Following God’s directives is not necessarily easy. Even when He is direct and clear in revealing His will. It can be challenging. The journey is often filled with obstacles and hindrances. You will remember that Jesus referred to God’s path as the “narrow way” and few will find it. Nevertheless, it is the right path and the best path.
Three times in Joshua 1, God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” And – at the end of the chapter, the people tell Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” This had to be encouraging to Joshua!
Context – Think about the context of Joshua 1. Moses had led God’s people for 40 years. He was the Law-giver and the Deliverer. Even though Aaron had been at Moses’ side, Moses was the undisputed leader of the people. Joshua had been a loyal supporter of Moses. Joshua first appears in the Bible in Exodus 17 when the Amalekites attacked Israel. Moses appointed Joshua as the commander of the troops (Exodus 17:8) and he led them to victory. However, Moses stood over the battlefield and held up his hands so that Israel would know that God was delivering them. So – even though Joshua had led them in battle, he was still dependent on Moses.
Joshua was one of the spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land in that famous story recorded in Numbers 13-14. Joshua joined Caleb with the minority report. These two men were convinced that God would deliver the land into the hands of the Israelites. However, the people refused to follow Joshua and Caleb at that time.
Deuteronomy 31 – This page in our Bible serves as the backdrop to Joshua 1. In Deuteronomy 31, Moses assembled the people for a grand announcement. He let them know that he was not going to lead them into the Promised Land (31:2). He anointed Joshua as their new leader (31:3). Moses challenged the people to “be strong and courageous” (31:6). Moses then turned to Joshua and said to him in front of the people, “Be strong and courageous” (31:7). After Moses completed his speech to the people, the LORD spoke to Joshua and said, “Be strong and courageous” (31:23).
So – Joshua was a faithful and loyal follower of Moses. He was the hand-picked successor for Moses. Moses acknowledged this fact in front of all the people. God also anointed Joshua for this task. He would be the one to lead Israel to the Promised Land!
However, in Deuteronomy 31, God also revealed the journey would be fraught with challenges (31:14-18). Israel was not going to be as obedient as God would have desired. God let Joshua know that the people were going to stray. He had to be faithful to lead them anyway. He had to remain true to God and His Law – regardless of what the people did.
Joshua 1 – This book opens with God’s declaration, “Moses my servant is dead” (Joshua 1:2). Of course Joshua already knew this. But it still had to have a harsh ring to it. The days of looking to Moses were over. The hope that Moses would be standing on a hill with his arms raised was no longer to be realized. Joshua was now the leader. It was his time to take the reins.
I wonder how Joshua felt at this time. There is no doubt he was a capable leader. He was a man of great faith. Remember – he was one of two spies who believed Israel should have already possessed the Promised Land by now! And yet – Israel had rejected his leadership before. Granted, it was a different time and different people were now in leadership. But – I still think this had to be in the back of Joshua’s mind.
All of that leads me to conclude that the call to Joshua recorded in the first chapter of his book is all the more meaningful. He has already heard three times (Deuteronomy 31) the admonition to “be strong and courageous.” Now in Joshua 1, he will hear it four more times! Wow! Surely, he was encouraged by these words both from God and from the people.
Notice some key passages in Joshua 1:
God is in charge – In Joshua 1:2-4, God lets Joshua know that He is going to give the land to Israel. That is right – HE is going to do it! Make no mistake, God is in charge. HE will accomplish the victories. He will use the Israelites to accomplish it all – but He is the one behind it all.
God was present – In Joshua 1:5, God assured Joshua that He would be present with him. Just like He was with Moses, He would be with Joshua. Again, this had to be encouraging news to Joshua. He would not forsake Him. His presence would bring blessing and power to Joshua and the people.
Stay true to God’s Word – In Joshua 1:7-9, God admonishes Joshua to remain true to His Word. God had revealed Himself through the Law. He had shared His expectations with Israel. They were to be His people. They had to live like His people. His Word was to be obeyed.
When we are responding to God’s call, we must take God’s Word into consideration. We must seek the counsel of God’s self-revelation. He is not going to lead us to do anything that is contrary to His Word.
We need each other – God has called us to live in community. Joshua was to lead God’s people. He needed them and they needed him. He was to serve as God’s spokesman to them – but God would speak through them as well. For example, in the end of the chapter, they spoke the words of encouragement over him.
We live in community as well. God has designed us to live together as God’s people. We share life together. We walk through the battles of life together. We bear each other’s burdens. We celebrate life’s victories together. We encourage each other. We spur each other on to good works (Hebrews 10:19-25).
We may not have to fight battles like Joshua and Israel. We may not be led into battles with the “-ites” of the Promised Land (Jebusites, Amorites, etc.). But – we do face real battles today as the people of God. We still have the need to be bold and courageous. We still need to be strong enough to stand as the people of God. In Ephesians 6, Paul teaches us that our real battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
So – as the New Covenant people of God, how do we find our strength for battle? How do we remain strong and courageous? I think one key is found in Ephesians 6:10-17. Here in this passage, Paul challenges us to take up the spiritual armor we need for the battles we are facing. Paul expresses his desire for us to be able to “stand” when the day of testing comes. Using the imagery from the battlefields of his day, Paul encourages all followers of Jesus to “stand” in the face of enemy assault.
In this passage, Paul gives 3 commands:
Interestingly, all three of these commands are in the plural in the original Greek language of the New Testament. Remember we live in community with each other! God has called us to live together as His people. We have individual responsibilities for sure, but we need each other to thrive!
“Be strong” is the heading for this entire passage. Sounds like a refrain from Joshua 1! As Christians, we are to be strong in the Lord. We are going to face challenges and struggles that have the potential to sap our strength and erase our courage. What are we to do during those times? Be strong!
Notice also in verse 10 – we are to draw from God’s mighty power! Paul has already mentioned the availability of God’s mighty power in 1:19 – same words as here in 6:10 but translated “mighty strength” in 1:19.
Where do we find God’s strength? We discover it through the weaponry He has provided. The full armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6 is drawn from both Old Testament imagery and from the examples in Paul’s day of Roman soldiers. Paul knew both worlds well. He was familiar with Roman soldiers (he was escorted by them!) and he knew the Scripture. The Old Testament background for the armor listed in this passage can be found in Isaiah 11:5, 52:7 and 59:17.
Note the holistic expression of God’s armor. It is a full outfit! We are covered from head to toe in truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation! We have the Word of God as a sword. We are prepared for both defense and offense. We can attack the enemy or we can defend ourselves against the enemy. We have the spiritual protection of God’s truth. We live in His righteousness. Our message is one of peace. We have been delivered by His salvation. We are guided by truth. His Word slices through the lies of the enemy and reveals God’s perspective.
We can stand as the people of God on the spiritual battlefield. We can stand strong. We can stand firm. We can overcome the onslaught of demonic advancement. We will not be thrown to the ground by the attacks. We can be strong and courageous in the face of the struggle.