Moses was dead to begin with.
— Joshua 1:1 —
Marley was dead to begin with.
— Charles Dickens —
When Charles Dickens wrote the opening line to A Christmas Carol, he touched off one of the most wonderful Christmas stories ever told. Marley, the miserly associate of Ebenezer Scrooge, was dead and now all eyes turned to his living partner. Though the story begins in the darkness of Scrooge’s heart, by the end the light of Christmas opens the heart of this old sinner.
Something similar occurs when we read the opening line of Joshua. The titanic figure of Moses, the servant of Yahweh—the prophet, priest, and leader of Israel; the one who led Israel out of Egypt, received the Law, and stood before the wrath of God to seek Israel’s pardon—this incredible Moses was gone. Now, all eyes were set on Joshua, Moses’s Spirit-filled associate. Would he be able to lead the people into the light of the Promised Land?
Strikingly, both A Christmas Carol and Joshua are comedies. Meaning, that both find resolution and good cheer by the end of the book. In Dickens’ case, Scrooge is “converted” through the three Christmas spirits. In Joshua’s case, the Spirit of God is promised to Moses’s successor, such that Joshua’s glory, by the end of his life, is arguably greater than that of Moses. While Moses brought Israel out of the land, he died in the wilderness because of his sin. But Joshua, who contributed to Israel’s flight from Egypt, added to his credentials the successful deliverance of Israel into the land.
The Message of Joshua is a Comedy, Not a Tragedy
In the sixth book of the Bible, the one that picks up the story of Israel and brings God’s people into the land, we find a man named Joshua who stands centerstage. Named by Moses in Numbers 13:16, the Lord appointed Joshua (“Yahweh is salvation”) to be the Savior of Israel. This is also the name Gabriel gave Jesus (=Joshua) in Matthew 1:21, indicating that the first Joshua will foreshadow Jesus Christ. In fact, it is not too much to say that a study of Joshua is a study of Jesus in type and shadow.
And this is why the book can be called a comedy. Whereas Exodus ends with Moses unable to enter the tabernacle, and Numbers ends with the first generation dead in the Wilderness, and Deuteronomy ends with Moses dead and unable to go into the land, Joshua records how God strengthens this Spirit-filled man, in order to bring Israel into the land. Joshua 21:43–45 puts it like this,
Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Indeed, the book begins with tragedy (the death of Moses), but ends with victory (the people of God are in the land). In this way, we can see how Joshua’s life points to a greater Savior in the future, one who is also greater than Moses. Yes, Joshua’s salvation of Israel into the land still awaited a later and greater Joshua (see Hebrews 3–4). But that does not take away the fact that God raised up Joshua to bring his people into the Promised Land, just as he raised Jesus Christ to bring his people into his eternal presence. And it is this word of resurrection hope we need today.
What Joshua Has to Say to Those Suffering the Loss of a Loved One
This week our church has been afflicted again by death, as one of our precious members, a husband, father, and growing disciple of Christ, has left this earth and gone to glory. And in that transition from life to death, we must remember: Those who die in Christ leave the land of the dying as they enter the temple of the living. In this way, life ultimately swallows death. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1–4
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
This truth that life comes after death may sound backwards, but only to those who don’t know the hope of Christ. In Christ, we find a death-defeating, grave-stealing, life-giving Lord who promised his people to wipe away all their tears and to make all things new. We read in the New Testament, that all those who have Christ have life eternal (1 John 5:12), and not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:31–39). If the world tells us that life is found in all the things that we do before we die, Jesus tells us that abundant (John 10:10), eternal (John 17:3), and resurrection life (John 11:25) are found him, and in him alone (John 14:6).
In truth, God writes his story and our stories in a way that transcend Dickens. If Dickens writes, Marley lived a short, miserable life and then he died. God writes, those who have died with Christ will rise again. Even Moses death in Deuteronomy is not the last word; for Moses appears with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. In this way, God’s Word proclaims that death is not the end for Christians. It is a real, painful part of the story, but it is not the end. And because God’s life will swallow death, we can have hope even in the midst of loss (1 Thess. 4:13).
This hope comes from knowing that the Christian’s story is written backwards. Death comes at the start; life comes at the end. This is how comedies are written, and thus we discover in the book of Joshua and in the book of Jesus, the Lamb’s Book of Life that stands secure in heaven (see Rev. 13:8; 17:8), that God has written an epic comedy.
Indeed, the gospel tells us that life begins in the death of Christ for sinners. And if our life begins in his death, then we have absolute assurance that when we die we will go from a world of death to a world of life everlasting. The same is true for our loved ones. This is but part of the way God swallows up death with life.
And until death, that final enemy, is defeated, we can with confidence in our resurrected Lord sojourn on earth, like pilgrims seeking the Promised Land. In this way, that ancient book of Joshua teaches us that transitioning into our heavenly home is not easy or without cost. But ultimately, because Jesus Christ is with us—and will not leave us nor forsake us—we have every assurance that he will lead us safely home.
For those who have gone before us in death, we miss them terribly. But we know where they are and we know that because their Redeemer lives, they too live. Because of that gospel truth, we have hope—hope that strengthens our faith and gives us comfort until the day when our faith becomes sight.
With that in mind, let us continue to fix our eyes on heaven and on the Lord who dwells there. For in fact, the Living and Life-Giving Christ is the God who cares for his people—those in heaven and those on earth. And knowing that, we can find grace and strength even in the midst loss.
To God be the glory, both now and forever. Amen!
Sorrowful, yet rejoicing, ds