The first five books of the Bible are named by their first word or phrase according to the Hebrew Bible and according to their content by the Greek, Latin, and English translations. The sixth book of the Bible, Joshua, departs from that practice and is the first book named after the central character in the book. Most of the following books follow this lead. Look at other books: Job, Esther, Ruth, Jonah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and all of the minor prophets as well. It’s appropriate that this book gets its name from the lead character. Boice quotes Keller, “He [Joshua] has seldom been given the full credit he deserves as perhaps the greatest man of faith ever to set foot on the stage of human history. In fact, his entire brilliant career was a straightforward story of simply setting down one foot after another in quiet compliance with the commands of God.” Boice then continues, “Joshua was not perfect, and the achievement of ‘setting down one foot after another in quiet compliance with the commands of God’ is hardly the way to command the attention and admiration of the world. Nevertheless, obedience is the key to victory in God’s service, and Joshua is a noteworthy example of this point.”[1]

The book of Joshua begins with God pointing out the obvious to him. It begins, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead.’” As recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it. I find comfort that even in light of Moses’ failure in this regard, he is still called the “servant of the Lord” by the author of Joshua, and it’s recorded here that he is called “My servant” by God. When it came time for the children of Israel to leave the wilderness life behind and enter the promised land, Moses’ work was done. He climbed the mountain by himself. This “servant” was not weak and feeble. He was not mentally challenged in his old age either. Exell writes, “Moses had no look of a dying man as he left the camp and climbed to Nebo’s brow; no painful and protracted illness, no decrepit old age. What a blessed exodus was this; more a translation than a death. An active, useful, holy life; a speedy death—could there be a greater blessing if we have to die?”[2]

The second verse goes on with the commission of Joshua to his extraordinary life’s mission. God speaks directly to him, just as he spoke to Moses and said, “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” “Arise!” or “Get up!” Joshua. It’s time to leave the wilderness. Moses is gone. You cannot look to him for leadership any longer. You must strike out on your own and move on with your future. One of the two, Joshua and Caleb, who were part of the twelve who spied out the land 40 years earlier, Joshua was well aware of the consequences of disobedience. This book is about Joshua moving out from the shadow of Moses, taking the lead, and obeying God’s call. As Moses was God’s servant for the previous generation, Joshua was now God’s man. Ellsworth wrote, “Serving the Lord is difficult, but we often make it harder than it needs to be. An old hymn, written by John H. Sammis, boils service to the Lord down to the words ‘trust’ and ‘obey’: ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.’”[3]

[1] Boice, James Montgomery. 2005. Joshua. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Exell, Joseph S. n.d. The Biblical Illustrator: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Vol. 1. The Biblical Illustrator. New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.

[3] Ellsworth, Roger. 2008. Opening up Joshua. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications.