What do we mean when we say that somebody has big shoes to fill? We mean that they are following someone legendary. They are taking over for someone who has done such a good job that it will be difficult to measure up.
Harry S. Truman comes to mind when he took over after Roosevelt’s death. Not only did he have to take over for a legend, but also he took over during a time of war, and had to make the decision about whether or not to use the most powerful weapon known to mankind. He was thrown into an extremely difficult.
Who took over after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination? Andrew Johnson actually became Vice President just six weeks before Lincoln’s death. And when he then had to become president he stepped into a country ravaged by war and had to oversee reconstruction. It was a very difficult position and after firing Stanton as Secretary of War he wound up being impeached by the house but survived by one vote in the senate allowing him to finish out his term as president.
Taking over for a legend can be tough. Today we are going to keep that in mind as we consider someone trying to do just that.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Joshua, chapter 1.
Now, one of the things that we like to do before looking at a passage is to consider context. So by the time we arrive in Joshua 1, God has delivered the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they are getting ready to head in to the Promised Land, but Moses, the one who has led them so far is not going to lead them into the promised land
Moses was a great leader and a great man of God, but there was a moment in this journey that he chose to do things his way and disobey God. The people needed water and God told Moses to go and speak to a rock and they would receive water, but instead Moses went up and struck the rock with his staff. Not only did he disobey God in the manner in which he approached the rock, he also did not honor God with what he said before striking the rock. Basically his words glorified himself rather than God.
So as discipline, God chose to not have him be the man who would lead them into the Promised Land. Moses was able to see the Promised Land, but another man was chosen to lead them in. And that man was Joshua.
Take a look at the first 2 verses of Joshua chapter 1 “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.”
So this opening links the book of Joshua with what has come before it. It flows right out of the book of Deuteronomy. The change from Deuteronomy to Joshua represents the end of an era, but in the book of Joshua we find the fulfillment of the promise that began so long ago with God and Abraham, the promise that He would give them the land, the promise that continued through Moses and now finally in the book of Joshua they will be taking possession of this Promised Land.
So to help us understand the context of what is happening here, let’s begin with thinking about Moses. God used Moses to bring the people out of slavery in Egypt. We have the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. He was the one who God gave the 10 commandments to in order to bring them to the people. He met with God on Mount Sinai where God put him in a cleft of a rock and then as he passed by he allowed Moses to get just a glimpse of his glory and then after that God would meet with Moses in the tent of meeting. It is even recorded for us that Moses would come away from those times so changed that his face would be radiant and he would cover it with a veil. God used Moses in great ways before he died at the edge of the Promised Land. And then it was Joshua’s turn to take over and it was his job to lead the people into the fulfillment of God’s promise. That would be a tough role. Talk about big shoes to fill. I would imagine that he felt overwhelmed and anxious. I mean, just the idea of leading this massive group of people would have been overwhelming. And the people of Israel did not exactly have a great track record of being easy to lead.
But God gives him a promise. Take a look at verse 3-5: “3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”
Joshua is basically guaranteed success. He can lead the people into the Promised Land knowing that God will give them the land. He can go into battle knowing that they will be victorious. He can approach the land with confidence that wherever he goes, the land will be his. No one will be able to stand against them. That is a powerful promise. God even says, as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you. God had been with Moses through some very difficult promise. He was with Moses when he led the Jews out of Egypt, and while he led them through the dessert. So that is a pretty huge promise.
Then look at what God tells Joshua in verse 6, “6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”
So God wants Joshua to be strong and courageous and go inherit the land. The last time they were supposed to go in to the Promised Land, the people of Israel were at the edge of the Promised Land and they sent in 10 spies to check things out and the spies came back with tales of the giants who lived in the land and there were only 2 who actually advised going in to take the land. They were Joshua and Caleb and the people would not listen to them, they were swayed by the other spies and refused to go into the land. So as discipline for that God had them wander in the desert for 40 years and all of the people twenty years old or older died off during that time and did not get to inherit the land. So this was a whole new generation getting ready to be led in. And it was Joshua’s role to lead them.
Not only does Joshua have some big shoes to fill with taking over for Moses, but also he is about to lead the people into a hostile territory. There are many battles ahead. And he is leading them to a place where last time the people chose to rebel rather than obey God. So God is telling him to be strong and courageous and go in and inherit the land.
