The Divine Commission to Joshua
September 13th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE DIVINE COMMISSION TO JOSHUA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-13-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us these services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Word of the Lord to Joshua or The Divine Commission to Joshua. For several years, we have been preaching throughout the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. This morning, we begin in our new departure with the Book of Joshua. While I have been away on my vacation, most of it, day and night, I have been studying, preparing for these preaching services. I have been studying two things: one, the whole book and life and ministry of Joshua. And the other, in keeping with the services at 11 and at 7:30, preaching in the Book of Hebrews, I have been studying the temple ritual and the tabernacle services, without which there is no understanding of the tremendous theological concepts presented in the Book of Hebrews. And I humbly trust and do earnestly pray that God will bless the fruit of those hours of toil and preparation and make them rich to your hearts; building up our faith; strengthening our love and devotion for the Lord, and opening to us new vistas in the Word of the living God. Now if you will, let us turn to the Book of Joshua, and you can follow the message easily. The fifth book of the Old Testament:
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,
Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.
There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
This Book of the Law—this Bible—shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shall make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with you whithersoever thou goest.
As I read our text, it is very noticeable that, even in the short passage, three times does God repeat that injunction: “Be strong and of a good courage” Joshua 1:6; “Only be thou strong and very courageous, Joshua 1:7; and again, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage” Joshua 1:9. Now that is by no means the summation of that injunction to this minister of Moses to be strong and of a good courage. For example—you do not need to turn to these passages, I will just read them— for example, in Deuteronomy 1:38, it is written, God speaking to Moses, “But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him, encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit the land” [Deuteronomy 1:38]. All right, look again. In Deuteronomy 3:28; God speaking to Moses, “But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him” [Deuteronomy 3:28] Now look again, in Deuteronomy 31:7: “And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in all the sight of Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord had sworn unto their fathers.” And again, in the same chapter, the twenty-third verse, “And Moses gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them” [Deuteronomy 31:23]. Then when I turn unto the Book of Joshua, three times that same injunction is repeated. I have read it one, two, three, four times in the Book of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28, 31:7,23]; and now three times in the Book of Joshua [Joshua 1:6, 7, 9], “Be strong and of a good courage.”
At first, it startles you. What? What? Is the work of the Lord God only committed to them who are strong? Then what of us? What of us? Some of us are left-handed, like Ehud [Judges 3:15]. Some of us are like Gideon, the least in our father’s house [Judges 6:15]. Some of us are like Saul of Tarsus, the most conscious of all people of our personal weaknesses [2 Corinthians 10:10]. If God’s work is committed only to those who are of the strong, most of us will have no part in the kingdom and patience of the Lord Jesus. But the very opposite is intended: Joshua, the minister of Moses was called to succeed his great leader; and when the divine commission was given [Joshua 1:1-5], his heart misgave him. He was most sensitive to his weaknesses and his inabilities and his deficiencies. And that is why God instructed Moses to encourage him, and that is why God Himself three times repeats the injunction in the divine commission [Joshua 1:6, 7, 9]. For you see, this man Joshua, though he was a bold soldier, tried and true; was nevertheless content to bask in the reflectived glory of the great leader, Moses the man of God. When Moses, ascended into the mountain, Joshua was content to wait below [Exodus 24:12-13]. When Moses went out upon the errands of the Lord, at the command of Moses, Joshua was content to stay in the tabernacle of the congregation [Exodus 33:11]. When Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp, Joshua was very solicitous for the leadership and glory of the man of God, Moses [Numbers 11:26-28]. He gave himself to the furtherance of the cause of and to the lessening of the cares of the great minister and man of God, Moses. And he was happy when, in the providence of the Lord, the conquest of eastern Palestine was given to Moses [Numbers 31:1-2]. And he rejoiced in the laurels that decked the closing days of the great leader of the people of the Lord [Deuteronomy 34:10-12].
And when the judgment was pronounced from heaven that Moses must die and not enter into the Promised Land, no one was grieved more than his faithful lieutenant, Joshua. For Joshua was the minister of Moses; a humble soldier, obedient to the word and the command of the great leader of the Lord. And he had no personal ambitions, none at all. It never occurred to Joshua that he was to succeed to the command and the leadership of the people of the Lord. How that was hidden from him I do not know. I cannot understand it except in the humility of the spirit of this man, in his self-effacement. For example, in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Numbers, Moses spake unto the Lord saying,
Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and bring them in…
And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;
And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight…
And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation:
And he laid his hands on him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.
