Before Joshua enters Canaan, God tells him, “This book of the Torah (ספר התורה; sefer ha’torah) shall not depart (לא ימושׁ; lo yamush) from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Josh 1:8). The Hebrew for “not depart” in this verse is uncommon; before its appearance in Joshua, it appears only three times in the entire Torah. In these previous instances, the phrase conveys the unwillingness of God and the people to depart from one another. Therefore, in telling Joshua not to allow the Torah to “depart” from his lips, God says that for the person who meditates on the words of Scripture, the Lord is continually close; to read God’s words is to experience God’s presence.
The first appearance of “not depart” comes in Exodus, as the Israelites wander in the wilderness and God goes with them amidst cloud and fire: “The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart (לא ימישׁ; lo yamish) from before the people” (13:22). In this case, God remains in relationship with Israel as they negotiate the uncertainty of their desert journey. Next, Exodus narrates the nearness of God to Moses and Joshua: “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his neighbor. And [Moses] returned to the camp, but Joshua… did not depart (לא ימישׁ; lo yamish) from the midst of the tent” (33:11). On two occasions, Exodus uses “not depart” to highlight the reciprocal relationship between God and people.
Finally, the phrase appears in the context of continued communion between God and Moses. When, against a divine warning, the Israelites choose to leave the camp and charge into battle, the Torah notes that “the ark of the covenant and Moses did not depart (לא משׁו; lo mashu) out of the camp” (Num 14:44). Once again, the Torah describes the proximity of divine presence; God and Moses’ refusal to depart from the camp—or from one another—underscores the closeness of their relationship. Since an unwillingness to “depart” highlights the union between people and God, the divine decree for Joshua to not “depart” from the “book of the Torah” infers that to meditate on Scripture is to maintain relationship with God.