Be Strong and Courageous

Dr. Brian Allison

All Christians have some 'land' that they should be spiritually entering and possessing, some spiritual territory that must be secured. Maybe the 'land' that God would have you to enter and possess deals with impatience or bitterness; it may concern winning the lost in your neighbourhood; it may involve conquering fear; or it may concern growing in love. Now, what can help us secure the possession of the 'land'? Evidencing a particular disposition and character would certainly aid in entering and possessing the 'land'. We should evidence the same disposition and character that was required of Joshua by the Lord to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The Lord spoke to Joshua, "No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses, My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you might have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you might be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go!" (Josh. 1:5-9).

God strengthens His people through promises

God had called Joshua to be a leader of His people. God had commissioned him to be the military general of the nation. God had commanded him to confiscate the land of Canaan from its inhabitants. Now, in order to instill confidence and motivation in Joshua, so that he might actually possess the land, God gave him a threefold promise. He promised victory. He promised His presence. He promised His power.

First, then, God promised Joshua victory – "No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life" (1:5a). God promised Joshua complete and continuous domination over his enemies and over every form of opposition. Similarly, when God calls, commissions, and commands you to perform a mission, this promise is for you also, because God does not call, commission, and command without also ensuring the fulfilling of that which He has purposed. Are you feeling defeated? Do you feel that you have too many enemies? God says, "Victory is secure."

Now, no one is able to stand before God's people, because, second, God's presence attends them – "Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you" (1:5b). God, in effect, says to His people, "I will be your traveling companion." Do you believe that? Are you feeling alone? God is near even though you may not always feel it. Accordingly, because He goes with His people, they can, third, know His power and His help – "I will not fail you or forsake you" (1:5c). God, in effect, says, "I guarantee My power. I will provide for you." Do you live in the light of this truth? When the various difficulties assail you each day, are you convinced that God is there for you; and not only there for you, but there in order to help, so that you need not become anxious or depressed?

Divine promises should provoke strength and courage

So, God gave Joshua a threefold promise: victory, divine presence, and divine power, Now, what should be the typical response to this threefold promise? Certainly, strength and courage! Thus, God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. Now, remember, the giving of the promises of God, and the receiving of them, does not automatically result in this positive disposition and character. The promises of God need to be understood, believed, and embraced. You personally must choose to be of a certain disposition and character. Though it would be naturally expected of you to be strong and courageous (simply in receiving this threefold promise), at the same time, you must consciously decide to be strong and courageous. Now, I am not talking about positive thinking. I am talking about an act of the will which responds to truth given; and in the light of that truth given, one must assume his God-given responsibility to choose to evidence a certain attitude and behaviour. Those who are strong and courageous typically choose to be such; and those who are weak and cowardly typically choose such. That is why God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. Are you feeling weak? If so, why? You know God's Word is true, but do you believe it? According to your faith, so shall be your blessing.

God commands His people to be strong and courageous

So, God commanded Joshua to evidence this strength and courage – "Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to your fathers to give them" (1:6) This command occurs 4 times in this chapter (1:6,7,9,18). Now the point is this: even though God is near and will help you; even though you are graced with His presence, and thus His power, by which you may have success in your life, that does not discount human requirements and the fulfilling of human responsibilities in actually securing that success. God is pleased to require and use our courage and strength to achieve His purposes. For instance, God determined to overthrow the Philistines because of their oppression and tyranny against His people; and thus He occasioned a conflict between Samson and them (1 Samuel 14). But God fulfilled His purposes in delivering His people from the oppression and tyranny of the Philistines through the strength and courage of Samson. That is God's way.

God calls spiritual leaders to be strong and courageous; and He does so repeatedly. Even when Moses was still alive, and the reigns of leadership had not yet been turned over to Joshua, Moses gave this same command to Joshua. Deuteronomy 31:7 reads, "Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance'" (see also Deut. 31:23). Do you think that God is trying to get through to Joshua? Do you think that Joshua is getting the point? How many times does God have to say something to us before we get the point? We are slow of hearing, and slow of responding, but God knows that; and so He comes to Joshua (and to us) numerous times with the same message.

Now, why such monotonous repetition? Well, to be strong and courageous is absolutely foundational for a leader because of the ominous situations and formidable opposition which he or she will have to inevitably face. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be celebrated in the United States tomorrow. One of the things that marked that man, and immortalized him, was his strength and courage. A few days before his assassination, he knew that an assassination attempt would be made on his life; but he did not allow that to deter him. He proceeded with his mission of freedom with resolve and focus, and he was willing to die for a cause. Great leaders are strong and courageous, and that is what God wanted Joshua to be; and that is what he wants you to be. God has no delight in cowardice. Again, when God called Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites, He commanded him to send home all the men who were fearful and anxious (Jud. 7:3). About two-third's of that large company went home. God can accomplish more with 300 courageous men than 22,000 cowards.

