“But I can’t do it without you.”
“You will have to,” Moses said.
Joshua wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his tunic. His eyes studied the ground in front of him, seeing nothing but uncertainty in the days ahead.
“How can you be sure your time has come?”
It was the quiet certainty of his words and the steady gaze of his eyes that chased the doubts from Joshua’s mind but they were quickly replaced by fear. “Well, I’m not so sure. About myself, I mean. Why would He choose me?”
“He can speak for himself. The question is whether you will obey,” Moses said.
“Of course I will obey,” Joshua said, his eyes wild, “that isn’t the question. I’m just not the right person for the job.”
Joshua looked out upon the multitude of tents pitched in the valley below with over two million people bustling about the chores of a desert encampment. The sheep and goats, the donkeys, the cattle, the children, the women, the responsibility, it was all…..too big.
“Caleb would be the better choice. He knows what to do and the elders like him.”
“It isn’t up to you, or Caleb, to decide this thing,” Moses said.
Silence hung upon them like a heavy shroud.
Finally Moses spoke, his voice a whisper, his eyes upon the hard rock of the ledge that overlooked the valley of Ezron at the edge of the Promised Land.
“I hardly know what to say, my son. I’m not happy either.”
He glanced up quickly. “Not about you, Joshua. You are the perfect choice. He has been preparing you for a long time. I see it now.” He looked down again, inward again. “No, I meant about myself.”
“What happened?” Joshua said. “Why won’t He let you step foot in the Promised Land. It’s everything you want, everything you’ve worked so hard for. It isn’t fair.”
“Carefully, my son, tread carefully.” Moses seemed to make a decision then and grabbed Joshua’s arm and led him to an outcrop of granite and sat him down. “Let me tell you something,” he said. “What I want, I found in the desert. I don’t need anything the Promised Land can give me. The Promised Land is your inheritance, not mine.” He stopped, deep in thought.
Joshua waited while Moses collected his thoughts and he marveled at the clarity of his mind and the strength that he still possessed. Moses never seemed to show weakness or hesitation or doubt. He was always confident, at least in the eyes of the people. Now Joshua wasn’t so sure.
“What bothers me most,” Moses was saying, “is that I disobeyed him. I was full of myself, of course.” He looked at Joshua. “You know how I can get.” He dropped his hand from Joshua’s arm and stood up. “After all He’s done for us, after all I’ve seen, you would think I would know better.”
Joshua listened quietly, thinking of the adventure they had lived together, from slavery in Egypt to a nation on the edge of conquest. But it wasn’t just that, it was the daily miracle of their lives, surviving and, yes, even thriving in the presence of the God of Sinai, learning the ways of holiness. It had shaped him and molded him into the man he was today.
“Joshua, my son,” Moses said, turning towards him with the setting sun at his back, “don’t worry about me. He is always just and I trust him.”
“Yes, I trust him too,” Joshua said, “but I still can’t help thinking that I’m not up to it.”
“Joshua, you are a desert warrior. You have been prepared for this moment,” Moses said.
“Yes, I have learned the ways of the desert and I have fought battles and maintained discipline, but is that enough?”
“No, it’s not. But when I called you a desert warrior, I didn’t mean that you have only learned the ways of the desert but rather that you have learned the ways of God in the desert.”
Joshua’s heart began to beat faster. “What do you mean?”
“Do you remember those first days when we left Egypt? We were so full of excitement and awe at what God had done to the Egyptians that I don’t think any one of us knew how crazy we were to be heading into the desert, over two million strong, burdened with our families and possessions.”
“Yes, I remember. I also remember how the people wanted to go back to Egypt, and to slavery, once they were faced with the prospects of the open desert,” Joshua said.
“You learned how to live in the desert as did many others, Caleb included,” Moses said. “Those who didn’t learn, died.” Moses paused and then glanced sharply at Joshua. “But why did they die?”
“What do you mean?” Joshua said.
“Why did they die?” Moses insisted. “God provided food and water. Our shoes and clothes did not wear out. We lived a daily miracle and yet an entire generation of our friends and family lie buried in the sand. Why?”
“You know why,” Joshua said, remembering the tragedy of their first attempt to enter the Promised Land almost forty years ago. “The people were scared.”
“They lacked faith,” Moses corrected. “After everything they’ve seen and everything that God promised them, all they had to do was claim the promise as their own and fight for it.”
“Yes,” Joshua said, “I know. Caleb and I tried to tell them but they wouldn’t listen.”
“They lacked faith,” Moses said again. “They simply didn’t trust him.” Moses walked over to the rock face and leaned against it. “I was telling you about those early days when we left Egypt before we got to the Red Sea. You were just one of the many young men who wanted to be where the action was. You were always hanging around the front of the procession. You were fascinated by that pillar of fire, I think.”
“I was fascinated by God,” Joshua said.
“Yes, you were. Do you remember when we turned back to the Red Sea?”
“That was strange. Yes, I remember. We were on a straight route out of Egypt, thinking we would head north on the trade route along the sea.”
“Why do you think we turned back to trap ourselves against the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army on the move?” Moses said.
“Simon said you were lost but you claimed it was God’s idea. Nobody was ready to argue the point at the time, but, then again, they didn’t know that Pharaoh and his army were hard behind us.”
