As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we eagerly await His soon return when we shall be with Him - "…the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4.16-17).
Until that great event, as time goes by, it pleases the Lord to take saints home to heaven to be with Himself. Godly men and women to whom we have looked up, and approached for advice, who were of great spiritual help to us, have now gone. What now? The responsibility is passed to the next generation to be a shining light for the Lord, to hold fast the form of sound words, to be an example to others, and to take responsibility in the assemblies to which we belong. We are to fill the void that these godly brethren and sisters have left. The question is, are we up to the challenge?
Joshua found himself in this situation. "Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise" (Josh 1.1-2). As we read from Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy, Moses is seen as a great leader of the children of Israel. Initially he was called to go and stand before Pharaoh (Ex 3.1-10) in order to bring the nation out of Egypt. Yet he made a number of excuses why he could not do the work. Perhaps we are like that. We know there is a work for the Lord that has to be done. Yet we make excuses as to why it cannot possibly be us or why we cannot fulfil the work now.
It may be that we attend the meetings in our local assembly knowing full well that the same brethren will always be there early to open up the hall. They will always pray in the prayer meeting, take part in the Bible reading, worship on a Sunday morning, and therefore we do not feel we need to, and are not prepared to take part. It becomes our excuse and is a bad habit. But! What if these men are taken?
We should all feel our responsibilities in the assembly now! The work must not be left to the same few at all times. What a difference it would make if we all put our effort into all the assembly gatherings. What a force we could be individually and collectively for the Lord. The brethren and sisters, who bear the brunt of the work, will not always be there. If the Lord does not return soon, He will take them home to heaven. We as the next generation have a present responsibility to continue the work.
Note that before Joshua took on the role of leading the nation he kept company with Moses. A challenge to us today is, with whom do we keep company? Is it with fellow believers or is a large proportion of our time spent socially with unbelievers which will be no spiritual benefit to us. Are we with those who love the Lord and the assembly: those who look out for us, pray for us, and are concerned as to our spiritual growth.
As Joshua was with Moses, he would observe all the Moses did and said. How he would respond in certain matters? What was a priority in his life? He could go to him with questions or for advice. Ultimately, Moses was a big influence on the life of Joshua.
The first time we read of Joshua is in Exodus 17.8-16. Amalek had come to do battle with the nation of Israel. Moses challenged Joshua: "Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek" (17.9). He recognised something in this man Joshua to enable him to trust him to choose out men and to go into battle. Joshua would learn that there would be battles that he would face. A life for God is not always easy, and there will be conflicts that beset us. Joshua chose the men and did go into battle; he did not shy away from the responsibility. He was prepared to stand, to be counted and pull his weight. In the days in which we live, each one of us as believers will face battles, which should bring us closer to the Lord, and prepare us for future hostility that we may have to deal with.
In Exodus 24.12-18 Joshua is with Moses again. This time they are on the Mount at the giving of the law. "And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua" (24.13). As Moses went up the Mount into the presence of God, Joshua remained on the lower parts of the mountain. Surely there were further lessons for Joshua here which would equip him for the future: there must be reverence and awe to enter the presence of God.
In Numbers 13 & 14, we read of the twelve spies, of which Joshua was one, sent to Jericho from the twelve tribes (13.8). As he went to spy out the land, and bring back a report, there was another experience and another lesson learnt. This time he faced opposition. Ten of the spies brought back an evil report, and, despite what Joshua or Caleb would say, nothing would change their minds. There is no doubt that if we set out to be something for God in our life, we will face opposition.
There will be opposition from the world which may criticise you for who you are and what you stand for as a believer. Yet it is also possible that even other believers will be critical of you, even for spending time at the meetings or with other believers, or not going out with them because you want to spend time alone with the Scriptures. The devil is busy and will try and stop your enthusiasm for the Lord. To live a life for the Lord is costly.
In all these things, it gave Joshua grounding for what lay ahead as the next leader of the nation: the power of God in battle, reverence for God, and the opposition that he faced.
In Numbers 20, we read one of the saddest chapters in Scripture. At the beginning Miriam dies (v.1), and at the end of the chapter Aaron dies (v.28). Between the record of these two events, Moses was told that he would not be the man to lead the nation into the land that God had promised. In Numbers 27.15-23 Moses enquired as to his successor: "And the Lord said unto Moses, take thee Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit" (v.18).
At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the nation stood on the bank of the River Jordan, prepared to go in and possess the land. Moses spoke to Joshua: "Be strong and of a good courage" (Deut 31.7). In Deuteronomy 34 we read of the death of Moses (v.5), and "there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (v.10).
With all these experiences Joshua had with Moses, he now stood alone: "Moses my servant is dead" (Josh 1.2). We might have forgiven Joshua for saying, "Without Moses we are finished. Without Moses, we may as well throw in the towel". The man he had leaned on for so long was gone. How would Joshua respond?
Notice what Scripture says: "now therefore arise, go over this Jordan" (v.2); "as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee, I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (v.5). Now is the time for the next generation to take the lead. We know that God never makes a mistake. We are the generation to serve God today. Our work will continue until the Lord comes or we are taken through death. Now is the time for us to put our backs to the work.
Let us not wait for others to be taken to heaven before we feel our responsibility, but, like Moses and Joshua, work together and learn from each other now, each one of us taking our place in the assembly, and putting our all into every activity. Gathering prepared to take part as brethren, so that when we hear the words of the Lord, "Moses my servant is dead", we are ready and prepared to continue the work, and to listen and act upon the Lord's, "Now therefore arise, go"!
To be continued.