Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. Exodus 33.7-11.
Joshua was the son of an Ephraimite called Nun and was originally named Hoshea (meaning “salvation”) – the same name as that given to the prophet Hosea who came on the scene about eight centuries later. When Hoshea was still very young, however, he was taken on my Moses as his assistant (Numbers 11.28) and at that point, it seems, Moses added the divine name “Yah” to his birth name, calling him “Yehoshua” – or “Joshua”, as we render it in English (Numbers 13.8). It is the same name that about 1,500 years later, Gabriel instructed Mary and Jesus to call their son – for, in Greek, “Joshua” is “Iesous” or “Jesus”: a name that means “God’s salvation”.
Although the passage above is mainly about Moses, it was the final, almost throw-away, line about Joshua that caught my attention as I read it. When Moses left the Tent of the Presence – the forerunner of the Tabernacle and later the Temple – Joshua stayed put, at least for a while. But why? What was he doing in there on his own?
I like to think he was simply enjoying the lingering presence of Yahweh who had just been speaking there with Moses. Did Yahweh speak with Joshua too, after Moses had left? We don’t know; but we do know, of course, that it was Joshua who was chosen to lead the children of Israel into the promised land and to whom Yahweh gave this promise: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1.5). Maybe the time spent in the tent after Moses had left was the time when the formation of Yahweh’s future leader took place.
Did Moses realise that Joshua had stayed behind? Was there a moment when, going about some business in the camp, he turned and said, “Joshua, can you just go and get me …” only to discover that Joshua was not there?
That sends my mind scurrying across the centuries to another Joshua who has gone missing and who is eventually found by his frantic parents in the Temple, debating with the teachers of the law. “When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2.48-49). Except that, in the Greek, there is no “house”. Translated literally, the sentence reads: “Did you not know that in the of the father of me it is necessary for me to be.” In the what of the Father? Later in life Jesus does call the Temple “my Father’s house” using the actual word oikos (John 2.16 and 14.2) so here that seems the obvious word to supply; but we are equally at liberty to read it as “in my Father’s presence”.
From the start, it was the Father’s presence that Jesus loved. It was where he found rest, renewal, and revelation. When his parents left Jerusalem, he stayed behind in the Temple just as Joshua stayed behind in the Tent of Meeting. When his disciples set off back across the lake at night, he stayed behind on the mountain to be in his Father’s presence (Mark 6.46). He sought out solitary places before anyone else was up and around to commune with him in prayer (Mark 1.35).
And as I think this morning of Joshua and then of Jesus, I am challenged afresh to look at my own relationship with the Father. I love singing …
To be in Your presence
To sit at Your feet,
Where Your love surrounds me,
And makes me complete.
This is my desire, O Lord,
This is my desire.
This is my desire, O Lord,
This is my desire.
To rest in Your presence,
Not rushing away;
To cherish each moment,
Here I would stay.*
… but is that the truth of it? So often my times of prayer are perfunctory, worked through with one eye on the clock. “Great – that’s that done. Now I can get on with my blog, coding that website, answering my emails … whatever it is that has been on my mind since I got out of bed.”
Perhaps the reason for my unwillingness to linger is that the sense of being in the Father’s presence is not very strong or is sometimes non-existent. And the reason for that is no doubt the fact that I do have one eye on the clock. I have not really entered his presence to begin with. I am simply going through the motions, and instead of sitting at his feet, like Mary, I am fretting away like Martha over the next “important” thing I need to do.
Forgive me, Father. for I know in my heart that “but one thing is needful”. I know in my heart that it is only in your presence that there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16.11) or any other gift or grace that you want to bestow on me. So, please, teach me to enter; and then, please, teach me to stay ….
* Noel Richards