Joshua 1: Crisis moments


The book of Joshua contains the account of Israel’s conquest of the promise land. After escaping slavery in Egypt, countless miracles in the wilderness, and spending forty years wandering in the desert as a result of disobedience , Israel was poised to fulfill its destiny. The only problem? The man who had led the nation for all that time, Moses, was dead.

Moses had been a great man and an awesome leader. There was no getting around that. God had used him to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. He had raised his arms, and God had parted the Red Sea. Moses had called water from the rock, manna and quail from the sky, and met with God on Mt. Sinai. And whenever Israel moved, he had been the man out front, leading the way. To be certain, Moses’ death represented a profound crisis of leadership, and the whole nation looked immediately to one man to step into Moses’ shoes: his right-hand man, Joshua.

Joshua had been groomed by Moses for more than four decades. He had risen to prominence in Exodus 17, just after the crossing of the Red Sea, when the Amalekites attacked the Israelite camp. Moses ordered him to lead the counterattack. He had been at Moses’ side when the late leader met, in person, with the Lord on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 24. And whenever God appeared to Moses in the tent of meeting, it was Joshua who was there with him and who remained in the tent after Moses went to deliver God’s word to the people.

Joshua was the natural candidate, but that did not mean that his position of leadership was automatically secure. In fact, if anything, it probably served only to raise the people’s expectations. They expected Joshua to hit the ground running and pick up right where Moses had left off. They expected Joshua to know what to do next. They expected Joshua to lead.

What happened in Joshua 1, then, was crucial. If Joshua was seen to flounder in even the slightest way, the people would wonder if he was indeed the right man for the job. If he hesitated even for a moment, they would start to look to others for leadership, as they had so many times during Moses’ administration. If Joshua failed to act, and act correctly, right now, he would likely cause irreparable damage to his position of leadership. Damage from which he would very likely not recover.

So the first thing Joshua did was listen. Unlike politicians today, though, Joshua did not listen to pollsters or advisers. In fact, he didn’t listen to people at all. He listened to God. And what he heard from God was astounding.

The Lord shared with Joshua the vision which would drive his entire administration: Joshua was to lead Israel across the Jordan to take the promise land. As part of this vision, God provided four promises: (1) unqualified victory (“I will give you every place where you set your foot,” v 3), (2) vast and prosperous territory (“Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanan…,” v 4), (3) unchallenged political and military superiority (“No one will be able to stand up against you,” v 5), and (4) constant divine presence (“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” v 5).

Then God shared with Joshua the battle plan, including what he and his people would have to do to realize this vision. It included four mandates: (1) “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore… to give them” (v 6). It sounds silly, but it was actually a huge deal. Who wants to follow a leader that’s not strong? And courage would be essential, especially if Joshua would be leading the people into situations that would be scary. (2) “Be strong and very courageous” (v 7). It’s almost exactly the same thing as before, but as in most cases where the Bible repeats itself, there is an increased emphasis. It was essential that Joshua not forget the first directive because there would be moments when his leadership would be tried, and there would be instants when the dangers to his people would be very real. He would need all the strength and courageousness he could muster. (3) “Be careful to obey all the law” (v 7). The significance of this statement should not be overlooked. Joshua and the people were commanded to obey everything the Lord had told them to do – and not do – under Moses’ leadership. All of the same rules still applied, and they needed to obey all of them. To do that, they would have to be careful. (4) “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (v 8). It was the only way Joshua and co could be sure they were obeying everything the Lord had commanded them: they had to know the Law. To know it, they had to talk about it with each other, think about it constantly. They were to study God’s words to them and then actually apply them.

And then, just to make Himself clear, God added verse 9 as a personal word to Joshua. Pulling His servant closer, God looked him in the eye and said, essentially, that this is what Joshua was to do. And as long as he was obedient, he had no reason to doubt, no reason to fear, no reason to be discouraged, because regardless of whatever happened, God Himself was with Joshua.

This is a tremendous lesson for any leader. God is with us, as long as we’re in the center of His will, doing exactly what He’s called and commanded us to do.

And it was a lesson which was not lost on Joshua. In verse ten, Joshua sent out messengers throughout the camp to announce exactly the same plan that God had just laid out for him. Joshua resolved to put himself and his people right in the center of God’s will. He embraced and executed all of God’s mandates in the hope of receiving all of God’s promises.

And the first promise which was realized immediately was that, even by the end of chapter one, the people resolved to allow him to lead.

It is easy as a leader to mess up the crisis moments. In fact, that’s probably why we usually think of the word “crisis” in a bad sense. You see, we have a tendency to do one of two things: either we forge ahead without taking that essential step to stop and listen, as Joshua did; or we stop and listen and then decide that God’s way, the right way, is too dangerous or difficult or something, and so we don’t do it.

The thing is, while the word “crisis” does imply a significant amount of danger and/or difficulty, when you get right down to it, it simply indicates an important turn of events.

Because Joshua recognized this, listened to God, and then acted as God directed, the book of Joshua was written, Joshua became a renowned leader in his own right, and the Israelites were able to enter the promise land and secure their own future.

Pastors, executives, and leaders of all varieties: take a moment to stop and listen to God today. Then do what He says, whatever it is. I promise that it will go better for you in the long run.


  • (1) The timeframe for this is not particularly solid, but it seems to me that not much time has passed. Indeed, one hallmark of a good leader is that the organization is ready to move forward even immediately after a change of leadership.
  • (2) God’s initial command to Joshua was for he and the people to get ready. Indeed, one must prepare for any major movement of God.
  • (3-5a) Notice two things about each of these promises. First, they originate from God. God will give them every place where they set their foot. This was not to be their doing, but His. And second, notice the certainty. This stuff will happen. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
  • (5b) The ultimate promise here is that God will be present with Joshua as he was with Moses. The significance of this statement was not lost on Joshua. God had done amazing things in and through Moses. He was going to do equally – and even more – amazing things in and through Joshua.
  • (6-9) If Joshua is to realize these promises, here is what he needs to do. First and foremost, “be strong and courageous.” Second, as though the first wasn’t enough, “be strong and very courageous.” Third, “be careful to obey all the law.” Notice this: You have to be careful if you’re going to be completely obedient. And fourth, “do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it… so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”
  • (9) This is a great verse. If we are in God’s will, doing what He has commanded us, then we have every right to be strong and courageous, to not be terrified, and to expect God’s presence.
  • (11) Joshua sets up a concrete timeframe for the preparation. There must be a foreseeable end to the preparation, a point at which you move forward.
  • (11) Notice also that, in his statement to the people, Joshua lays out the vision for what they’re about to do: “to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.” This would be vision. Notice, also, that he gives the people ownership in the vision.
  • (16-18) The people’s response to Joshua’s leadership is interesting. Joshua has told them that they are to cross the Jordan and attack, and as bold and ridiculous as it may sound in a conventionally strategic sense, their response is, basically, “Let’s go!” People abhor a vacuum in leadership. They embrace vision, even if it may be unprecedented.

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