Moses said, “Lord, if I am not to lead the people over, whom does God choose?” Well, it could have been Caleb, the lion-hearted. It could have been Phinehas, the priest. It easily could have been Gershom, the firstborn of Moses and Zipporah. Joshua did not think it would be he. So Moses besought the Lord. Who is God’s man? Who is the Lord’s man? And the Lord said to Moses, “Take thee Joshua the son of Nun . . . and set him apart, and lay thy hand upon him” [Numbers 28:18]. You know, God can always use a man like Joshua. Most of us are too strong for the Lord. We are too wise in our own self-conceits. We are too persuaded of our own gifts and virtues, and a lot of us are very ambitious for ourselves. Oh, if we can be elected, and if we can shine, and if we can stand up, and if we can be exalted. But to be like Joshua; you know, the earth prattles of the survival of the fittest. But God gives strength to the faint. His strength is perfected in weakness. God delights to honor the meek of the earth. God says, “To them will I give the whole creation as an inheritance” [Matthew 5:5]. God rejoices to take things that are not and bring to naught, things that are. Had Ehud been right-handed [Judges 3:15-26], we would have never heard about him. Had Gideon been the greatest in his father’s house [Judges 6:15], he would never have been named. And had Saul of Tarsus not been weak [2 Corinthians 10:10], he would never have been exalted. This thing in the kingdom and patience of God is just the opposite of the world.
Now as we further that, we shall look at our text and see it. “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying…” [Joshua 1:1]. Now we are going to follow in the little time that is left, these sources of Joshua’s strength, and the first one is a humble and devoted and faithful past. Moses’ minister, “be thou faithful over a few things, and I will make thee ruler over many things” [Matthew 25:21]. And the Lord Jesus “in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: but poured Himself out and made Himself of no reputation . . . and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” [Philippians 2:6-8]. As the Book of Hebrews says, “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” [Hebrews 5:8]. Joshua, the minister, the servant of Moses, back in the days of his childhood, in slavery his childish eyes looked upon the harsh cruelty of the taskmaster. His eyes looked upon his own people at Kadesh-Barnea, who refused to go into the Promised Land [Numbers 14:1-10]. And for forty years, he wandered with God’s people in the wilderness in sorrow [Numbers 14:30-35, 32:11-13]. This man Joshua, the servant of Moses the man of God, and this choice that came, came to Joshua after eighty years of devoted, humble service in the kingdom of our Lord [Joshua 14:7]. We must descend before we ascend. If we would reign, we must suffer [2 Timothy 2:12]. If we would be a quiver in the—an arrow in the quiver of the Lord, we must stand the polishing of God. If we would be of the gold in the household of the King, we must be cast into the refiner’s fire. I cannot tell you how many people in my ministry I have seen who love to be exalted, and love to be elected, and love to be glorified, but they do not like to toil, and to be humble, and to labor, and to work. They love the periphery, the embellishment, the outside; but they don’t like to be faithful and constant and sacrificial and humble. Oh, this man, Joshua; God can use a man like Joshua.
A second thing of his great strength: “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua” [Joshua 1:1]. He had the consciousness of a divine commission. What I am doing is what God would have me to do. He was a soldier. I am a minister. You are something else. But there is a divine elective purpose for your life. And you will never be happy out of it. Nor will you be wonderfully blessed in your soul away from it. There is a divine pattern, an elective purpose for each one of us. Oh happy and blessed is the man who finds it, and obeys that heavenly vision—a consciousness of the divine presence of God! “The Lord spake unto Joshua” [Joshua 1:1]. Now that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t conscious of his deficiencies. That doesn’t mean he was insensible of the difficulties that lay before him. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t see the Jordan at the Flood and he must cross it; the high walls of Jericho, and he must take it; the great stones and the iron bars. No, it just means that he looked away from those things to God who promised [Joshua 1:5]. And somehow, the man who is doing God’s work, to him the river will part and he will go over dryshod [Isaiah 11:15]. To him the walls of the city will fall down flat [Joshua 6:5]. To him the iron gates will open of themselves [Acts 12:10]. To him the very armies of affliction and of contest will scatter like dust [Leviticus 26:8; Joshua 23:10]. The word of the Lord unto Joshua saying, “As I was with Moses, so I will be thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” [Joshua 1:5]. Don’t you be afraid; don’t you tremble. “Be strong and of a good courage” [Joshua 1:6], for I am with thee [Joshua 1:9]. The furnace may be heated seven times hotter, I will be with thee [Daniel 3:19, 26]. Cast thee into the lion of dens? Don’t you tremble, I will be with thee [Daniel 6:16, 21-22]. Put thee in stocks and chains in the Passover season, waiting until after the feast day to slay thee? Don’t you be afraid, I will send My angel to guard thee and keep thee [Acts 12:3-10]. As I was with Moses, so I will be thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” [Joshua 1:5].
