How To Succeed in Life

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Let’s be completely honest: Moses must have been a hard act to follow! Here’s how Deuteronomy records his epitaph:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 12 NIV)

How would you like to be the guy to succeed such a national treasure? We know the story of Israel didn’t end with the death of Moses atop Mount Pisgah. We also know that Joshua, a man who faithfully remained in Moses’ shadow for four decades, was the one who took his place. The book that bears his name was, in all probability, written in the main by Joshua himself. Both ancient and modern Jewish tradition, as well as much of conservative Christian opinion, attests to this.

The book is part autobiography and part history. As to the book of Joshua’s place in Hebrew history, here’s a bird’s eye-view. In Genesis, God gives birth to Israel and promises to give to it the land of Canaan. In Exodus, He delivers His people from oppression in a foreign land and starts them on their journey to the Promised Land. It is during this journey that He gave them His Law to live by. The book of Numbers records Israel’s wanderings through the desert right up to the gate of Canaan. Deuteronomy outlines final preparations for entering the land. It is here that Moses fades out and Joshua fades in. His book outlines the conquest of Canaan and the division of its territories to the various tribes of Israel. As noted by Irving Jensen:

Joshua is the climax of a progressive history as well as the commencement of a new experience for Israel. Thus its historical nexus gives it a strategic place in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Joshua the man was a man of faith. In fact, he was one of the very few men of faith who left Egypt, remaining absolutely faithful to God and to Moses. He trained diligently under Moses for some 40 years. Numbers 27:18 – 23 records Joshua’s divine calling:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses. (NIV)

Godly leaders are commissioned

For Joshua, it all began back in Deuteronomy 31:7, 8 –

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (NIV)

Man’s time on earth is limited, but God’s plan never ends. Man’s abilities and opportunities are painfully limited to his time and the circumstances he finds himself in. God, however, continues to do His work through the changing times and generations. He never stops working. Moses’ life was almost over; his part in God’s plan was drawing to a close and it was time for someone else to step in and take over.

Up till now, Moses had been the most important man in Israel. He was the one to whom God had spoken. He was the one who did the leading. His word was the law of the land. At 120, he was still doing what he did best, but the end was in sight. And, truth be told, as important and indispensible as Moses may have been, he was not irreplaceable. He may well have been the key man in Israelite politics and religion, but in God’s estimation, Moses was just one spoke in the wheel of His will. It was never the presence of Moses that made kept Israel together all those years, it was the presence of God in Moses’ life. It was time for another to lead God’s people.

Joshua was the man God chose to succeed Moses. He was the one who would lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua would be the leader who would set the example of being fearless and courageous. The words of Moses are not insignificant. They are not just words of encouragement, but words of experience and promise. And they are words that the Israelites – and we – should take to heart. It’s all well and good to have a godly man in leadership, but that godly man should be trusting in God and so should the people. The people’s trust should be in God, not in the leader God has appointed.

This could be called “Leadership 101.” Human leadership is important, but regardless of who the human leader is our faith should be vested in God for it is He who enables and empowers. Leaders are expected to set the example of trusting God. This takes two character traits sorely missing in our culture today: humility and integrity. Moses had both by the bucketful. Joshua did, too. John MacArthur wrote:

According to Scripture, virtually everything that truly qualifies a person for leadership is directly related to character. It’s not about style, status, personal charisma, clout, or worldly measurements of success. Integrity is the main issue that makes the difference between a good leader and a bad one.

And so Moses commissioned Joshua in front of Israel, then the Lord inaugurates him:

The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23 NIV)

Joshua needed to be as certain that God had called him as Moses had been. God had spoken to Moses regarding Joshua, and then the Lord Himself spoke to Joshua. Those are wonderful words of encouragement that would be repeated again and again. And they needed to be. Joshua would need to be reminded many times to be “strong and courageous” and that God was with him because the words the Lord spoke this day weren’t all sunshine and buttercups. The God who knows the future shared that future with Moses just prior to his death:

“When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” (Deuteronomy 31:20, 21 NIV)

More than ever, Joshua would need to have faith in God’s words to Moses and to him. He had a commission to fulfill and a job to do, regardless of the circumstances now or in the future.

Godly leaders are courageous

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7 – 9 NIV)

God definitely wanted Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” But notice the phrase “keep this Book of the Law.” That’s an important phrase. There were no written Scriptures before Moses. God had spoken to people, like the patriarchs, but they didn’t compile their various revelations. They were passed on from person to person verbally. God spoke to Moses face-to-face and he recorded the gist of those conversations and compiled the verbal history of Israel into what we call “The Pentateuch,” the first five books of the Bible. That was the “Book of Law” Joshua was to always remember and never forget. In those five books God had given the people all they needed to know in order to enter into the Promised Land and prosper. Joshua and the people were to read it, think about it, and observe it. The promise attached to obeying God on this point is glorious: They, the Israelites, would be prosperous and successful.

It’s important for us to understand exactly what God had promised to Joshua and the Israelites. All the promised success and properity would come from God. In other words, their source was God Himself. Without God, there would be defeat; with God there would be success and prosperity. That’s God’s soveriegnty at work. But mixed in with that sovereignty was the condition of their obedience. Faith without works is dead, James would write. This is certainly true in the case of Joshua and Israel. All the success and prosperity in the world would be theirs if they obeyed the Word of the Lord, part of which included being “strong and courageous.” The blessing of God would follow the obedience and work of the people.

But it would all start with Joshua and his example. God’s charge to Joshua is full of tremendous lessons for the Christian. We all want to enjoy the very best of God’s blessings. We want success and prosperity in life. And we need to understand that successful living is a promise – yes a promise – of God. It is also a gift from God that is available to all believers and attainable with the help of God. The enemies of our soul: Satan, the world, and our very flesh, need to be driven out just as the enemies of the Israelites needed to be driven out of the Promised Land. Those enemies would nullify God’s promises to Israel as surely as our spiritual enemies will do the same in our lives. But those enemies of ours are also God’s enemies, and so He promises help in conquering them. Success and prosperity can be yours, but they are costly, indeed. Believers are to live in constant and consistent obedience to God’s Word, never deviating from it or forgetting it or ignoring it. For too many Christians, that’s too high a price. Oh yes, we want success and prosperity in life but we stubbornly refuse to do what’s necessary to obtain those blessings! And when we fail, instead of placing the blame where it belongs, squarely on our shoulders, we blame God!

The blessings of victrorious Christian living come by invitation to the Christian, but the conditions for its fulfillment come by mandate. Believers, like Joshua, cannot afford to ignore God’s command:

“Have I not commanded you?” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

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