“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” – Joshua 1:7-8
Today’s passage could be called “Success through Scripture.”
The first 5 chapters of Joshua focus on crossing the Jordan. There is both the excitement and the tension of venturing out into the great unknown, where the two things that are certain are (1) the fierce opposition that could be expected from the people who are in the land; and (2) that the LORD was going with His people. Because the LORD is so gracious, we are not surprised that He gives Joshua a great deal of encouragement, but these chapters are also filled with command, promise, and direction. In fact, Joshua receive encouragement and command along with promise and direction as an indivisible package – and so do we.
According to today’s passage, what do we need to do in order to be productive for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Three things:
- We need to learn God’s word;
- We need to meditate on God’s word; and
- We need to do God’s word.
But where is that word to be found? It is common among many critical (unbelieving) scholars to suggest that what Joshua had was “oral law” or “oral instruction,” because the Bible had not yet begun to be written down. These two verses give us God’s own explanation of what the Law of the LORD is and where we are to find it.
First, while many modern translations (like the NIV above) read “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” the word translate “Law” is “Torah.” This word is more comprehensive than what we normally think of as “law.” It refers to all of the instruction which the LORD gave through Moses to His people. Please note the word “all.” The LORD is saying that Joshua must be careful to obey “all of the Torah.” We sometimes put this in terms of our commitment to “the whole counsel of the Word of God.”
Second, but how do we know whether the LORD is referring to “oral instruction” or to the written instruction that we call Scripture? In verse 8, God Himself gives us the answer: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips …” Now, technology has changed over time. You shouldn’t be thinking that Joshua had a leather-bound bible with a Smyth-sewn binding.” It makes more sense for us to think of this in terms of scrolls. But the word “book” is still useful, because it reminds us that the five scrolls of the Pentateuch make up one body of revelation. It is this that the LORD is commanding Joshua to commit his thoughts and his ways to. The LORD is commanding Joshua with respect to ALL of Scripture and with respect to Sola Scriptura. Adolph Harstad puts it well:
By the expression “not turning from it to the right or to the left” (1:7), the LORD states for Joshua the Sola Scriptura principle. Human reason and human institutions are not to stand in judgment of Scripture nor undermine or over-rule it. What will be true of all sixty-six canonical books is already true of the first five, which Joshua now holds. They alone (unlike any other human writing) are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). They are “truth” (John 17:17), and they “cannot be broken (John 10:35). Moses, their author, did not himself dream up their content, but wrote them as he was “carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). They mean what they say even when relating the supernatural. They interpret themselves. They cannot be judged by other religious documents or human interpretations. Rather, they are the source and norm of faith and life for the people of God. Through His Word, God judges all else.
The interpretation of the book of Joshua itself is a test case in whether a reader follows the Sola Scriptura principle laid out here. The account of Joshua is clear in relating the conquest of Jericho, Ai, Hazor, and so on, and in telling of supernatural events, such as the river crossing and the sun standing still. The unabashed view of so-called biblical minimalists is that the supernatural does not happen and the Bible cannot be trusted at all in telling of a conquest under Joshua unless archaeology can demonstrate it. That far-to-the-left modern scholarship has driven off the road while rejecting the injunction of the LORD before Joshua in 1:7. … To the right and left of Scripture lie the desolate wasteland of unchecked human reason, opinion, and doubtful interpretation and the bottomless pit of heresy. Joshua’s conventional wisdom might tell him something far different from what he sees in the Torah. He must know that his mind cannot ford every stream of divine wisdom. When face with something he cannot fathom, his natural reason must bow before Scripture and serve a ministerial rather than a magisterial role, even as Joshua had serve as “the minister of Moses” (Josh 1:1).
Critically, the LORD doesn’t simply command Joshua to study, mediate, and teach all of His word. Instead, the LORD tells Joshua to “meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” This was written down for our instruction. We are not called to be merely academic students of God’s word as though the goal was simply to get a passing grade on a test. Nor are we to select out those strands of God’s word that we really like, while ignoring the parts that we currently find challenging. We are to meditate on all of God’s word so that we will increasingly live according to all of God’s word. As Alistair Begg likes to put it: “The learning is for living!”
MEMORY WORK SC Q/A 3
Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.