Monday

02 September 2013

“Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” (vv. 6-7)


Background

The first twelve chapters of Joshua describe how Israel took over the land of Canaan, with the first five chapters being preparation for that. Although there are similarities with other ancient Near Eastern battle reports, which are told in ways that boost the king's political credibility, the book of Joshua tells its stories to promote God's grace and faithfulness to prior promises. In neither case does strict historical accuracy of the kind we would expect of modern reporting appear to be a priority for the writers.

The opening verses make links to the book of Deuteronomy, which tells how Joshua was appointed successor to Moses (Deuteronomy 31:23; 34:9) who had led the people out of Egypt and for many years as desert nomads. Today's passage can be described as Joshua's formal commissioning ceremony by God. It contains rousing words of encouragement (to be "strong and courageous" - repeated three times in verses 6, 7 and 9), a mission description (to cross the Jordan river and possess the land - verse 11), and a promise of support ("I will be with you" (v. 5)).

Further connection to Moses and all that has gone before is established by the command in verses 7-8 to observe the law of Moses. Long before the final editing of this book that would have been understood as referring to the whole teaching about God portrayed in the five preceding books (ie "the book of the law" (v. 8)), and not just those things we would more narrowly define as laws. The reason that the law is to be in Joshua's "mouth" is because meditation in the ancient world involved reading aloud even when alone (cf Acts 8:30).

Verse 4 is one description of the extent of the promised land. No two descriptions are identical, nor in the event did the borders ever become fixed for long. The Hittite kingdom mentioned here lasted from 1550 to 900 BC and at its height rivalled Egypt in military prowess.


To Ponder

  • By way of appreciating the extent to which Joshua's mission is founded on God's actions count the number of past or future actions of God in verses 2-6.  If God is taking responsibility for the whole strategy how would you summarise the role of Joshua?
  • In Romans 7:6 the apostle Paul says of Christians, "Now we are discharged from the law". In what sense therefore, if any, do God's instructions to Joshua to "act in accordance with all that is written" in the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy serve as God's Word to us?
  • How do verses 3-4 help or hinder the politics of modern Israel and the Palestinian nation?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

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