I fear we’ve lost that kind of courage, resoluteness if you will. If our response to the unprecedented declaration by many state governors that the church is a non-essential activity is any indication, we have been anything but “strong and courageous.” There is always danger in choosing to be resolute when retreat is the safer course of action. Imagine where we as a people would be, however, if our forbears, both our temporal and spiritual forbears, had chosen the path of least resistance. Imagine.
I don’t know what the New Year will bring our way. Whatever comes we will be better served if we choose to trust the promises of God, to focus on God’s Word, and then choose to live resolutely in obedience to that Word.
As always, I pray for God’s blessings as you continue to Seek and Serve Him in all things.