What to us might seem to be a devastating blow, one that knocks us off our feet, or that seems intended to knock us out, is often intended by God to be the impetus to stronger faith and greater service. Think of Joshua: for some forty years he had followed Moses and had been his right-hand man. Whether on top of Mt. Sinai or in the tabernacle before the Shekinah Glory, Joshua had followed Moses steadfastly and served him faithfully.
But Moses had left Joshua behind in the camp and had climbed alone to the top of Mt. Pisgah. He never came back. Then “the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses My servant is dead’” (Josh. 1:1b, 2a). We can only imagine how overwhelming those words must have been to Joshua. For four decades he had loved, followed, supported, served, and learned from this mighty man of God, of whom it could be said: “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12).
We might expect the Israelites to form a long line before Joshua (like the one my wife and I stood in yesterday all the way out the funeral home doors into the street, waiting to offer condolences to the children and widow of a co-worker who had died) to commiserate with him. We might expect the Lord to make His Presence known in palpable consolation and comfort. Instead we read, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (v. 2).
The blow is not a knockout punch to the jaw but a shove on the back: “Up, get moving!” Three times the Lord instructs Joshua to “be strong and [very] courageous” (vv. 6, 7, 9). There is no time for feeling sorry for himself, no opportunity for the typical signs of grief—tearing clothes, tossing dirt in the air, weeping and wailing—, no time for a formal period of mourning. Instead, “Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, ‘Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, “Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it”’” (vv. 10, 11). And they were off—not on a lark, not to a picnic, but to fight and defeat the Canaanites.
God is not harsh in this. He promised Joshua that “every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses” (v. 3). Furthermore, He promised: “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (v. 5). But He is insistent.
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