Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?
Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.
In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.
No one else has ever had that same task, but God’s instructions didn’t concern military tactics for the battles ahead or how do deal with specific people or situations. Scripture repeats the same commandments and promises in other contexts. God expects us to take them as personally and literally as he expected Joshua to take them.
- Be strong and courageous (verses 6, 7, 9).
- Be careful to obey God’s commandments (verse 7).
- Meditate on the book of the law (verse 8).
- You will be prosperous and successful (verse 8).
- God will be with you wherever you go (verse 9)
The law and obedience
Moses had preached what we know as Deuteronomy only a few months earlier. Joshua was present when Moses proclaimed the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. And he could study them in written form.
How much are we today supposed to follow the law? People raise some objections to the idea.
First, times have changed a lot since then. We couldn’t keep the law “not departing to the left or to the right” as literally as Joshua could even if we wanted to.
Second, Jesus constantly found himself at odds with the people in his own day who had the highest personal regard for the law and most desperately wanted to be right with God by keeping it.
Third, Paul repeatedly demonstrates that righteousness cannot come from following rules. And according to Hebrews 8:6, we have a better covenant with better promises.
As for the first objection, a lot of that strictly civil law was intended for nomadic people. As the Israelites became landowners or settled in cities, they had to discern the principles behind the commandments and adapt new civil law based on them. We can certainly do the same.
Social change over the milliennia makes meditating on those scriptures more work for us than it was for Joshua, but I doubt if that’s what God had in mind any way. The civil law of Moses quickly became obsolete. The moral law never has and never will. Surely God wanted Joshua to meditate first and foremost about what the law revealed about God’s own character.
As for the second objection, when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their narrow legalism, he taught that two verses in the law, one in Deuteronomy and the other in Leviticus, summed up the whole law. All these deeply religious people had become so consumed with rule keeping that they completely neglected these two commandments: Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.
As for the third, at the same time Paul insisted that justification by grace had superseded the law as a means of achieving righteousness, he vehemently denied that he found any fault with the law.
He compared it with a strict tutor, maybe a little something like my seventh grade English teacher.
She was a strict old bird. She never hesitated to single out people in class for a scolding or even a spanking. By the time I had her, many of my classmates were the children, or even grandchildren of people who had taken English from her. She used the same poems and assigned the same essays every single year of her 38 year career.
Everyone was relieved to get out of her class. Everyone hoped to get through the rest of junior high school without being assigned to her study hall. We smirked and made fun of her quirks and mannerisms all the way through high school. But we certainly learned English grammar, parts of speech, and how to diagram a sentence.
I have reconnected with classmates on Face Book, and of course we talk about old teachers. Every one of us is grateful for what she taught us, but we graduated from her class long ago.
So it is with the law. Paul calls Christians to graduate from the law. God himself through the Holy Spirit is our new teacher, our new master, our new husband—or whatever other metaphors Paul uses. We can still usefully look back on the law, study it, meditate on it, and apply its principles to understanding the new life of grace God has set before us.
Even if we have to reinterpret some of God’s commandments, God’s promises in the Bible never become obsolete,
Meditation has taken on an unfortunately New Age tinge, to the point that some Christians view it with suspicion. But it means at least two different things, and we ought to make both of them part of our daily practice.
The first thing most people think of regarding meditation is probably quiet contemplation. Thoughtful devotional reading accomplishes that kind of meditation.
But God told Joshua that the law should not depart out of his mouth. Meaning that he should never cease to speak it. The command to meditate immediately follows the command to keep speaking.
God did not give two commands. He gave one in typical Hebrew parallel structure, repeating the same idea in two different ways. The Hebrew word translated “meditate” means “mutter.” As he commanded Joshua, so he commands us: speak God’s word constantly, both to others and to ourselves.
Day and night, the law should constantly be on our lips, therefore in our mind, and ultimately in our heart, where it controls our actions.
Meditation on Scripture is a means to an end: acting according to God’s will and not our own. Never does Scripture tell us to think for ourselves! Meditate on Scripture. Exercise faith that God is nearby. Ask him questions and expect him to answer. Then do what he says.
Some popular preachers proclaim a prosperity gospel. No one who does not embrace that teaching wants to be associated with it at all. At best, it is a useful corrective to the Medieval fascination with poverty.
Throughout Scripture, God makes promises and expects us to have faith that he will keep them.
The Bible repeats the promise of prosperity and success made to Joshua over and over. God wants us prosperous, but we have to let him define what that means.
Paul defines it very explicitly as sufficiency for every need and abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).
People walking in divine prosperity live in a good enough house, drive a good enough car, have good enough clothing, enough to eat, and so on. Beyond having enough for themselves, they give lots of their money, their time, or their energy helping other people and making the world a better place.
God promised Joshua his abiding presence. Since we all need God’s presence, we can’t conceive of sufficiency for every need without it. God’s promise to remain with us wherever we go is the very foundation of divine prosperity.
What Joshua did
God may have found Joshua cowering in his tent at the news of Moses’ death, but his words transformed his new leader. Joshua got up and took command.
He told his officers to have the people prepared to break camp and cross the Jordan River in three days. He had no plan for how to do that. He just realized that his part was to lead the people to the river, and trust God to reveal the way to get everyone and everything across at the right time.
Joshua never failed to demonstrate his strength and courage. Except for a couple of lapses, he led with remarkable obedience to God’s orders.
He must, therefore, have meditated on God’s word almost constantly. And God always remained with him. We have no other explanation for his success and prosperity.
God hasn’t given you a task like Joshua’s. He has given you your own unique role in the history of the universe. But in preparing yourself to perform it, he gives you, me, everyone else the same commands and promises he gave to Joshua.
Open Bible. Photo by Amandajm – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Quiet contemplation. Some rights reserved by luckyjimmy. Link to Flickr no longer works, September 2017.
Moses. Source unknown
God is good. Some rights reserved by David Woo.
Joshua and the Israelites. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.