It is easy to think God shoves His people into the deep end without any training or preparation. He does, after all, use the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty, the foolish to confound the wise. So we might easily imagine He just takes a brand new novice believer and chucks them into the deep waters of life and ministry opportunity. But, though God loves to take us way outside our comfort zone, He also prepares us for that moment. The disciples of Christ were prepared. The prophets were prepared. David and Moses and Noah were prepared. Privately, God builds up His people before their public work.
Joshua is one such figure God prepared in advance. Every man or woman who has read the book of Joshua feels for his situation. Moses, the iconic leader of Israel, died. Joshua replaced him. Next, they are told to go into the long-anticipated Promised Land. The enormity of the task weighs upon the reader, let alone Joshua. It is easy to think he was unprepared for the task. But, though it was a venture of faith, it was a venture God had privately prepared him for. Joshua was tested. Joshua had learned.
What lessons had God already taught this man? Let us observe.
Exodus 17 — War With The Amalekites — Submit To God’s Plan
Joshua appears first in a battle with the Amalekites as Israel was on their way out of slavery in Egypt. For months, God had reigned down plagues upon the Egyptians. Everyone had heard the news. Amalek was not oblivious to all the happenings in Egypt. They knew something miraculous had happened for Israel. Still, Amalek would not submit to the obvious and clear plan of God. They attacked Israel, but with insidious tactics, for they attacked Israel’s weak and weary, those who brought up the rear as Israel marched through the desert (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Not only was it blatant disregard for the clear plan of God for Israel, but it was also a low blow, a dirty scheme.
So Moses sent Joshua into battle. The war was, as they all were for Israel in that era, miraculous. As long as Moses’ hands lifted the rod of God high, Joshua had victory. But when Moses’ hands lagged downward, Joshua began to lose. Eventually, the victory was complete, and Moses told them to write in the book that Amalek would be utterly blotted out by God. That victory came from God, and that the book was all important, were lessons not lost on Joshua, but the major lesson was that God’s plans and judgments should not be thwarted. Surrounding nations might resist God’s obvious plan, but God’s plans cannot be stopped. His plan should be heeded. This lesson would have chased Joshua into the Promised Land conquests.
Exodus 24 — Mount Sinai With Moses — God Is Real And Glorious
Joshua next appears on Mount Sinai with Moses (Exodus 24:12-17). Everyone else waited, even Aaron and Hur, but Joshua went up to assist Moses. The cloud of God covered the mountain. For six days the glory of the Lord fell upon the mount, engulfing Moses (and Joshua). Like a devouring fire, the presence of the glory of God was marvelous, from afar, in the sight of Israel. But Joshua was right there in it with Moses.
So Joshua would have learned of the reality of God. There, in the midst of God’s glory, Joshua learned that the invisible God is more real and true and strong and present than any substance He’s created. Joshua became convinced of God’s beauty. He experienced God, allowing a fear of the Lord, an awe of God, to rush into his soul. When others forgot God, Joshua couldn’t, for he had been in God’s presence. Joshua learned that God is real and glorious.
Exodus 32 — The Worship Of The Golden Calf — Sin Is Terrible, Especially Amongst God’s People
We next see Joshua with Moses as they came down from Mount Sinai. Joshua was the first to hear the celebration of the people, for, while Moses and Joshua were on Sinai, the people had given themselves to the worship of a golden calf. They had adopted the idolatry they’d seen in Egypt. Joshua, ever the warrior, thought it was the sound of war. But Moses knew better; he knew it was the sound of singing. When they arrived at the camp, they saw the golden calf and the worshipful dancing of the people. In righteous anger, Moses threw the tablets down, breaking them, for the people had broken the commandments before he’d even arrived. Moses then took the calf, burned it, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the people drink it.
