Saturday, September 22, 2007

Joshua, Pt. 1: "Room for Improvement" (Josh 1)

The names and the lives of Joshua and Moses were inseparable, but Joshua’s rise was not predicated on Moses’ fall. Joshua’s rise was not spectacular or sensational. His star was continually on the rise and Moses’ fall only propelled his successor to the limelight and frontline, not make him an overnight sensation or a newfound success. Joshua had been Moses' aide since youth (Num 11:28). Three times, the departing Moses encouraged the incoming Joshua to take up the mantle of leadership (Deut 3:21, 31:7, 32:44).

Joshua had ample mentoring and was in good hands from the start. Moses summoned Joshua to lead Israel’s first battle against the Amalekites upon leaving Egypt (Ex 17:9). The young Joshua, in return, faithfully accompanied (Ex 33:11), guarded and supported Moses, God’s servant. He was one of the twelve explorers who dissented with the majority opinion (Num 14:6) and whose wholehearted trust in God (Num 32:12) was rewarded with entrance into the new land (Num 14:30). Not only was he granted entrance into Canaan, he was also to direct the Israelites across Jordan River and cause them to inherit the land (Deut 3:28), driving out the seven nations in Canaan (Deut 7:1, Acts 13:19)

Joshua was a loyal, trusted and proven leader, to the point of jealousy protecting Moses (Num 11:29) even at the danger of martyrdom. After all, Moses was responsible for changing Joshua’s name from Hoshea to the famous biblical name (Num 13:16).

The similarities between Moses and Joshua are striking. The LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel and the Israelites revered him all the 110 years of his life (Josh 24:29), just as they had revered Moses (Josh 4:14). Like Moses (Deut 34:5), Joshua received the designation “Servant of the Lord” at the end of his outstanding service to the Lord (Josh 24:29).

Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for elk hunting. They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six bucks. The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up. They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six elk. But the pilot objected and said, “The plane can only take four of your elk; you will have to leave two behind.” They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard. The plane was the same model and capacity.

Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted to put all six aboard. But when he attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and they crashed into the wilderness. Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, “Do you know where we are?” “I think so,” the other hunter groaned. “I think this is about the same place where we crashed last year.”

Someone once asked this question: “What is the largest room in the world?” The answer is “room for improvement.” The Chinese have a saying to that effect: “There is room to add on a 100-foot pole.”

Moses and Joshua had a good and dream working relationship. The transition from Moses to Joshua was smooth, natural and perfect. Unlike many troubled succession plans, the two men did not have the headache of passing the torch, catching the baton, co-existing at once, bearing one another or serving side-by-side. After Moses’ death, Joshua was the appointed successor and the rightful leader, the man of the hour and the man at the forefront, the mover and shaper of the post-Moses era.

How does one follow a legend and lead with confidence? How does one follow giant footsteps and yet make an impression?

Have Continuity, Will Travel and Triumph
1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Josh 1:1-5)

When Thomas Jefferson served as the ambassador of America to France, he had an extremely difficult and tricky task. His predecessor, Benjamin Franklin, who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, was recognized as America’s ablest diplomat. Franklin was also a household name in France, for he had been inducted to the French Academy of Sciences for his scientific work. Even Thomas Jefferson himself called Benjamin Franklin “the greatest man and ornament of the age and country in which he lived.”

So when Jefferson, America's ambassador to France from 1784 to 1789, arrived in Paris as United States’ minister to France, he naturally had some very big shoes to fill and a ton of questions to answer. On one occasion, when Jefferson presented himself to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, the French Minster asked him directly, “You replace Monsieur Franklin?” The new diplomat wisely answered, “No, I succeed him. No one can replace him.”

It’s been said, “To make yourself count, you either have be first, best, or different.”

Moses and Joshua were two different persons effectively playing different roles but marching to the same drumbeat and listening to God’s constant guidance.

Moses was the most dominant figure in the history of Israel. He was larger than life, the author of the Pentateuch and the first biblical character called “The servant of the Lord” (Ex 14:31, Deut 34:5, Josh 8:31, 11:12, 12:6, 13:8, 14:7, 18:7, 22:2, 4, 5, 2 Ki 18:12, 2 Chron 24:6). Also, God affectionately called Moses, “my servant” (Num 11:28, Josh 1:2, 7). Moses’ title was grand, his shoes were big, his accomplishments were dizzying, but Joshua was his own man, lived his own life and had his own orders.

Joshua was Moses' aide or attendant or assistant since youth (Num 11:28, Josh 1:1), but never Moses’ servant. The two words in Joshua 1:1, “minister” and “servant,” were different words in Hebrew. Moses was rightly the Lord’s servant, but Joshua was consistently Moses’ minister, never his servant. Joshua bore the given name “Joshua son of Nun” (Josh 1:1, 2:1, 2:23, 6:6, 14:1, 17:4, 19:49, 19:51, 21:21, 24:29), never “the servant of Moses,” and he bore and wore it recurrently, comfortably and proudly.

Joshua was a wise, godly and respected man. He was filled with the spirit of wisdom (Num 27:18, Deut 34:9), so he did not have to curry Moses’ favor, seize the job, campaign for votes or fish for support. God had made Moses and Joshua different, assigned to them different tasks and both made an unparalleled contribution and left their own imprint in Israel. Moses was a shepherd, but Joshua was a warrior. Moses’ task was to lead Israel out of Egypt and Joshua’s was to lead them into the Promise Land. Joshua succeeded Moses capably because they both take orders from God, even though their leadership style was different. They served, obeyed and trusted the same Lord. Their Guide was the same though they were guided differently. Their commands, directions and flight were different but they had the same Commander, Instructor and Pilot. Moses was just another servant, messenger and vessel for God’s use. Moses was dead, but God still spoke. The Superior and the Master still lived and His handbook, the manual and the instructions were still available. Joshua was not competing against himself or Moses but complying with the Lord and His Word.

Before his death, Moses predicted worse behavior from the next generation for the incoming leader: “For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!” (Deut 31:27) So, Joshua was left with the unenviable task of addressing and changing the attitude of the new generation, whose parents died in the wilderness, but he humbly and spiritedly took on the task, the challenge and the responsibility in his stride, never dodging the challenge, resenting the opportunity or avoiding the responsibility.

Have you attempted great things for God and expected great things from Him? When duty calls, have you taken charge, seized the moment and risen to the occasion? What have you done with the talents, opportunities and experience God has given you?

Have Company, Will Travel and Triumph
6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. (Josh 1:6)

The insecure Linus of the Peanuts comic strip character sat down with Snoopy, faced the beagle and spoke his mind: “Y’know what, Snoopy? I don’t understand people. No matter how hard I try. I just don’t understand them!” Then Linus got up, turned his back to Snoopy and walked away with a heavy heart.

Snoopy sympathized with Linus, stuck out his tongue and his eyes grew big in alarm at what Linus said, and thought to himself: “I know how he feels. I gave up trying to understand people long ago.”

Next, Snoopy flopped to the ground, his head and ears too. With his butt and paws pointing in the air, his tail dangling in the air and his eyes closed, he remarked: “Now I just let them try to understand me!”

People are hard to lead, prone to complain and slow to respond or change.

The first of God’s threefold charge (vv 6, 7, 9) of “Be strong and courageous” to Joshua was to lead the Israelites to inherit Canaan (v 6). However, a careful observation of Joshua 1:2 will reveal that the weight of God’s instructions was not on Joshua alone, but on Joshua AND the people: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, ‘you and all these people,’ get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites.”

It’s been said, “TEAM means ‘Together Everyone Achieves More.’”

