There’s a question that often nags me in the back of my mind. It’s a reoccurring question that keeps popping up like those stupid little pop-up windows on my computer with those annoying little ads. It won’t go away. I can’t hide from it. I can’t minimize it. I can’t dismiss it. The question is: “How do I do this?”
I can imagine that you’ve asked this question plenty of times too. The circumstances and the situations where this question pops up are nearly endless. How do I do money management? How do I do balance between work, play and rest? How do I do marriage? How do I do parenting? How do I do recovery from an addiction? How do I do leadership in a business? How do I do ministry? How do I do conflict resolution? How do I do spiritual disciplines? How do I do evangelism? How do I do maintenance on my home? How do I do obedience to God’s commands? Again, the circumstances and the situations are like an endless churning wheel that revolves around this single question. “How do I do this?”
Imagine Joshua with this question…
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. – Joshua 1:1 – 2
I can imagine this question rolling through Joshua’s mind in the verses we just read. I would argue that this question has been rolling around in Joshua’s mind for a long time. Joshua, as a biblical character has been popping up sporadically throughout previous books of the Bible. In these verses, Moses, the human figure that has dominated the last four books of the Bible (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is dead. Moses, the leader of Israel for 40 years is dead.
Moses was a giant of the faith. He was a hero of the Old Testament. He was the man who confronted the wicked King Pharaoh. He’s the man who led Israel through the parting of the Red Sea. He’s the man who spoke face-to-face with God. He’s the man who received the Law of God on tablets. He’s the man who dealt with rebellion among God’s people by melting down their golden idol and making them drink it before his leadership team killed all of them. He’s the man who wrote the first five books of the Bible. This man is dead. Moses is dead. He’s not superhuman. He was just a human.
And Joshua (another human being) is being called up to the plate to take a swing at leading. He’s being called up to the plate to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land now that Moses is dead. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Can you imagine the questions rolling through Joshua’s mind? How do I do this? I’m only the assistant to an iconic leader. Not to mention, the people that I’m suppose to lead are absolutely nuts. Have you noticed them? Have you noticed the Israelites? Have you observed the people of God? Have you seen God’s family on this earth? Do you remember some of the stories? Imagine Joshua, looking back over 40 years of Moses’ leadership as his assistant and the crazy antics of God’s people and I would submit that even the most courageous of men would shudder with fear at the aspect of leading.
Nevertheless, Moses is dead and Joshua is God’s chosen man. And God speaks to Joshua with a command to go and to lead, followed by a promise that will be fulfilled no matter what. The command from God is to lead and the promise from God is an eternal home. The command is full of action. And to be sure we are gonna see tons of action throughout this book. But human action is worthless if it isn’t the result of an eternal promise.
Think about it, how do you put action to anything God calls you to do? Love your neighbor. Better yet, love your enemies. Keep your eyes pure. Run from sexual sin. Be honest. Don’t gossip or slander. Share the gospel with others. Practice a Sabbath. Don’t be overcome with anger. Don’t get intoxicated with anything. How do you put any of this into action? I would argue, and I believe that all of Scripture would argue that the only way to put any command into obedient action begins with trusting in an eternal promise. Better yet, obedience begins with trusting an eternal Promise Keeper.
As I mentioned before, this isn’t the first time Joshua shows up in the Bible. I’m thankful for the work of David Jackman (author of the commentary I used for this) because his summarizing work on the narrative of Joshua’s appearances prior to the book of Joshua is really helpful here.
Think About Joshua in Exodus…
In Exodus 17, Joshua is chosen by Moses to go to war against some of Israel’s enemies. And Joshua is successful but he needs to be reminded that God is the one who gives the victory. Joshua pops up again in Exodus 24 in the very near vicinity of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law of God. Here, we see Joshua coming down from that very mountaintop with Moses to witness the people of God getting all caught up in a literal orgy as they worshipped the golden calf (Ex. 32). Talk about leadership development right!! Later on we see Joshua with Moses at the tent of meeting where Moses speaks face-to-face with God (Ex. 33:11). Talk about fireworks at the start of Joshua’s ministry. At some level, Joshua has to already be asking God “how do I do this?” Moses is an iconic leader. How will Joshua do this?
Think About Joshua in Numbers…
The boom of Numbers seems to be wrongly titled. Who wants to read a book entitled “Numbers” unless you are an accountant? In my opinion, a better title is the Hebrew title “In the Wilderness” because it’s more of an account of God’s presence with his rebellious people in the wilderness rather than an account of numerical lists anyways. But this is where Joshua pops up again. In the wilderness with God’s rebellious, wandering people. How do you do 40 years of wilderness? Nothing is really happening. You are just wandering around learning your lesson from your rebellion. How do you do this?
How does Joshua do this? He’s there with Moses when Moses selects 70 key leaders to help lead the people and he gets really uncomfortable when some of those leaders begin to prophesy in front of everyone. But Moses isn’t concerned about a couple leaders stealing the limelight from him. He corrects Joshua with a comment that basically says: “I wish more people would prophesy like this” (Num. 11).
Later on, Joshua is selected as one of the 12 spies who will go check out the Promised Land and bring back a report. 10 of those spies bring back a bad report (there’s giants in the land). Only 2 spies (Joshua and Caleb) bring back a good report that says: “we can do this”. But despite Joshua and Caleb’s pleading with the family of God, Israel doesn’t get it. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t trust God and they refuse to move into their inheritance because they are afraid. The consequence for their mistrust is that they get to wander around in the dessert for 40 years. God even sends a plague to wipe out the 10 unfaithful spies (Num. 13 – 14).
