God Speaks to Joshua

Dr. Brian Allison

Did God speak to you this past week? God is always speaking. The problem is that we are not always listening. God speaks to you through nature. He speaks to you through the wise, Biblical counsel of believers. He speaks to you through His Word. He speaks to you through prayer. He speaks to you through providential circumstances and situations. Did God speak to you this past week? God is pleased to speak personally and to make His will very clear. That is how God guides His people.

And so it was with Joshua. Joshua was called to lead Israel into the Promised Land. God spoke directly to Joshua. In the opening chapter of the book of Joshua, God promised His presence to Joshua. We read, "The Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying, '...Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you'" (1:1b,5b). We further read that God commanded Joshua, "Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (1:9). God pledged His presence to Joshua, which was to serve as the ground for his courage and resolve.

Now, as you study the book of Joshua, you discover that God indeed was with Joshua, not simply spiritually, but actually. When Joshua mobilized and directed the Israelites in entering and possessing the land, he did so under the guidance of God. In fact, the very exercise of his leadership was carried out only through the encouragements and commands of God. Joshua heard the voice of God. The genius of Joshua's leadership was not in his natural gifts and skills, but rather in God's leading of, and speaking to, him. Great spiritual leadership is marked by God's presence and empowerment. He who wholeheartedly follows God is he who distinctly hears God. And so it was with Joshua. Joshua was successful in leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land in order to possess it because he was led by God. That will be true for us as well.

Each of us has our personal 'land' that we need to enter and possess. Maybe for you the 'land' is holiness of life or patience of spirit or diligence in prayer or kindness and compassion of heart or to witness to your neighbours and family members. You will not enter and possess this 'land' apart from the presence of God. He must lead you. He must go before you; and not only that, you need to hear Him, hear what He is saying to you as He calls you to enter the land.

God speaks encouragement to Joshua

In this article, we will consider the personal words, the communiqués, that God uttered to Joshua prior to the first campaign against the city of Jericho. What are the words that God spoke directly to Joshua, preparing him for, and leading up to, the sacking of Jericho? God revealed His presence and spoke directly to Joshua on three different occasions; and on these three different occasions, He was pleased to speak five different times.

The first occasion is found in Joshua 3. This occasion follows the account of Rahab the harlot who helped out the spies of Israel. After the spies had returned from surveying the land, from their reconnaissance mission, Joshua mobilized the people in order to cross the Jordan and to enter the Promised Land. Accordingly, we read, "Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed" (3:1). The Israelites were to proceed in a specific procession. The priests were to take the lead, carrying the ark of the covenant, and the people were to follow behind, at a distance of 2,000 cubits. The priests were to enter the river first, and position themselves, and the people were to follow and proceed across. So, we further read, "Then Joshua said to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.' And Joshua spoke to the priests saying, 'Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.' So they took up the ark of the covenant and they went ahead of the people" (3:5,6).

And then we have recorded that God spoke. God is a speaking God, and He is pleased to speak to His people. We do not believe in the teaching of Deism which teaches that God wound up the world, like a watch, and has set it in motion to unwind while He himself has withdrawn, having no relationship to His creation. No, "in Him we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28a). The God of creation is a speaking God, and here He speaks to Joshua. We read, "Now the LORD said to Joshua, 'This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you'" (3:7). That is the language of encouragement! How was God going to exalt Joshua? How was God going to raise him up and give him honour? As we continue to read the account, we see that God was going to honour the leadership of Joshua by performing a miracle through the direction which was uttered by Joshua as he commanded the priests to arise and proceed ahead of the people. So, Joshua spoke to the people, and God honoured the words of Joshua. God bore witness to him; and in performing a miracle, God exalted Joshua because the people realized that when Joshua spoke, he spoke the words of God because God confirmed what he said. God exalted Joshua just as He had exalted Moses. God parted the Red Sea and thus confirmed and honoured Moses' words so that the people would know that God was with him. Similarly, God would part the Jordan River, confirming and honouring Joshua's words, so that the people would know that God was with him.

Now, a number of principles derive from this truth. First, it is God who gives a man or woman honour or dishonour – "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel" (3:7a). God himself establishes someone in a high position or takes away that high position. God himself either confirms someone's status and prestige or removes them. In Psalm 75:6, we read, "For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the judge; He puts down one and exalts another." In interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel stated, "And it is [God] who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him" (Dn. 2:21,22).

So, it is God who gives position, who gives prestige, who gives status. Do you see what that means practically? We should never be envious or jealous of the position, status, or opportunities of another. The spirit of envy or jealousy is the spirit of Satan. Isn't that how Satan fell? Isaiah 14:13-15 records words pertaining to Satan: "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'. Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit." We as believers ought not to have that kind of spirit. When we recognize that God is sovereign, that He himself gives position, we therefore ought to acknowledge and accept those whom God has put in these positions.