The entire scene would have spoken to Joshua, along with all believers in every generation. Joshua saw, in Moses’ reaction, the terribleness of sin amongst God’s people. Moses knew sin was slow cancer that would kill God’s people, and if God’s people were killed, then God’s promises were also killed, for the Adamic and Abrahamic of a promised seed who would reverse the curse upon humanity had not yet come. If God’s people died from sin, Christ could not come to die for sin, so Moses’ anger broke out on the people. They were thwarting the plan of God. Here, Joshua learned sin is terrible, especially amongst God’s people.
Exodus 33 — Tent Of Meeting With Moses — God Is Personal
Next, Joshua is found at the tent of meeting with Moses. There, Moses would speak with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Joshua, the text tells us, would remain in the tent even after Moses departed from it.
So Joshua learned that God is personal, especially for the leader. He watched Moses get wisdom and counsel from God. He saw Moses pour out his heart before the Lord. He saw the regular rhythm of Moses, how seeking God was part of His life. Through observation, Joshua learned God is found by those who seek Him. He learned God is personal.
Numbers 11 — When Eldad And Medad Prophesied — God’s Glory Comes First
One day, the Spirit of God came upon two men, Eldad and Medad, and they prophesied in the camp. It was beautiful. A young man ran and brought the report to Moses; “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua, ever by Moses’ side, heard the report as well and responded, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses wouldn’t have it: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” Moses, in his response, was seeing into a future era when the Spirit would come and live within every believer, coming upon His people for witnessing power.
Joshua learned a vital lesson that day: God’s glory comes first, not the glory of any man or woman. Leadership is not to be for self-glory, but for God’s glory. Joshua loved Moses, but in his support for Moses, he had forgotten that God had made Moses, and God could make others. Moses would die, but God’s work would go on, and Joshua needed to know it. God’s glory is always to come first, not the glory of any man or movement.
Numbers 14 — The Return Of The Spies — Stand With God, Even When In The Minority
A major scene in Joshua’s life came when Moses sent him and eleven other spies into the Promised Land. They were to observe the land and bring a report back to Moses (and the people). Joshua and Caleb both saw the beauty of the opportunity in front of them. Yes, there were giants in the land, but God was with them! They believed God would go with them and give them the victory. Unfortunately, the other ten spies did not have the same optimism, the same faith. Those spies polluted the hearts of the people, stirring up their fears — “we are as grasshoppers in their sight!” Joshua and Caleb tore their garments in a sign of grief over the people’s lack of belief. But the people didn’t budge from their position. Instead, they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb wit stones. Then, at that moment, God’s glory appeared, protecting His men.
So Joshua would have learned to stand with God, even when in the minority. No matter what others, even the majority of the people, might say, stand with God. Joshua would need this resolve when moving into the Promised Land. He carried this resolve to his grave, for in his last years he famously said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Numbers 27 — His Ordination — God Ordains and Calls
In the next scene in which we find Joshua, Joshua is ordained by Moses to be the next leader of Israel. But, all throughout the ordination, it is clear God is calling the shots. He told Moses to do it, to lay his hands on Joshua. Moses was famous for doing “as the Lord commanded him,” and this event was no different. Moses only did exactly “as the Lord directed” him.
So Joshua would learn that God calls and God ordains. Sure, a person could desire to be used by God, but God’s leaders are not called and made by men, but by God.
Deuteronomy 31 — Moses’ Final Word — God Goes Before The Leader And The People
Joshua’s final lesson, before the book of Joshua, is found in Moses’ final speech before the people of Israel. He called the people together. He called Joshua. Before he went to the mountaintop to die, Moses would speak to them one last time. The anticipation must have been visible. There, Moses told them, and specifically Joshua, that God would go before them into the Promised Land. Joshua and all Israel needed to know: Moses would die, but God would go on before them.
So Joshua would have learned that it is God who goes before the people. The leader will go, sure, but it is God who, in fact, goes. The leader might be the visible representation of the one who goes first, but the invisible God would go before the leader. This would have comforted Joshua a thousand times as he stepped out into battle. God went first.Proverbs 19:3 (ESV) — 3 When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.