So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.
In any teaching relationship, there are two responsibilities: that of the teacher to teach and that of the student to listen. A teacher can spout wisdom now and then, but if he or she does not make a constant effort, even a willing pupil will learn nothing. Also, even if a teacher or mentor were to earnestly teach day and night, if the student is unwilling to listen then nothing will be learned. In order to be effective, the student-teacher relationship must be founded on a willingness to learn and to teach. Discipleship is no different: those who teach must choose to do so and not give up, and those being taught must be open to the Lord’s Word and the wisdom of elders.
The relationship between Moses and Joshua is a wonderful case in point. Joshua was a young man when the Israelites set out for the Promised Land. We do not know what work he did in Egypt as a slave, but we can be sure he wasn’t a soldier. And yet the very first mention of Joshua is when Moses tells him to lead an army against the Amalekites. (Exodus 17:9) After God helped them defeat the Amalekites, the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14) God wanted to make sure that Moses taught Joshua what was written in “the book”–what we now know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. And so Joshua’s discipleship began with a battle and a lesson from God.
Joshua’s willingness to do as he was told made him a great disciple. He went wherever Moses went, and he listened while Moses was busy with the Lord. When Moses went up the mountain to receive the law, Joshua went with him and waited on the mountainside for those forty days and nights. (Exodus 24:13) And when the Israelites got impatient waiting for Moses and made their golden calf and celebrated this new idol, although Moses first heard about it from the Lord, Joshua told Moses that he had heard something from the camp as he waited. (Exodus 32:17)
But it is today’s verse that says the most about Joshua: he never left the tabernacle of the Lord. Why did Joshua stay there? He certainly didn’t need to stay there to guard the Lord. No, Joshua undoubtedly stayed there so he would always be available to Moses or the Lord to do God’s bidding. In Asian tradition, an apprentice or disciple lives with his master, stays in the same house, sleeps near his master, follows in his master’s footsteps. Where did Joshua sleep? Near the Lord his God. Now THAT is a willing disciple.
When Jesus called four fisherman away from their boats to follow Him, it was a big leap of their tiny faith to go after Him and leave behind all they had known. It would take years of constant teaching–and several instances of trial-and-error–for them to learn some lessons. And even when the lessons got tough and seemed to fly in the face of what little they had known about the Lord, they stayed. Simon Peter summed it up best when he answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) The apostles had come so far and they had stayed with their Master because they wanted that life, they desired those words that Jesus spoke. They craved the gospel.
Joshua the son of Nun stayed with Moses because he loved the Lord and he knew that Moses had those words that would guide and teach him. He stayed near the tabernacle because there truly was nowhere else to go. As would be shown after the spies returned from the expedition to see the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb would be abandoned even by their own kindred. (Exodus 14:2-4) To whom else would they go but to the Lord? When they finally crossed into that land forty years later and defeated the races there and divided it up among the tribes, Joshua said the thing which needed to be said:
14 “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
15 “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua had always chosen the Lord, even when the odds seemed against him, even when all of Israel went the other way. Joshua stayed with his teacher Moses and lived at the tabernacle of his God, so that he would always be ready to serve the Lord.
We are all of us disciples of one sort or another, some of us newer to the Lord and some of us more mature in our faith. We are called by our Lord, “Follow Me,” and it is to Him we must cling. Our earthly teachers deserve our attention and service, for they bring the words of life that come from the Lord. Our responsibility as disciples is to remain always available to the Lord our God, to always have our ears open and our hands ready. While others may faint along the way, while their faith may flag and strength may fail, and even when our own fears may start to get the better of us, we must hold fast to the teaching of our Master, Jesus Christ, and always remain where He is. We should be ready and willing to listen to the teaching of His chosen apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. As disciples, our lot is simply to serve the Lord. Let us therefore join Joshua and not depart from the tabernacle of God.
Lord God, to You I come for the words of life, for Your gospel alone can bring me salvation and eternal life. I will have many teachers in my life, and I willingly listen to the mentors You have given me, but Your will and Your ways are what I desire, and You alone do I serve. Therefore, Father, let me stay by Your tabernacle, always ready to serve You, always willing to teach and to be taught. Amen.