Some verses are famous.
Other verses are Christian mug famous.
Tell me if you have ever seen this verse before:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Now, many of you are saying, “Of course I know that verse. It is Joshua 1:9! I have it on bookmark/ coffee mug/ framed picture/ t-shirt/ book-end.” While some of you were saying “I know that verse, it is Joshua 1:7…”
But what if I told you that your Bible verse to have on your coffee mug actually means more when you look at the complete context. Let’s look at it.
Joshua 1:7-9 goes as follows: “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) Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips, meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (9)Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
This passage is taking place in a transition point in the history of Israel. Israel just finished 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, their high priest Aaron passed away not too long ago, and Moses just died. Joshua has taken the mantle from Moses, and Aaron’s sun Eleazar is the new high priest. Joshua is in the early months of his leadership and God is having him lead the people of Israel into the land of Canaan in order to become the nation of Israel.
This historical context sets the stage that makes it all the more significant that the Lord is telling Joshua to be strong and courageous. This is a big task.
Wait. Yes. You did just read that correctly. the Lord was telling Joshua to be strong and courageous.
This is significant for a few reasons.
Firstly, when we usually hear this verse we think of it as being said to the people of Israel from the mouth of Joshua. Because of that, we take the command to be strong and courageous to more easily apply to our own self. The thinking there is often “people of Israel = people of God = people in church = me, therefore God is telling me to be strong and courageous in my life, and also promising to be with me wherever I go.” Sadly, you do not equal the people of Israel, and you do not equal the person of Joshua. But, keep reading. There is a lot of encouragement still to be taken from this passage- not just Joshua 1:9.
After we overcome what was mentioned in the last paragraph, we then become surprised. Why would Joshua need to be encouraged and emboldened?! Wasn’t he one of the two spies who brought back a good report (Numbers 13 & 14)? Didn’t he witness firsthand God’s miraculous defeat of the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16)? Doesn’t Deuteronomy 34:9 say “now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses laid his hands on him.” Why would God have to tell him three times in a short space to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6, 7, & 9)!?
Let’s go back to the context.
- He was leading Israel. A group of very stubborn and complaint filled people. He was there when the 10 other spies said “we cannot do it, we cannot conquer Canaan.”
- He saw God work great miracles, but most of them came through the hand of Moses.
- He was filled with a spirit of wisdom, and wisdom informs us of our weaknesses and insufficiency. In of himself, and in of the strength of all the Israelite warriors, they were too weak to conquer Canaan.
That last point might surprise you. But think about it. They were not a well equipped warring tribe. They were a (very large) band of nomadic farmers. They were going to be attacking people who had fortified cities, giants, and clans that had more advanced (Iron armor, swords, etc) technology.
Joshua had reason to be terrified.
But do not… DO NOT… skip over a very very important context.
God is the Warrior King who promises to be faithful to his covenant people.
Where did I get that from? Read the first six verses of Joshua 1. The battle is said to belong to the Lord. The Lord promises to fight for Israel. The Lord promises success to those who are faithful to his covenant (1:8).
If you look at the command to be strong and courageous, it actually appears frequently in the book of Deuteronomy (Dt. 3:28; 31: 6, 7, &23). This is significant because the book of Deuteronomy is the second giving of the law (read covenant guidelines/ God’s instructions) to his people on how to live properly in the land. David tells Solomon to be strong and courageous while making preparations for the temple, and his command to be strong and courageous comes right after saying “May the Lord give you discretion and understanding when He puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your god. Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (1 Chronicles 22:12-13). 1 Chronicles 28 repeats the same charge and plea.
The charge to be strong and courageous is the charge to be faithful to God’s Covenant. Or it can be stated another way. The charge to be strong and courageous is the charge to follow the commands of the Lord and to be faithful to him.
So, what does this have to do with Joshua? What does this have to do with you? Should you throw away your mugs, t-shirts, and other Joshua 1:9 (or is it 1:7… or 1 Chronicles 28:20)?
Take a breath. Let me show you how it all comes full circle.
God is a faithful, loving, present God. He is also Lord of all creation, mighty in word and deed. He is worthy of all worship, praise, and adoration. He has decided to redeem a lost humanity. Those that He redeems He has called to be faithful to Him. This takes courage and strength because we live in a broken, fallen, and sinful world. But the One Who Calls is the One Who Strengthens. Joshua’s wisdom came from the Lord. Joshua’s call came from the Lord. His position came from the Lord. And it was the Lord who would fight the battles for him, and give the Land to Israel.
Now, you are not called to conquer Canaan. You are not called to drive out the Philistines, Amalekites, Hittites, or Perrizites. Nor are you, like Solomon, called to build the great Temple, reign over Israel, and be the wealthiest king in Israel’s history. But you are called to live a life that shows Jesus Christ to others. You are called to have the same mind as the Gloried Lord of All who humbly sacrificed all for others (Philippians 2:1-11). You are called to “be holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16). You are called, as the disciples were, to let your loving-kindness be a testimony to others (John 13:33-34). You are called to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37-39). You are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).
You are called to pick up your cross on a daily basis and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-26).
The very same way that you are able to do what you are called to do is the exact same way that Joshua, Solomon, and all God’s people were able. It is to draw upon the strength and courage which comes from knowing that you, your calling, your ability, and your life all depend upon the Lord your God.
And He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more (Ephesians 3:20).
End note: So, this post was a thought that I had on July 3, when the daily reading was Matthew 12, Zephaniah 1:1-2:3, Joshua 1, and Ecclesiastes 2:18-23. For those of you who are reading the Bible through in a year, my prayer is that this post helped you connect a few dots in the grand story of the Bible. Be Strong and Courageous, the Lord desires for you to know Him and his Word. Keep reading. It is worth it.