When is a prayer not a prayer? (Joshua 1.17) ‣ Praying Through the Bible

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Only, may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses.


The book of Joshua begins with God telling Joshua that it is time to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. God says that He will be with him, just as He was with Moses. Finally, God encourages him to keep the law of Moses and to be courageous.

Joshua immediately tells his commanders to go throughout the camp, announcing to the people that they would set out in three days. It was time to go back to the land of their ancestors.

In response, the people deliver a message to Joshua that they will obey him, just as they did Moses, and they will go where he tells them. Then, they say this: “Only, may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses.”

Is this a prayer? It sounds a bit like a blessing, or perhaps an intercession, yet it has an off-handedness about it. It is as if they are focusing more on Joshua, themselves, and the past, rather than offering a prayer for Joshua. 

The command of Joshua and the response of the people is best understood as an exchange of oaths between a new leader and his people. This was a common practice in the ancient world. The contents are what anyone of that age would expect. Perhaps this explains why the “prayer” seems a bit distant.

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