The consistency of language is striking in Deuteronomy and Joshua surrounding the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. Joshua is repeatedly and consistently exhorted by various witnesses to “be strong and courageous.” In Deuteronomy 3:28, God tells Moses to invest strength and courage in Joshua. In Deuteronomy 31:6 and 31:7, Moses in the presence of all Israel exhorts Joshua to â€œbe strong and courageousâ€ because God will be present with him and because Joshua is the one chosen to lead Godâ€™s people into the promised land of Canaan. Later in the same chapter (Deut 31:23), God echoes the same words directly to Joshua.
The densest concentration of these words occurs in Joshua 1:1-9
NIV Joshua 1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them– to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates– all the Hittite country– to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
An Incredible Future
At some point, every single one of us is going to face a situation in which we know that we are in over our heads. Consider Joshua and the task to which he was called. In verses 1-5a, God calls Joshua to experience an incredible future.
Moses, the dominant human figure in the Pentateuch â€“ Israelâ€™s mediator, is dead. Across the river Jordan is the land which God had promised to Israelâ€™s ancestors. God appears to Joshua and sends him forth on a mission. Joshua is to lead the Israelites into the land. There are two promises made in this context: 1) territory â€“ God will give to Joshua/Israel every place where they set their feet and 2) victory â€“ no one will be able to stand against Joshua all the days of his life.
It is important to avoid spiritualizing this passage prematurely. Joshua is being sent on a dangerous mission. Combat is involved. Implicit in Godâ€™s promises is the necessity of Joshua accepting and moving forward with Godâ€™s plan. Yes, God has promised land for the people and success in combat, but Joshua still faces the daunting task of leading a group of refugees from Egypt who have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years into Canaan against fortified cities and experienced armies.
Joshua has to act.
The Divine Guarantee
God grounds the above vision and promises of land and military success in the ultimate guarantee â€“ His presence. In verse 5b, God offers to Joshua the same level of presence as he manifested with Moses. Joshuaâ€™s leadership will be successful because God will be with him; Israel will be successful entering the land of Canaan because God will be powerfully present with his people.
Exhortation: Be Strong and Courageous
Godâ€™s plan for Israel depends on Joshua. Joshua must lead Israel well. He must be strong and courageous.
Here are some of my favorite quotations on Courage:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.~ ~C.S. Lewis
Courage is… the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared.~ ~David Ben-Gurion
Courage is knowing what not to fear.~ ~Plato
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.~ It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.~ ~G.K. Chesterton
In the Hebrew, â€œbe strong and courageousâ€ are two closely related terms. Joshua needs to be a person of strong resolve. Strength and courage in this context point to a resolve to accomplish Godâ€™s will. Without the courage to act on Godâ€™s will, Joshuaâ€™s calling cannot be fulfilled.
Let us examine the threefold repetition of â€œBe strong and courageousâ€ found in verses 6-9. The first and the last repetitions explain why courage is necessary. The middle repetition (vv. 7-8) describes how one may cultivate and embody courage.
1) Reason (v. 6): Leader for the people in fulfillment of Godâ€™s plan. Joshua has been called to live for something profoundly greater than his own self-interest. He has been called to lead Godâ€™s people into the promised land â€“ a land which God had promised generations ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joshuaâ€™s generation will be the one to enjoy the fulfillment of this promise BUT Joshua must be â€œstrong and courageous.â€
God is looking for persons who will lead with resolve.
2) How (vv. 7-8): faithful obedience. Notice the extra emphasis here: â€œBe strong and very courageous.â€ These middle two verses describe the key to courage â€“ a personal center shaped by Scripture. Faithful obedience goes hand in hand with courage. Courageous persons without faithful obedience to God live for the wrong mission. Yet note that the opposite is true as well. Persons who seek to live in faithful obedience but lack courage are unable to accomplish fully what God desires. This is the point of danger for many of us today. We seek a personal piety apart from Godâ€™s dreams for the whole of the people of God and for the whole of Creation. Apart from the courage to act on Godâ€™s will, our piety can become an end in itself rather than a means by which we bring glory to God through our witness in the world.
3) Reason (v. 9): God will be with you â€“ therefore fear not.
Our passage ends with a reaffirmation of Godâ€™s presence. The â€œfearâ€ language here is a warning against being paralyzed or demoralized by fear. I donâ€™t think that these verses are saying that it is wrong to feel fear or dread. They are instead exhorting us to act courageously because we can rest assured that God is present with us. This is important. Courage is not the absence of any fear. Fear is normal. I once heard someone say, â€œCourage is not the absence of fear; it is the absence of self.â€ A godly courage unleashes an individual to act on behalf of others. This is a profound insight. This connects courage directly with holiness which involves moving from a life centered on self to a life focused on service to others.
In the New Testament, Jesus the Risen Lord and Messiah promises his presence with his people on mission (Matt 28:16-20). Following Jesus Christ into the world takes courage, but it is a courage bolstered by the assurance that God is not merely with us but goes ahead of us. We simply need to follow Jesus into the world as we seek to fulfill the mission of â€œMaking disciples.â€
I suspect that in our day God is looking for women and men who will lead with courage in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps you are one such person.
1) Do the words â€œcourage,â€ â€œstrengthâ€, or â€œcourageousâ€ sound foreign in a religious context?
2) How do you integrate your own understanding of piety with Joshuaâ€™s charge â€œBe strong and courageousâ€?
3) To what future has God called you? What is keeping you from experiencing the life that God has called you to live?
4) Does your reading of Scripture fuel you to live boldly for God or is it an end in itself for you? Does your appropriation of Scripture propel you into the world as a follower of Christ, or does it become a secret garden in which you hide from the world?
Â© 2006 Brian D. Russell