By Robert C. Shannon
No one knows who wrote the book of Joshua, but everyone who reads it knows why the book is called “Joshua.” He is the principal character. While it is important to know this remarkable man, it is more important to know the God who used him mightily and blessed him greatly. His life is the lens through which we come to appreciate our Lord.
An Impossible Task
How could anyone fill the shoes of Moses, who led his people out of slavery, through the desert, and to the very border of the promised land? He brought them the laws that would govern them. He put in place the structures of nationhood. He turned slaves into citizens. Who could possibly succeed him?
Joshua could—and did. His life experience was different from his predecessor’s. Moses went from the heights to the depths. Joshua went from the depths to the heights. Moses enjoyed the best education possible in his day. He lived in the palace like royalty. Joshua started life as a slave. How does one move from slave to statesman? How does one move from servant to general? The answers to these questions can help us be ready when we face a seemingly impossible task.
We say about sports and business, “It’s all in the timing.” It’s true often, but not always. Joshua faced his difficult task at a difficult time. During their years in the wilderness the Israelites had been concerned only with survival. Now they were concerned with victory. The enemy was entrenched in the land. Their cities were fortified. Joshua had to take former slaves and turn them into first class soldiers. He was so successful that for generations afterward his strategies guided other generals in planning theirs. Joshua exemplified the old adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
The timing seemed bad. Joshua was 85 years old. What he lacked in energy he made up for in wisdom. He may have lacked the strength of earlier years, but he knew where to spend the energy he had.
Anna Mary Robinson Moses was a farmer’s wife. As the years advanced she found she would have to give up embroidery. So, at the age of 76, she began to paint. Her work was an immediate success. Her first show in New York City made her famous as Grandma Moses. She had picked up her brush at a time in life when many are laying everything down. Conductor Leopold Stokowski signed a recording contract at the age of 94. The contract ran for six years!
Sustained by a Promise
God said to Joshua, “I will be with you. I will not fail you nor forsake you.” God had made a similar promise to Moses and Joshua had seen how God kept it. God later made a similar promise to Gideon who came after Joshua. An angel said to him, “The Lord is with you.” Think what this promise meant to Joshua. Think what it means to us. If God did not forsake Moses, Joshua, and Gideon, surely he will not forsake us. Every Christian worker cherishes this promise. No one would attempt great things for God, or even small things, without such an assurance.
An old song assures us that we are “Never alone! No! Never alone.” Every missionary, church leader, teacher, and worker lives by this promise. The Bible contains more than 8,000 promises. Not all are for us. But we can know with certainty that this promise is for us. Jesus made a similar promise when he left this earth, and Christian experience has taught us that he kept it. Though all 8,000 promises are not for us, enough are ours so that we can always sing, “I’m Standing on the Promises of God.”
Meditating on God’s Word
In the eighth verse of chapter one, Joshua is told to meditate on the book of the law day and night. His Bible consisted of only five books—the first five books of our Bible, the five books of Moses. Joshua was to know them so well he could meditate on their teaching.
Before the fall of Communism a young man attended a two-week Bible conference at Haus Edelweiss in Austria. He said, “I am so glad to be here. When I get back I will be drafted into the army. I will not be allowed to take my Bible with me. This will give me something to think about while I am in the army.”
God has given all of us something to think about. When you wake in the night and cannot get back to sleep you can meditate on God’s Word. When you must wait for an appointment or some other event, you can meditate on God’s Word. It will give you strength. It will give you courage. It will give you peace.
I knew a man once who rode to work on a city bus. He carried a little pocket New Testament. While he waited at the bus stop he read his New Testament. While he rode on the bus he read his New Testament. Like David of old, he hid God’s Word in his heart.
Joshua did more than meditate on God’s Word. He was instructed not to let the words depart from his mouth. He was to communicate the message that had blessed him. He promised that he would. We may be sure that he did.
Outlived by His Good Deeds
“Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders that out lived Joshua” (24:31, American Standard Version). The man’s shadow was longer than his life. That’s something we all would like. The length of our physical shadow depends on our relationship to the sun. The length of our spiritual shadow depends on our relationship to God. There are two books in our Bible that bear the name of the prophet Samuel, yet his death is reported in chapter 25 of First Samuel. Why then is there a second book called Samuel? The answer is that his life’s influence went on far beyond the years he lived.
It was so with Joshua. Long after he was dead his good example continued to bless his people. The same thing may happen for us if we take Joshua as our model. Someone may remember something you said and be blessed by it. Someone may remember something you did and be inspired by it.
Giotto di Bondone was the first painter to picture people on canvas as they actually were in real life. Others took up the challenge, inspired by Giotto. Long after he was dead, artists paid tribute to Giotto’s pioneering work in painting the human face and form. Giotto’s influence lived on.
The poet Longfellow saw an influential life not as a shadow, but as a footprint, and in a poem he called A Psalm of Life wrote,
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
A Modest Epitaph
Think what might have been written on his tombstone. They could have put “Joshua who conquered Jericho.” They could have put “Joshua who brought down the walls.” They could have called him Joshua the General. They could have called him Joshua the Deliverer. They could have called him Joshua the Savior. Instead he is simply called “Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord.” But in the lexicon of faith there is no greater title than “servant.” Jesus said the one who would be chief should be a servant. He said that he himself came not to be served, but to serve.
This is a remarkable story of the man who began life as a slave and who ended it as a general and a statesman. He truly moved from the depths to the heights. In Birmingham, England, there is a consortium of small schools called the Selly Oak Colleges. Among them is an Anglican school called Crowther Hall. It is named for Samuel Crowther who began life as a slave and ended it as a bishop in the Anglican church. He, too, moved from the depths to the heights. His life is a parable of Christianity for, according to the apostle Paul, we were slaves to sin and, according to the book of Revelation, Jesus has made us kings. We have moved from the depths to the heights.
Robert C. Shannon is a retired minister and freelance writer in Valle Crucis, North Carolina.
Courage to Stand Up
Perhaps you or your Sunday school class, Bible study group, or small group would like to study more about Joshua’s leadership.
God called Joshua to complete a massive undertaking in the desert of Sinai that had remained stalled for 40 years. Joshua needed courage. His task required faith to continue the fight, strength to confront those closest to him, and humility to correct his own mistakes.
Discover the source of Joshua’s courage by purchasing the six-session study download, Courage to Stand Up.
The download has everything a study leader needs: accurate Scripture commentary, easily adaptable lesson plans, innovative teaching methods, reproducible activity sheets, and a reproducible student devotional guide.
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