By Charles Johnston:
In an earlier post in this series (Intel Report ) I wrote about Joshua as a supporting character, now is his time to step up to the main stage.
Throughout the children of Israel’s time wandering the desert, Joshua was Moses’ lieutenant and the commander of his army (as can be seen in Exodus chapters 17, 24, 32, 33, just for example in one book).
He was Moses’ heir apparent, but it would be God that actually appoints Joshua as commander in chief of all Israel.
Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus
Just like many stories, and people of the Old Testament, Joshua can be seen as a forerunner and foreshadowing of Christ. To start with there is his name, “Joshua” is an English translation of the Hebrew name “Yeshua”. If that name sounds familiar it’s because it is also the Name that the angel Gabriel instructs St Joseph to give to the baby being carried by his wife Mary:
“she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
He tells St Joseph that this Name is because “He will save His people from their sins,” this is significant because the name “Yeshua” means “Yahweh (God) saves”. Joseph would’ve recognized this name, and its meaning, and would’ve caught the double meaning of “Yahweh saves” and “He will save,” meaning that this child was God in the flesh.
Joshua carried this same name, and led the people of God (Israel) into the promised land, in a taste of the victories that another Yeshua (Jesus) would secure for God’s people (the Church).
Just like Lazarus’ resurrection would later give us a small taste of the resurrection, that all who die in friendship with God would receive, so too does Joshua’s victories give us a taste of the victories to come.
Joshua receives his commission
And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.” And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.
After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of th Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and of good courage; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
The first this that stands out of this passage is the command to be courageous. God tells him twice to “be strong and of good courage,” and then asks a rhetorical question as to whether or not he was commanded to be courageous. Courage would be very important for Joshua, and all of the Israelites, for the battles that lay ahead. Soon they would be crossing into the promised land and do battle with enemies who were much stronger than them, it would be the courage of Joshua, that was based in his faith in God, that would see them through (also there was the divine assistance in battle).
We, today, can benefit from this command to be courageous. It doesn’t take much searching to find stories of our faith under fire all around the world, but even in places that were once seen as bastions of religious freedom. In the 20th century there were more martyrs for Christ than in any other century in the history of the Church! More than even during the 2nd and 3rd centuries when the emperors of Rome used Christians as human torches to light the streets of Rome.
In some places being a Christian won’t bring a death sentence but it will bring ridicule or scorn. Knowing that, we can become discouraged and fall away from the faith, or at least fall away from public displays of our faith. We may stop making the sign of the cross when praying in public, or stop wearing a crucifix, or any other number of things that mark us as belonging to Christ. But we must remember what God said to Joshua, and what Pope St John Paul II said in his first homily as Pope:
“I plead with younever, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace, to live peace. Peace will be the last word of history.This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis.”
Pope Saint John Paul II
Having lived through Nazi occupation of his homeland, and the the brutality of the Communists, John Paul II knew what oppression could do to people if they let it. It was his determination to not be intimidated by worldly power that helped to end the Cold War and liberate millions from the slavery of communism.
After all the hardships they faced in Poland, the remained courageous like Joshua, and they never lost their faith. Today Poland has one of the strongest local churches in the entire universal church.
Keeping God on your mind
The second is the manor by which he would stay on the right path, and that is by meditating on the word of God. God tells Joshua that if he lives and rules by the law of Moses (which is the Word of God, and the law given by God to Moses) then he would prosper and be successful. He could be the most courageous man on earth, but unless he was grounded in his faith then he’d be wasting his efforts.
Jesus would tell His disciples that without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5), the same held true for Joshua. Does anyone think that he could’ve brought down the walls of Jericho with the brass section of a marching band and without divine assistance? Of course not!
Joshua knew that his help was from the Lord, and knowing that, and keeping that at the forefront of his mind, is what helped him to remain courageous in the face of a seemingly insurmountable enemy like the one he was about to face.
Sometime prioritizing God over all else can be a daunting task, but just like Joshua we are called to do the same. Jesus told his disciples to put Him first, above family, above country, above work. If we put God first in our order of priorities then everything else becomes properly ordered as well.
Putting God first can be summed up in a prayer that every Jew prays daily, and since it is from a time before Joshua we can assume that he prayed it daily as well. Even to this day it is contained on a scroll that is placed inside a mezuzah that you will find on Jewish doorposts around the world today:
“Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad”
This is a famous prayer that even gentiles would recognize, it is the first verse in a longer prayer that is contained in Deuteronomy:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
To put God first is the most important thing we can do. By ordering his life towards God, Joshua was able to conquer Jericho and take possession of the land of Israel. If we take a step back and look at it another way, Jericho can be a metaphor for personal sin that is standing in the way of use fully living the Christian life. If we set God as the highest priority we can obtain the grace necessary to overcome whatever obstacles any be in our way on our own path toward the fullness of the Christian life.
At the root of every mortal sin is the fact that we failed to put God first. We have broken the 1st commandment, we have placed something higher in our life than the One who made our life. Every mortal sin has, at its roots, us saying, “God, I know what you want from me, but what I want is more important. So my will be done, not yours.” By putting God first we can overcome this Jericho in our own lives and live to the fullest potential of what God has planned for us. Imagine how many souls could be saved if we prioritized God, just a little bit more.
The Two Paths
A couple hundred years after Joshua, King David would write a psalm about the two paths you may travel in life. The path of the righteous, and the path of the wicked.
Let us chose the path of the righteous, like Joshua did, and meditate on the Lord day and night, when we rise and when we fall asleep. By keeping Him, and His will, in the forefront of our mind may we be kept from the temptation to supplant His will with our own.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners,nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a treeplanted by streams of water,that yields its fruit in its season,and its leaf does not wither.In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so,but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,but the way of the wicked will perish.
You can find the rest of the posts in this series here, The Story of Salvation