Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” – Joshua 1:16-18
Joshua has just charged the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to fulfill their commitment before God to cross the Jordan and help their brothers conquer and possess the land of Canaan. At first blush their response might not be all that encouraging “Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.” Joshua, after all, had spent the previous decades as Moses’ assistant. He knew exactly how the people had treated Moses – and it wasn’t always pretty. “If this clause had been spoken by their rebellious fathers – the generation that came out of Egypt – these words would be tragically hypocritical. If this generation were to listen to Joshua in the same way that the previous generation had listened to Moses, then Joshua would have to expect years of exasperating leadership of unfaithful people, as did Moses (Adolph Harstad).”
Thankfully, the LORD had raised up a new generation. They had seen their fathers die in the wilderness due to their faithlessness and, by God’s grace, they were eager to trust in the LORD and to inherit the Land of Promise.
Their commitment to Joshua almost seems over the top. First, instead of saying “We will fulfill our vows to the LORD by going with our brothers to conquer Canaan.” They say: “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” They are pledging essentially unlimited loyalty to Joshua. Second, they say, “Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death.” If you are reading this in a comfortable sitting chair at home this could easily seem extreme. But we need to remember that Israel was about to go to war, and effective militaries need to have extreme measures for dealing both with deserters and with traitors. More importantly, the people were recognizing that Joshua had been raised up by the LORD for this special role. To rebel against Joshua would be to rebel against the LORD. Of course, if this was true with God’s ancient people and Joshua – how much truer is it in terms of our obedience to Jesus Christ?
As Adolph Harstad points out:
This pledge is in harmony with Deuteronomy 1:15-20, where God promises to raise up a new prophet like Moses and requires the people to listen to him. The LORD Himself will punish anyone who fails to listen (Deuteronomy 18:19), and any false prophet who speaks words not from the LORD will die (Deuteronomy 18:20). This promise of a new prophet is not, however, fully realized in Joshua (who is never called a “prophet”). It will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Word of the LORD made flesh; apart from Him there is no salvation, only death.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 7
Q. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.