As the children of Israel were preparing to go into the Promised Land, Moses delivered a series of speeches to help them understand how important their love and obedience to God would be (see Deut 6:1-9). Moses would not enter the Land himself, but Joshua had been chosen as the successor who would bring the people in across the Jordan River. Before this happened, God spoke to Joshua to give him encouragement and help him know that God would be with him (Joshua 1:1-9). The essence of that message is an important reminder for God’s people today:
Moses My servant is dead. Didn’t Joshua and the people already know this? They had been mourning Moses’ death for thirty days (Deut 34:8), so why would God say this? Sometimes people need simple reminders that the past really is in the past and it’s time to move forward. It’s obvious, yet there are times we let what happened in the past get in the way of what should happen in the future. Moses was a servant who was a good example and leader for them, but they could not afford to get stuck on what was. Compare this with Paul’s point in Philippians 3:13-14. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Don’t allow the past to keep us from moving forward.
Arise and go. Again, Joshua needed to get moving now that the days of mourning were over. Even knowing that the past is behind us does not mean we feel ready to get back to work. There needs to be the resolve and will to “arise and go.” There is a time to mourn, but then we must get up and get going because great work lies ahead. Compare this with what Jesus told the disciples when they had slept through their opportunity to watch and pray: “Rise let us be going” (Matt 26:46). There is work to do and we must engage the will to get it done.
I will be with you. God has always been with his people, so His promise stands. Joshua needed to know that God would be with him just as He was with Moses. The fact that Moses died did not mean that God had abandoned the people or the promises given through Moses and those before him. In times of disappointment and loss, it is easy to think that God has left us, but this passage reminds us that God stays with His people through the tears and difficulties. “He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6).
Be strong and courageous. It would take strength and fortitude to do what needed to come next for Joshua and the children of Israel. Their task would not be easy. If they imagined the enemies they would face or the problems that could seem insurmountable to them, they could become discouraged and give up before going any further. This was the problem faced by the previous generation who had sent spies into the land only to come back and report that there were giants and they were like grasshoppers (Num 13-14). The lack of faith in God and obedience to His will led to their rejection and inability to go into the Land (Heb 3-4). This new generation had another opportunity. Their courage would be tested and Joshua would be leading the charge.
Don’t turn to the right hand or to the left. This passage is about success: “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Yet this success was also grounded in their faithfulness to covenant. The “Book of the Law” was not to depart from them. They were to be careful to do all that was written in it. They were not to turn from it “to the right hand or to the left.” They could not expect success if they turned from God’s revelation. And neither can we. We want success and blessings, but if we turn from God’s revealed will, how can we expect God to bless us in that?
As Israel did then, so today we face difficulties in a world that has little respect for God and His message. We need similar reminders. The past is gone, so let us not get hung up on it. Let us get up and get to work for the Lord! Know that God is with us and will strengthen us in His will. We need to be strong and courageous, as Paul reminds us: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:10-11). Let us be faithful to the Lord and His revealed will, for the Lord will be with us and give us success!