But further, we are to be content with our lot and position in life. Now, when I say this, I am not saying that we should not be ambitious and industrious; I am not saying that we should not seek to better and develop ourselves. But I am saying that we ought not to be people characterized by self-ambition and self-seeking, driven by envy and jealousy. That is the spirit of Satan. Those who are self-seeking and self-ambitious are quite often concerned about their own image and reputation; they are people of pride. James 3:13-18 reads, "Who among you is wise in understanding? Let him show by his good behaviour his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom [which manifests itself in envy, jealousy, and selfish ambition] is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, with hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." When you are envious and jealous, you do things that are unbecoming and unpleasing to God, and you will pay the price of that.

Second, the giving of honour to someone by God often confirms and demonstrates that God is present with him – "that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you" (3:7b). An account in the story of Jacob illustrates this point. Jacob went to live with, and work for, his uncle, Laban, who was a deceitful man. Laban took advantage of Jacob. However, through a series of circumstances, and by the instrumentality of his craftiness, Jacob was able to build up many assets consisting of herds of animals. He stole away one night, with his family and possessions, from Laban who pursued him. Now, the only reason why Jacob acquired such wealth was because God was with Him. God confirmed His presence with Jacob in giving Him honour. In Genesis 31:41, 42, Jacob replied to Laban, "These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me [i.e., with me], surely now you would have sent me away empty handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hand, so He rendered judgement last night." Jacob prospered through the presence of God, demonstrated in God honouring him. God will also demonstrate His presence with you (as you obediently follow Him), before your enemies, by giving you honour and prestige.

God speaks instruction to Joshua

God continued to speak to Joshua, saying, "You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan'" (3:8). Now, as you continue on in this passage, you discover that God must have said much more to Joshua than is recorded; but we have this much recorded as coming from God so that we may know that indeed that which Joshua actually did and commanded was first received from God. But what are we to take from this language? The point is this (as mentioned): these words (and others like them, as we find them in different places) clearly indicate that Joshua received his orders directly from God.

Joshua was the leader, but he was not in charge. God gave the orders; God gave the commands. Joshua was to lead the people, but he himself was subject to God; he did not have free reign. Again, God's leaders can only lead in so far as they are led by God. That was true of our Lord, wasn't it? Do you remember that when He was about to choose His twelve disciples that He spent the whole night in prayer. The next morning, having heard from God, He chose His twelve (but one was a reprobate) (Lu. 6:12). The point is that even with our Lord, He only led in so far as He was led; and if that was true of Him, how much more is it true, or should it be true, of us who would lead. Further, believers, especially spiritual leaders, need to be in constant prayer in order to hear from God so that they might know how and what He wants them to do. We are totally dependent upon God for any success.

God's presence precedes His people

Joshua faithfully communicated God's commands. We read, "Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, 'Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God'" (3:9). Joshua further disclosed, "And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, and the waters that are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap" (3:13). Thus, we read that when "the feet of the priests who were carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), that the waters which are flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city which is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan" (3:15-17).

The priests were to carry the ark before the people. The Ark was the symbol of God's presence. What is the point? Israel needed to realize that God Himself would give the land, for it is God who would go before them. It is God who makes a way out of no way. Israel had to realize that it was not by their own power, strength, ingenuity, or resources that the land would be secured. The principle is that we must follow God and do things His way; we must yield to His will. Again, God not only offers the 'land', but He actually gives it. And He is pleased to even perform miracles in doing so. I think of our evangelistic initiative for this coming year, 1997, and how things have so nicely fallen into place; and that is not by coincidence. The fact that we could secure the library in which to meet every preferred month; the fact that the administration changed its policy to accommodate us; the fact that someone who works at a printing company has offered to print our material free of charge, the fact that someone agreed to underwrite the cost of distributing half the mailing through Canada Post. It is no coincidence! It is simply God reminding us that He is a miracle-working God, and that He himself is taking us into the land. He is going before us.

God wants His people to remember His help

In Joshua 4, we are given the second occasion where God spoke again, prior to the campaign against Jericho. The Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them saying, 'Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight'" (vv. 2,3). Again, what we have underscored here is this: God gives clear instructions on what is to be done. We are to do it God's way. But notice here that Israel was instructed to remember that it is God who helps and provides. The placing of the stones from the Jordan River in a particular place on the land was to constitute a sign by which Israel would remember what God had done for them. Thus, we read, "Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever" (4:6,7).

We quickly forget, don't we? We quickly forget the faithfulness and goodness of God. Some of us even forget about the wonder of His salvation to us. Often we think about the fact that we are saved, but we are not moved by it; it no longer excites us. We so quickly take things for granted. God knows that, and He has accommodated himself to our weakness. He has provided us with signs that serve to jog our memory, and stir our hearts, so that we might again draw near to Him. That is why we have the Lord's table – to remember Jesus until He comes again. When we gather around the table, we are pressed to think again of His saving work for us, that Christ actually died for us, and not only that, but that He went to hell (on the cross) for us. We need to remember the work of Christ on our behalf because our hearts become very cold and indifferent.