Flip forward to the end of the book, Moses is getting old and he knows that he not going to be the one to lead the people into the Promised Land. So he asks God to give him a faithful leader who will shepherd the people of Israel into the Promised Land after he dies. Interestingly there’s an ever so slight but massively major shift happening at this point. As Moses begins to fade away and as Joshua begins to come to the forefront, the way that God’s man will lead begins to change. Moses has always spoken face-to-face with God. That’s how Moses did this. But Joshua (while God will still speak to him) will lead from a place not of face-to-face friendship. But instead, Joshua will lead from a place of trust in the written Word of God (Num. 27 – 32). Ever ask yourself how to do that? How do you obey the written Word of God?
Think About Joshua in Deuteronomy…
Deuteronomy finds the people of Israel still wandering around in the wilderness. God tells Moses to keep encouraging Joshua because he’s the one that will be up to bat soon (Deut. 1:38). Moses reminds Joshua that God was with him in the past when he conquered some of Israel’s enemies. And he also reminds him that God will be with him in the future when he begins to lead (Num. 21; Deut. 3). Catch that. God was faithful in the past and he has a promise regarding the future. How does this truth impact this question we often ask? How does God’s faithfulness in the past and his promise for the future, impact the way you answer the question: “How do I do this right here and right now?”
At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses is near death, and the time for Joshua to lead is about to take the forefront of the narrative (Deut. 31 – 34). This is the section where Moses encourages Joshua for the first time to be strong and courageous because the Lord will be with him. God will go before him and God will never abandon him. The very next words we read are in Joshua 1 where God calls Joshua personally and he says: “Now… arise, go over this Jordan” and lead my family into the Promised Land (Josh. 1:1 – 2). What an exciting moment. What a fearful moment. That fearful moment where that old question pops up on the screen again: “How do I do this?”
How do I obey? How do I lead? How do I walk in holiness? How do I follow you Lord? How do I trust you Lord? How do I put sin to death? How do I be faithful to my spouse? How do I overcome these giants of fear, lust, depression and worry? How do I raise my kids to love you? How do I stop bouncing from one relationship to the next? How do I stop running from my problems? How do I stop overspending? How do I stop overworking? How do I stop from curling up in a ball in the corner and sucking my thumb? How do I do this?
I think the way we do obedience is through faith. I think the way we obey God is by first trusting that he is good. Trusting that he is loving. Trusting that he is merciful. Trusting that he is present. Trusting that he is faithful. Trusting that he is the original promise keeper. God’s promises are eternal. He’s promised you eternity in Heaven where there is no more death, no more sorrow and no more sin. The proof that his promise is trustworthy is found in the cross and the empty tomb.
It may be easy to look back over your life and see all of the glaring areas where you’ve failed to trust God. Those areas of disobedience in the past (and in the present) are evidences of mistrust. Obedience to God is evidence of trust. Think of one area right now, in your life, where you are struggling to obey God. It’s an area of your life where you are asking the question: “How do I do this?”
You are standing in the midst of the wilderness and the Giver of the Promised Land is calling out to you. He’s calling you to take a step into a new space of holy and obedient living and the question that’s nagging you in the back of your mind like a stupid little pop up screen on your computer is this: “How do I do this?”
I would submit that part of the way that you do obedience in the present is by looking to the past with a view of the promise of the future. Here’s what I mean. Look into your past and ask God to show you where he showed up. Where do you see obedience to God in your past? The only reason obedience is there is because he gave you the faith to obey him back then. You didn’t do it in your own strength. Left to yourself, your answer to the question (how do I do this?) is answered with brute human strength that fails over and over and over again.
But the reality is that if there’s been obedience to the Lord’s commands in your past then that obedience was made possible by the God who always comes through on his promises to never leave you or forsake you in the wilderness of your disobedience. The reality is that when we observe our current circumstances (troubles, difficulties, decisions, suffering, sin) and we ask how we are suppose to do what God wants us to do, the answer is always the same. We do obedience by faith.
And because we can look back and see instances where God has done the unthinkable in our lives, then we can trust that he will do it again in our current reality. And the flip side of this faith-filled sandwich is not just God’s faithfulness in the past it’s the future promises of God. He has promised to wipe away every tear and to remove every stain of sin and to welcome every person who has trusted in Christ with open arms into our true Promised Land. Joshua was a human hero for sure. But just like Moses, Joshua was just a man and every man has a date with death in the future. Moses and Joshua both died.
But the good news is that they both are waiting for the resurrection. Jesus is a better Moses. Jesus is a better Joshua. Jesus walked out of his grave three days after he died. And before he ascended to Heaven to the right hand of the throne of God he promised to return one day for his family. He promised that every believer would inherit the resurrection. We don’t live for the tyranny of the urgent matters of this Earth. We live in contentment with the hope of Heaven (our Promised Land) in front of us.
So how do you do this? How do you do obedience in matters of life on this Earth? You do it by recognizing where God made you able in the past and you also do it by focusing on his promise for the future. You do it because the God who calls you is more than able to do it. You do it by looking back to the cross and the empty tomb and you do it by looking ahead to the promise of Heaven. That, my friends, is how you do this. – Amen!