Joshua’s way of working with people, serving them and leading them (Josh 3:1), were unlike from and foreign to Moses’ record. In the wilderness journey, the verbs describing the people’s merciless opposition to Moses their leader are pointed. They murmured and grumbled against Moses, quarreled with him, complained about hardships in the hearing of the LORD (Num 11:1). Their families even wailed at the entrance to Moses’ tent (Num 11:10-11). The Hebrew word for “murmur” occurs ten times in the Pentateuch texts related to Moses (Ex 15:24, 16:2, 17:3, Num 14:2, 14:27, 14:27, 14:29, 14:36, 16:11, 17:5), the Hebrew word “quarrel” four times (Ex 17:2, 17: 2, Num 20:3, Deut 33:8) and the word “complain” once with Moses, but none of these words or this nonsense occur with Joshua and the people or in the book of Judges. Four times the Lord (Ex 32:9, 33:3, 33:5, Deut 9:13) called Israel a stiff-necked people and Moses promptly called them so three times (Ex 34:9, Deut 9:6, 31:27) in the Pentateuch, but no such words ever came out of Joshua’ mouth and lips or were recorded in the book of Judges.

Moses and the Israelites got off to a rocky, icy and bumpy start. Moses was God’s mouthpiece and a lightning rod to the Israelites, but Joshua was contented to be a fellow foot soldier and one of the guys. Moses was a leader from day one, but Joshua was a follower before he became a leader. Further, Joshua achieved something Moses had not: Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived Joshua (Josh 24:31). The people were united, had matured in Joshua’s time, breaking from the previous generation’s die-hard and worn-out habits.

Have Courage, Will Travel and Triumph
7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” 10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, 'Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.'“(Josh 1:7-11)

An old Indian fable told of a mouse who was terrified of cats. A magician felt sorry for him and offered to help the mouse lose his fear. That solved his fear.

However, the cat now was worried of dogs. So the magician turned the cat into a dog. The mouse-turned-cat-turned dog was happy with his situation until he met a tiger.

Once again, the magician turned the dog into a tiger. One day, the tiger saw some strange-looking people with arrow, fire, and clubs. They were hunters. The tiger complained to the magician. The magician turned to him resignedly: “You're hopeless. What you need was a change of heart! And that I cannot give you. I will make you into a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse.”

Nothing succeeds like courage. God twice admonished Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (vv 6, 9) and once “to be strong and very courageous.” This is the only time the phrase “very courageous” is used in the Bible. The task God gave Joshua was not for the faint in heart, for one thin in the hide or for individuals sensitive to criticism. The untried successor was to lead untested generation into uncharted territory, unfriendly confines, unknown terrain and uninvited places.

God also admonished Joshua to resist inner fear – “do not be terrified” (v 9). The word for fear (怕) in Chinese is a combination of two words – “heart” on the left and “white” on the right. The English language uses the idiom “face turning pale with fright” to describe one’s fear but the Chinese characters depict the heart turning white with fright. Fear therefore is turning a red heart white with fright.

Foreign kings, numerous tribes, their strongholds, chariots and weapons of war were not Israel or Joshua’s constant and unrelenting enemies in the land. Fear was. The enemies were a big threat, but the bigger threat was to give in or cave in to fear forgetting the Lord’s presence, safekeeping and faithfulness. Israel’s ultimate test, health and destiny were tied to their close relationship with their God and not due to their friendly relationship with their enemies.

God promised Joshua all the help he needed to overcome fear. The Hebrew word “all” permeates this passage: God had promised Joshua all the people’s help (Josh 1:2 “all these people”), all the land claimed (Josh 1:3-4 “every place” and “all the Hittite country”) and His all-present help (Josh 1:5 “all the days of your life” and Josh 1: 9 “wherever you go”).

Trusting in God’s word and His leadership, not depending on self and others or clinging to or improving on the past, is the secret of our success.

Conclusion: Do you feel weak, inferior or overwhelmed when you think of all the people you have to face and all the tasks you have to accomplish all the rest of your life? Have you turned to God’s past promise, His present help and omniscient nature to help you overcome all fear? The biggest burden of expectation in life is comparison with others. Downplaying or over-stating the achievement of others is not healthy, wise or necessary. Have you asked God for courage, claimed His precious promises and braved on amidst stiff challenges and shifting circumstances? Do you have a destiny to fulfill, a path to take and an account to give? Remember, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. We can say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me (Heb 13:6)?” and live confidently on His promise: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”


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