And remember God’s promise that He would give them every place where they set their foot. So God is calling him to be strong and courageous and backing that up with the promise that he can be strong and courageous because God will be with him and that He will be the one fighting the battles and guaranteeing victory.
Even in the words He uses here, there is an assurance. The victory is never in doubt. Joshua and the people of Israel will be victorious, because God is the one who is going to give them the land. God is going to ensure that they inherit the land, they just need to be faithful and go in and take it.
But with that promise comes some further instruction, take a look at verses 7-9: “7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
So the promise of the land carries with it a provision that they will be successful if they obey God’s law. That idea of not turning from it to the right or to the left, would be a phrase that signifies the totality of following God’s law completely.
So when we break it down here is what this looks like. God promises success to the point that they will be given every place where they set their foot, but that promise is dependent upon them setting their foot where God wants them to set their foot. It seems like circular reasoning, but let me use an illustration to help us think about this.
Imagine if life were like a minefield. We are on one side and the Promised Land is on the other side. But in between is this minefield. Now there is a way through the minefield. There is a path that can be walked that can get us through safely to the other side. And we have a guide to help us across the minefield, but in order to cross the field; we need to follow the guide. We need to literally step where he steps, and if we do, then we can know that we will be successful, because he knows the way. He knows where all the mines are. If we follow him step-by-step we will be safe and get to the other side. Our success is guaranteed, but only if we go where he goes. If we decide that we think we know best and wander off, then our success is no longer guaranteed. Our success is contingent upon actually following the guide.
The same is true here. If they will obey God and follow Him, going where He leads and stepping where he wants them to step, and then they will be successful. If they go their own way and choose not to obey Him, then their success is no longer guaranteed.
So that means that Joshua’s focus is not on being a great leader, it is really about being a great follower. If he will follow God, then God will lead them to victory. He needs to know God’s Word. The word for meditate in verse 8 actually means to mutter. It speaks of the moving of the mouth while studying. Like you are so focused on it you are actually kind of mumbling the words as you study or think about them.
Joshua is to be a serious student of God’s Word. He is to read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and know it. Because it is through God’s Word that he is going to know God and know God’s plan. If he is not in the word, how will he possibly know the way to go? Going back to our earlier illustration of the guide in the minefield, not spending time with God in His word would be like trying to follow the guide through the minefield blindfolded.
God is showing Joshua the way to go. He needs to follow God, walk in His ways, do things His way and if he does then he and the people of Israel will be successful. Now I know that this is specifically for Joshua and the people of Israel, but I believe this is also God’s plan for us. This is a common theme in Scripture. If we will follow God and go the way that He wants us to go, we too will be successful.
There are lots of ways of defining success. But ultimately only God’s plan for success matters. God is not promising us success in whatever we want. He is not giving us a blank slate of success as in big bank accounts and nice stuff. He is giving us a promise of success that is tied to His will and plan for our lives. As long as we go where He wants us to go, He will give us success. So when God is talking about success here, He is referring to success from His standpoint. I know that to some extent this seems like circular reasoning. Actually to some extent it is.
But we need to recognize that God created us and ultimately He knows what is best for us. That is why He gives us boundaries and rules, it is not to restrict us, but to free us for the purpose for which we were created. And so if we will do things His way, following Him, then we will be walking where He wants us to go, and He will give us success wherever we put our feet. That success may not look the way that the world defines success, it may not look even the way we might define success, but it will actually be what is best because God knows and wants the best for us. His best for us.
Think of it this way, we can trust in God to be leading us to the places that would be best for us to go and we can trust that if we will follow Him He will give us every place we put our foot because we are going where He wants us to go. So that means the victory is assured. Success is given. It may not be success in the world’s eyes, but it will be the best possible success for us.
But that means that we need to trust Him. Going back to the minefield illustration, the people following the guide had to trust the guide. They had to trust that he actually knew the best way for them to go and that he wanted the best for them. I guess ultimately this comes down to that question for us. Do we really believe that God knows what is best for us and that He wants what is best for us? If so, then what we need to do is get to know Him and His plan for us in His word and follow Him step by step, and if we do, then we are guaranteed success.