10 And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 11 “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’”
12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half- tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, 15 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:10–18 ESV)
So, in Joshua, Israel has a leader. A commander, loyal and courageous.
But does Joshua have followers?
At first glance, in this passage, he does. All of Israel, encamped on the east bank of the River Jordan, ready to cross into Canaan and do battle. He has commanded them to get ready, to prepare their weapons and their provisions — three days worth — and march into the promised land.
And Israel responds — “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go.” Ready to follow wherever Joshua, wherever Israel’s God, leads them.
Just as we obeyed Moses, Israel tells Joshua, we will obey you.
Except … Israel disobeyed Moses a lot. Almost constantly. Grumbled and rebelled (more than once) and sought to return to comfortable lives in Egypt. Cavorted with Moabites, was so terrified of the Canaanites it got them stuck in the wilderness for another 40 years. Israel was frequently whiny and faithless and frightened. Moses constantly complained to God about “this stiff-necked people” and at least once God threatened to kill the whole lot off and start over with Moses and his (half-Midianite) descendants.
Cantankerous, wild, disobedient Israel. Promising to obey Joshua. Just as they “obeyed” [sic] Moses. Yes. This is going to go well. If Joshua is smart, he has an inkling of what’s coming. Perhaps this is why God gives Moses such a dire vision of the future in Deuteronomy 31:16–22 just before Moses dies. A vision committed to song, a song Moses teaches to Israel. Israel is commanded to obey, to follow the teaching, told again and again that by the words of the teaching, which are not empty, “you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Debt 32:47)
Yes, Israel has a leader in Joshua. A fearsome leader, one who will not flinch in the face of the task he has been given. And all Israel follows God’s own counsel when he walks in their midst, and commands him to be “strong and courageous.”
But does Joshua really have followers?