Interestingly, this command to Joshua to assume a certain disposition and character was not only required of him, the leader, but also of the followers, the whole nation of Israel. Why? They were to face the same ominous situations and formidable opposition as the leader; and so they too had to be strong and courageous. Even before God had commanded Joshua, God spoke to the nation as a whole through Moses. We read in Deuteronomy 31:3-6, "It is the LORD your God, who will cross a head of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the LORD has spoken. And the LORD will do to them just as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. And the LORD will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail or forsake you."

The essence of being strong and courageous

Now the question is this: what does it mean to be strong and courageous? First, when we talk about being strong, it does not refer to the physical (in this context), but rather to the moral. The strong person possesses and expresses moral grit or resolve. He is determined to do what is right and just. Such a determination or resolve, of course, necessitates and entails an obedience to God's will, and thus requires an adherence and commitment to God's Word and commandments. For instance, we read in Deuteronomy 11:8, "[Moses exhorted], 'You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land into which you are about to cross to possess it." God's leaders are moral heroes.

Moral integrity and uprightness constitute the strength that God commands of His people. We must be set to do what is right and not be turned aside. We must be prepared to do what is proper and not compromise. We must be people controlled by truth and righteousness, and thus stand our ground because it is the God-honouring thing to do. That is what it means to be strong. So, the strong person is the integral person; he is the ethically proper person. She is the one who binds herself, and submits, to the will of God. In 1521, Martin Luther was summoned to appear at the Diet (i.e., a formal assembly) of Worms. He was called to stand before the Emperor and the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in order to explain his 'Protestant teachings' which were in opposition of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He was not given an opportunity to defend those teachings. He was simply commanded to recant of his errors. Luther, standing alone before that great and august crowd said, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. I can do nothing else; God helping me." He was a man of integrity, bound to the truth, bound to do what was right, even though his life was at stake.

What does it mean to be courageous? Well, it basically means to be bold in the face of danger. It means that you will not shrink back or cower in the face of opposition. You will rise to the challenge. You will not only dig in your heels, you will dig a trench and fight, regardless of the assault or onslaught. It is interesting that the word that is translated 'courageous' in Joshua 1 is translated 'obstinate' in Deuteronomy 2, which refers to Sihon, the king of Heshbon, who would not allow Israel to go through his land. We read, "For the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today" (Deut. 2:30b). Sihon had a heart like granite.

You should have a will of granite. You should not cower or be fearful. Hugh Latimer was a Protestant Reformer of the sixteenth century. He was imprisoned in the tower a number of times. When Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553, she wanted to exterminate the Reformers. She wanted to execute Hugh Latimer. He was imprisoned along with Nicholas Ridley, and eventually they were sentenced to death. They were sentenced to burn at the stake. As they were walking to the stake, Latimer said to Ridley, "Play the man, Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." That is what God says to you, "Play the man."

The obedience of strength and courage brings success

Through being strong and courageous, and on the basis of His promises, God assured success to Joshua (and the people), if he would be obedient – "Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you might have success wherever you go" (1:7). God promised success; but not without conditions. Often before enjoying the fulfilment of God's promises, conditions must be met. God's blessings are typically not automatic. God promises you peace, but He says in Isaiah 26:3, "The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee." God promises you forgiveness, but He says in Matthew 6:14,15, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."

So, there are conditions for receiving the blessings of God. Many Christians view God as some kind of Welfare Agency. We do not simply sit back and have blessings indiscriminately doled out to us. God is not some Welfare Agency, my Christian friend. He is a holy, righteous God who puts expectations and demands on His people in order that they might reveal their willing heart and committed spirit before Him. So what is the condition here? God assures and promises success – His victory, His presence, and His power – in response to a good, willing, and responsive heart. God commands Joshua to be obedient, and as a result, He would bless him. Joshua was to be diligent in following God's commandments and make every effort to live circumspectly.

Now, God instructed Joshua on how he would be inclined, enabled, and prepared to be careful to obey His Word, and thus receive the blessings – "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (1:8). In order to give attention to obedience, Joshua first had to give attention to God's Word; and give constant and consistent attention to it. He had to dwell and reflect on God's Word and allow it to sink in and determine the content and character of his thinking, and thus the content and character of his behaviour. The nature of one's conduct results from the nature of one's thinking. God's Word was to thoroughly affect, control, and direct him.

Do you meditate on the Word of God? Is it your delight? I trust that it is. In a very real sense that is your salvation, your success, your prosperity. But not only should you be meditating on God's Word, you should also be speaking it. Speaking the Word enforces its retention, but it also clearly demonstrates its controlling and shaping effect. Our speech should be tempered and informed by God's truth. Moreover, perhaps we have implied here the Jewish way of meditation. Do you know how the Jews used to meditate, and still do meditate, on God's Word? They speak it aloud. In speaking God's Word aloud, one better assimilates it.

So, the relationship is this: as you meditate on and study the Word of God, you will cultivate and foster moral strength and courage (because there is power through the Word). Subsequently, you will be enabled and prepared to render obedience to that Word (being controlled by it), which will result in success, that is, the blessings of God, which is His reward. This is God's way for you to go in and possess the land. Again, what is the 'land' that God wants you to take? I leave you with the final verse in the passage we have been treating, which is merely a reiteration. Joshua 1:9 reads, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Do you believe this? If you believe this, it will be true for you.