May I suggest to you that it would not be a bad practice (and I am not advocating ritualism) that when God does something special in your life, something wonderful, especially in answer to prayer, that you give yourself a sign so that you may continue to remember the faithfulness and goodness of God when you see that sign, with the result being that you praise His name.

God wants His people to remember His power

But notice too, on that same occasion, that God spoke the third time. We read, "Now the LORD said to Joshua, 'Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.' So Joshua commanded the priests saying, 'Come up from the Jordan.' And it came about that when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come up from the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up to dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan were returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before" (4:15-18). Again, God gave the orders as the divine Authority; but, as already mentioned, Israel was to realize that they were entering the land through the power of God in order that His glory might be revealed.

It is amazing how many times we need to be reminded of the things that constitute the basics of the Gospel and the Christian faith. What God reminded me of again this past week was that I can do absolutely nothing apart from Him. When you think you can succeed on your own strength and wisdom, God has His gracious way of confounding your heart and confusing your mind. I experienced that 'grace' this past week in my teaching. It is not good enough to rely upon your pool of knowledge and your experience. It does not matter how gifted you are or how long you have been teaching. It does not matter how skilled you are or how much preparation you do. You can do absolutely nothing without God's presence and power. That is why we are to pray. We are to pray not simply that God might bless (though prayer affords that), but that we might demonstrate and underscore our total dependence upon Him. We do not pray in order to do God a favour; but rather, we pray for our spiritual good and welfare. Prayer is primarily for our sanctification and edification, and secondarily for our receiving and provision. In prayer, we cast ourselves upon Him, crying out, "Lord you must do it. I acknowledge this fact as I bow down on my knees waiting for you." When you think that you can do it on your own, my friend, God will confound you and will confuse you, and you will feel abandoned and alone until you humble yourself and acknowledge that you can do nothing without Him.

God wants His people to reaffirm their commitment

The third occasion, and the fourth time, where God spoke to Joshua before Israel attacked Jericho is found in Joshua 5. We read, "At that time the LORD said to Joshua, 'Make yourselves flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel a second time'" (5:2). The practice of circumcision apparently had not been carried out since Israel had made the exodus out of Egypt (or even long before that). Circumcision was the initiation rite indicating formal entrance into covenant relationship with God, and thus entrance into special fellowship with God. Thus, circumcision marked or identified Israel as the special people of God. It therefore had deep religious value; it was a sign of communion with the living God, qualifying one to receive the blessings of God.

A number of practical principles derive from this truth. The first is this: entering the 'land' may require a reaffirmation of your covenantal relationship with God. Israel was about to enter the land and God commanded them to be circumcised again. They had to reaffirm their commitment to Him. And so it may be with you in reference to the 'land' that God has set before you. It may mean that you will have to first reaffirm your relationship with God before He actually gives you the land. Think about that for a moment. God has no delight in the uncircumcised heart. God does not give the land to the disloyal, but only to those who are committed to Him. What is circumcision? Physical circumcision for Israel was symbolic of a cutting away, a removal of, sin and evil, and a consecration to God (see De.10:16; Acts 7:51). Biblically speaking, to be circumcised in heart is to be regenerated, that is, spiritually alive to God. A second principle is this: entering the land requires that you be clearly identified as one of God's people. Circumcision set Israel apart from the other nations which were uncircumcised. Similarly, before entering and possessing the 'land' that God has prepared for you, you may have to become separate from the world and re-establish loyalty to God.

God removes the enemies' reproach

God spoke a fifth time to Joshua. We read, "Now it came about when they had finished circumcising all the nation, that they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'Today, I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you'" (5:9). This statement does not mean that God rolled away Israel's stigma through being identified with Egypt, having been in the land of Egypt and thus having become religiously defiled by that affiliation. But rather, it refers to the taunts that the Egyptians blustered forth against Israel that God was unable to bring His people into the Promised Land. For instance, we read, "Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, 'O Lord, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth?'" (Ex. 32:11,12; see also Nu. 14:13-16; De. 9:28).

God proved the Egyptians wrong! God put the Egyptians to shame. What does this say to believers? God will deliver you from the taunts and ridicule of the critics and enemies who assail you; the ones who say to you, for instance, "You will never be a compassionate loving Christian;" or, "your Church will never grow; it has been the same for years." Psalm 23:5 reads, "Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows." God often says to His people, "Today I roll away the reproach of your enemies. You are going into the land." Be encouraged, my Christian friend.

So God spoke to Joshua five times and He continued to speak to him as he led the Israelites into their possession. It is only as God speaks that we have clear direction and success. So I ask you again, did God speak to you this past week? If you did not hear Him, do you know what happened? You stumbled. It is only as He speaks that you can move into the 'land' and secure it. Listen to Him this coming week for He is always speaking. If you follow Him closely, you will hear Him clearly; and He will lead you most assuredly.