This answer was given not by the two tribes and a half only (though they are spoken of immediately before), but by the officers of all the people (Josh. 1:10), as their representatives, concurring with the divine appointment, by which Joshua was set over them, and they did it heartily, and with a great deal of cheerfulness and resolution.
I. They promise him obedience (Josh. 1:16), not only as subjects to their prince, but as soldiers to their general, of whose particular orders they are to be observant. He that hath soldiers under him saith to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh, Matt. 8:9. Thus the people of Joshua; “All that thou commandest us we will readily do, without murmuring or disputing; and whithersoever thou sends us, though upon the most difficult and perilous expedition, we will go.” We must thus swear allegiance to our Lord Jesus, as the captain of our salvation, and bind ourselves to do what he commands us by his word, and to go where he sends us by his providence. And since Joshua, being humbly conscious to himself how far short he came of Moses, feared he should not have such an influence upon the people and such an interest in them as Moses had, they here promise that they will be as obedient to him as ever they had been to Moses, Josh. 1:17. To speak truth, they had no reason to boast of their obedience to Moses; he had found them a stiff-necked people, Deut. 9:24. But they meant that they would be as observant of Joshua as they should have been, and as some of them were (and the generality of them at least sometimes) of Moses. Note, We must not so magnify those that are gone, how eminent soever they were, either in the magistracy or in the ministry, as to be wanting in the honour and duty we owe to those that survive and succeed them, though in gifts they may come short of them. Obedience for conscience’ sake will continue, though Providence change the hands by which it rules and acts.
II. They pray for the presence of God with him (Josh. 1:17): “Only the Lord thy God be with thee, to bless and prosper thee, and give thee success, as he was with Moses.” Prayers and supplications are to be made for all in authority, 1 Tim. 2:1, 2. And the best thing we can ask of God for our magistrates is that they may have the presence of God with them; this will make them blessings to us, so that in seeking this for them we consult our own interest. A reason is here intimated why they would obey him as they had obeyed Moses, because they believed (and in faith prayed) that God’s presence would be with him as it was with Moses. Those that we have reason to think have favour from God should have honour and respect from us. Some understand it as a limitation of their obedience: “We will obey only as far as we perceive the Lord is with thee, but no further. While thou keepest close to God we will keep close to thee; hitherto shall our obedience come, but no further.” But they were so far from having any suspicion of Joshua’s deviating from the divine rule that there needed not such a proviso.
III. They pass an act to make it death for any Israelite to disobey Joshua’s orders, or rebel against his commandment, Josh. 1:18. Perhaps if such a law had been made in Moses’s time it might have prevented many of the rebellions that were formed against him; for most men fear the sword of the magistrate more than the justice of God. Yet there was a special reason for the making of this law now that they were entering upon the wars of Canaan; for in times of war the severity of military discipline is more necessary than at other times. Some think that in this statute they had an eye to that law concerning the prophet God would raise up like unto Moses, which they think, though it refer chiefly to Christ, yet takes in Joshua by the way as a type of him, that whosoever would not hearken to him should be cut off from his people. Deut. 18:19; I will require it of him.
IV. They animate him to go on with cheerfulness in the work to which God had called him; and, in desiring that he would be strong and of a good courage, they did in effect promise him that they would do all they could, by an exact, bold, and cheerful observance of all his orders, to encourage him. It very much heartens those that lead in a good work to see those that follow follow with a good will. Joshua, though of approved valour, did not take it as an affront, but as a great kindness, for the people to bid him be strong and of a good courage.