“I wasn’t lost,” Moses said. “God had a plan.”
“Yes, he tested Pharaoh and destroyed him in the Red Sea. What a moment that was. I can still see the water crashing down on them and breaking those chariots to pieces like they were nothing.”
“So, why didn’t we return to the trade route and make our way north once Pharaoh and his army had been destroyed?” Moses said.
“Well,” Joshua said, pausing to think, “because we were following God and He went deeper into the desert. You told us at the time that God wanted us to worship him on His holy mountain, the same place where you saw the bush that didn’t burn up and first heard His voice.”
“That is true. He leads and we follow. God had a plan to shape us into a mighty nation as He promised our father, Abraham. That shaping happened in the desert where we learned to depend on Him every day for our survival and follow and obey Him no matter what happened.”
“Not everyone learned.”
“No, but you did.” Moses took a deep breath. “Joshua, you are a desert warrior because you desire nothing more than to please Him and fear nothing but His displeasure. You listen to His voice and you obey. You want nothing more than to live in His presence and be useful to Him. You learned that in the desert. It’s that simple.”
“But Caleb also obeys,” Joshua said.
“And he will also be counted worthy to lead. You will need his strong arm and his steady faith when you face the dangers of the Promised Land.”
“We can handle the dangers of the Promised Land,” Joshua said, looking up, his eyes glinting. He stood up and walked closer to Moses. “I have the men well organized and they are fighting as a unit. We need more weapons but their spirit is strong and they are ready.”
“Joshua, sit down, sit down. You still do not understand.”
Joshua sat down again and looked up at Moses with a furrow in his brow, his eyes tight.
“I am talking about the dangers to your faith,” Moses said. “You will win no battles without it, no matter how well you fight. There are still giants in the land and you are badly outnumbered. If the tribes of Canaan come together to fight, you will be overwhelmed. It matters little how well you are prepared to fight if you have no faith.”
“But I trust Him to deliver us,” Joshua said.
“Yes, but it isn’t only you. He is interested in more than the leaders. The lessons of the desert must be learned by all the people and the lessons of faith must be brought with you into the Promised Land if you are to continue to live in His presence as a nation. When you are in the desert but want to be in the Promised Land, God will thrust you deeper into the desert. When you are in the desert and you are content to be there because you value the Presence of God more than anything the Promised Land can give you, then you are ready for the dangers and the blessings of the Promised Land.”
Moses came close to Joshua and gripped his shoulder, his strong fingers digging into Joshua’s flesh so that he winced in discomfort.
“Joshua, keep your eyes on him. Don’t listen to the people, they always complain. Keep yourself surrounded by other desert warriors like Caleb. Obey immediately and completely. Don’t hesitate. You can always trust Him even when He does the unexpected. But above all, love Him without reserve. Love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
“And your neighbor as yourself,” Joshua said. “The heart of the entire law, you always say.”
“Yes, and the heart of the desert warrior who has learned the ways of God,” Moses said.
Moses looked upwards toward the peak of the mountain. “That was probably the strangest of all His commandments to me. It shook me when I heard Him say it, shook me to my core.” He trailed off, deep in thought, then with a start he was back and he smiled a lopsided grin that seemed to well up from within him, full of excitement.
“You have to understand, Joshua,” he said. “He is fearful and powerful and demanding, as well He should be.” Moses stood up straighter and his voice grew louder, one hand raised in the air. “He is the Almighty God, what else should we expect. Don’t ever forget it, Joshua. Don’t forget who He is, what He is. The earth belongs to Him. We belong to Him. He is the God of the mountain and the fire.” Moses´ voice rose even stronger. “He defeated Pharaoh and all his army in the Red Sea. Of course we must obey Him.”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “But that isn’t what shook me to my core. That isn’t what changed me.”
He put both his hands on Joshua’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye and said, “Listen to me, my desert warrior. What changes you is the discovery that He likes you. Yes, you Joshua. He loves you and He wants you to learn to love Him in return.”
Joshua looked deep into the eyes of Moses and saw the secret of his unwavering loyalty, his immediate obedience, even his great frustration with the complaining and disbelief of the people. It was love. It was a deep desire to live always in the presence of the God who loved him – learning about that great love and living it and sharing it with others.
It was the Way of the Desert Warrior and Joshua determined with all of his heart that he would walk in it.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s pray….
Lord, I want to follow in the footsteps of Joshua, the desert warrior. I want to love you too and live in your presence every day and learn about your great love and living it and sharing it with others. I’m not very good at it but I want to learn. Teach me the way of the desert warrior. Help me to become like Jesus, the true Desert Warrior. In his name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
“Here they come,” said Melanchor. And around them appeared a company of angels, their faces full of the glory of Heaven. Four of them stepped forward, nodded and smiled at Solis and Melanchor and then turned their attention to Onkelos, surrounding him as he stood in the morning light, tears on his face as he called out to God.
All of the angels were absolutely quiet, not even a feather rustled as they listen to his prayer.
“They are coming for me today,” Onkelos was saying. “There is no escape. There are too many of them.” He was quiet again and the company of angels began to sing as his heart struggled to find faith. (Read more….)