Scripture: And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” Joshua 1:16-18 ESV
Observation: Commissioned by the Lord to be strong and courageous and lead the people in the conquest of the Promised Land (vv.1-9), Joshua, as his first act of leadership, delegates to the officers of the people the responsibility of preparing all Israel to gather provisions for crossing the Jordan in three days (vv.10-11). He then approaches the tribal leaders of the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh (who earlier sought Moses’ permission to settle in the land east of the Jordan River) to uphold their commitment to join in the conquest until the rest of the tribes have settled in Canaan (vv.12-15). They resolutely respond that they will uphold their commitment and follow Joshua’s command, even executing dissidents. Still, they ask one thing: “Only be strong and courageous” (above verses), echoing the Lord’s command to Joshua during his commissioning ceremony.
Of note, theologians Donald Madvig and Robert Hubbard contend the pronoun “they,” that transitions verses 17 and 18, refers to all of Israel as one voice. Thus, the entirety of God’s people declares loyalty to Joshua as Moses’ successor and pledges to rid even those from within the ranks who would rebel against Joshua.
Takeaway: The extent of Israel’s loyalty to Joshua seems severe and misguided through our contemporary lens. However, as mentioned in previous Daily Focuses, capital offenses associated with specific Mosiac laws and the call to “devote” the Canaanites to destruction serve to squelch their ruthless neighbors and the insidious and lethal nature of sin. But we do not live in an age of barbarism without a satisfactory resolution to the sin problem. Indeed, under our New Covenant of Grace, Christ has defeated our only real threat and reconciled us to the Father.
So what’s the balance in our modern world? First, we must remember that under the New Covenant, Jesus (Mark 12:17), Paul (Romans 13:1-7), and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) call us to submit to our secular leaders. We do not blindly submit to our governing authorities without regard to whether their policies align with Scripture (e.g., a Christian doctor mandated to perform an abortion). But with all other matters, we dishonor God if we rebel against government leaders based on our preferences.
As pertains to our church leaders, the author of Hebrews, in his last instruction to the church, says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Truly, there is nothing more unbecoming to our Christian witness than warring among the ranks. Certainly, we need to hold our leaders accountable if we have clear evidence that their words or actions malign Christ’s Gospel. But we must follow Jesus’ firm and respectful protocol outlined in Matthew 18:15-20. Otherwise, we would do well to draw the best out of our leaders, as the nation did with Joshua, by strengthening and encouraging them in the spiritual battle to rescue lost and straying souls and build up the troops.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who defeated our ultimate enemies of Satan and sin’s death sentence. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who guides us in the ways of righteousness through Scripture, prayer, and the community of believers with its leaders. Would you please help us follow your Holy Spirit’s direction in submitting to our civil and Christian leaders (when aligned with your commands) so that we might strengthen and encourage them through our prayers, words of affirmation, and faithful service? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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