I could not but be moved one time at a fellow minister in the association where I was pastor. He was having difficulty in his church. He was a great man of God, a great man of God. Had a wonderful and strategic church, and in seeking to minister to thousands of young people—a great world-famous university was in his city—and in seeking to minister to his young people, and in seeking to get his church to measure up to the incomparable opportunities that God had laid before them, he had encountered vigorous opposition. And it looked as if he was not even to remain as pastor of the church. And out of that difficulty and through that trial and that flood, he came forth gloriously victorious. And that church today, he has been there almost thirty-five or forty years now, that church today is one of the great ministering churches of the nation. And I asked him, I said, “Tell me, what did you do?” Because I was just beginning my ministry, “What did you do when God laid upon your heart that tremendous program and that ministry and you met such opposition? What did you do?” He said, “I thought it was the end of my ministry. But,” he said—now this is the kind of fellow he is; I am not saying that this is a right thing to do; I have often wondered at it; but this is the kind of man he was. Whenever he had a problem, he laid his Bible before the Lord, and he got down on his knees and he prayed about it. And then he opened his Bible and wherever he read, that was God’s answer to him. I am not saying that that may not be a fetish, a superstition, I just say this, I admired then as I do now, the great spiritual commitment and faith of that man of God. Anyway, that is what he always did and he did it then. He laid his Bible before the Lord and poured before the Lord, all of his heart, and then he opened the Book for God to speak to him. And the Book opened at Isaiah 54:17 and he read, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” And he arose from his knees unafraid, and as I say has carried through to a marvelous consummation that glorious ministry in that wonderful First Baptist Church. “Be strong and of a good courage [Joshua 1:6]. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” [Joshua 1:5].
Now one other: the sources of the strength of this minister of Moses, Joshua the son of Nun—the indwelling Word of God. This Book, this Book of the Law, this Bible:
This Book shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:
for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then, shall thou have good success—
the indwelling Word of God, this Book—
this Book shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night.
“Pastor, on a vacation, to shut yourself up day and night with the Word of God, wouldn’t that be the most miserable way to spend some weeks that you could imagine? Wouldn’t it?” Ah, my brother and my sister, you’ve never tried it. You’ve never tried it. This Book, this Book, “And thou shall meditate therein day and night” [Joshua 1:8]. This Book—why, bless your heart, there have been nonentities, there have been nobodies, quills plucked out of the wild fowl, an arrow that a babe could break, there have been little people who have taken the sword of the Spirit and done mighty works for God! Dr. James ____, I wish I could call his name but I ought not. Not very far from here is a preacher who has one of the most successful ministries I know of, and has been there many, many years. And one of his best friends was telling me how he has built so marvelous a church. And this is what the man said to me. He said, “Why, Criswell, it beats anything you ever saw. All he does is stand up there in the pulpit, year after year, and read out of God’s Word and tell the people the meaning thereof. That’s all he does.” I don’t suppose you go to his church to hear a book review. I guess you would be disappointed. And I don’t guess you would go to his church to hear all kinds of editorial comments on the economic and political issues of the day. “But he stands up there and reads out of the Book and tells the people the meaning thereof.”
Well sir, you know there is something like that here in the Bible. There is something like that. And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street before the Water Gate; and they said to Ezra the preacher, “they said to Ezra the scribe bring the Book [of the Law of Moses], which the Lord has commanded” [Nehemiah 8:1]. And Ezra brought the book . . . and he read therein from the morning until midday . . . And Ezra the preacher stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they made for the purpose [Nehemiah 8:2-4]. “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people… and when he opened the book, all the people stood up” [Nehemiah 8:5]. There is where we get this, standing up, “all the people stood up.” So they read in the Book of the Law distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading [Nehemiah 8:7]. The wonder; a congregation will grow, all of the power of heaven is back of that Word. Why, the very stars in their courses fight for the man that preaches the Book. “Joshua, you have got a great task and a tremendous assignment. This book, this Book, thou shall meditate therein day and night. It shall not depart out of thy mouth” [Joshua 1:8].
We must close. May God give us a like devotion and a like commitment, and a like love; coming down here to God’s house for no other purpose than to listen to the Word of the Lord; and in our homes, part of every day, set aside as a sacred and holy time to meditate, to pray over the revealed Word and promise of God. Oh, bless it to our souls, as we begin this new and greatest year! Now, while we sing our song, Brother Till, while we stand and sing our song; on the first note of the first stanza, is there a family here to put their lives with us in the church, would you come? [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Is there one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; to join with us in the fellowship of this blessed ministry? While we sing this song, would you come, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
DIVINE COMMISSION TO JOSHUA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Joshua encouraged to be strong
1. Joshua was Moses’
humble and faithful servant
2. God still works
His plan through our weakness; Ehud, Gideon, Paul
A sense of the presence of God
The indwelling Word