That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses. – Joshua 4:14
This one brief verse of Scripture is not one that we would memorize or put on our mirrors to make sure that we see it every morning. Yet, for the ancient Israelites, as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, this verse was exceedingly important. In every large organization, one of the most important things that a board of directors is responsible for is succession planning. “Sure, we’ve had a great CEO leading our company for the past dozen years, but what happens if he dies of a heart attack tonight?” Perhaps, even more dramatically would be the military context, “We are about to launch the biggest invasion of the war, what do we do if our commanding general and his entire staff is killed during the first night of battle?” Succession planning is also something that even small organizations need to pay some attention to, but for the nation of Israel at this turning point in their history – the fact that the LORD had chosen and was now exalting Joshua was of the greatest importance.
Adolph Harstad comments:
The oft-repeated theme “as Moses, so Joshua” is especially strong in this verse. God accomplished similar miracles under their direction; the dry crossing of the Red Sea and the dry crossing of the Jordan River. Both covenant leaders received similar consequent exaltation in the eyes of Israel.
We may compare 4:14 to two verses in Exodus that have the same verb, “to fear.” After Israel miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and saw the drowned Egyptians on the shore, “Israel saw the great hand that the LORD did against Egypt, and the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in Moses, His servant.” Later, after Moses descended from Sinai, where he had met with God, “Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him.”
The lengths to which the LORD has gone so that Israel would revere its new leader as it had the old one shows how earnest the LORD is about wanting respect for leaders of His people. This respect involves both fear and faith. Some newer translations are in the habit of translating verbs for “fear” in the OT and NT as “respect,” “honor,” or other mild terms, but that fails to convey the force of the original. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). Joshua 4:14 is an excellent example of God’s people acting in concord with the Fourth Commandment, which Luther explains in terms of both Law and Gospel, “fear” and “love”:
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
This applies especially to faithful leaders in the church, who minister to God’s people on behalf of God Himself.
While I agree with Professor Harstad that “fear” captures the force of the original better than “respect,” translators are not making this shift without justification. The English word “fear” may also carry the wrong emotional connotations for many native English speakers. While I am happy when translators continue to use the term “fear,” one way to split the difference is to use words like “revere” and “reverential awe.” These carry more force than “respect” while avoiding the negative connotations many Americans associate with the word “fear” (Pastor Booth).
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 17
Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.