Be Strong and Courageous – By Pastor/Elder Tony Minell
Posted on March 12, 2023 by No comments
Imagine with me that we are living on the edge of the promised land. Our fearless leader, Moses, is dead. What stands behind is the wilderness of slavery in Egypt and the literal wasteland of 40 years of wanderings. What stands before us is a land that is fully inhabited by “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites” (Joshua 3:10).
This is the opening scene to the book of Joshua. The people are standing between a rock (the wilderness of Sinai) and the hard place of Canaan. They have managed to find the edge of Occam’s Razor – and it’s edge is awfully sharp.
It is to this moment in world history that God breaks in and shouts the glorious words, “Be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:6,7,9,18). Let’s consider His words.
What God says is not a word of encouragement (as we think of encouragement today). He does not puff up their ego – with self-esteem pills, declaring, “You got this!”. No. His encouragement is of another sort.
The phrase “Be strong and courageous” (which occur 4 times in the first chapter of Joshua) consists of two Hebrew words, both of which are imperatives – which is a fancy way of saying that they are commands. As a double command, they stand side by side shouting at us.
So, what does it mean to “Be strong and courageous”? What is God commanding? Since Israel is on the verge of battle, we are prone to see this as some sort of war-cry, but it’s not exactly the war-cry that we would expect. Let me explain.
The first word, “be strong” is rather straight forward. But the question is, for what task is Israel to “be strong”? One can be a strong in a myriad of ways. Be strong in what way? This is where the next word in our double command is helpful. The word translated “and courageous” is literally “make firm” – as in – “unmoved.” When we put them together, we see that God is calling Israel to muster all their strength to be unmoved.
Indeed, this is a battle cry, but it is not the sort of battle cry that we would expect of an army that must advance (remember Israel cannot remain where they are). This is the sort of battle cry that would be uttered by the army that would be advanced upon. In other words, Israel is pictured as the one who is already where they need to be and all they need to do is “Stand firm!” or “Hold your ground!”
In what way is Israel to be unmoved? Context has the key. Every time the phrase “Be strong and courageous” occurs in the book of Joshua – it is accompanied with a statement about clinging to the Word of God. In our text here, God tells His people to be “strong and courageous, being careful to do all…that Moses my servant commanded you” (1:7). He goes on saying, “Do not turn from [the Word of God] to the right hand or to the left.” (1:7). “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, you shall mediate upon it day and night…” (1:8). He is calling them to hold fast to the Word of God.
As they move into the promised land, the temptation will be for them to abandon the Word of God. This is the bigger and real battle in the book of Joshua. It is an internal battle. In our lives, we fight the same battle and God’s command hasn’t changed. We are constantly tempted to turn away from the Word of God as though it were antiquated and irrelevant. The views of Canaan would have been just as alluring to Israel as the worldly wisdom of the 21st century is to us today. Yet, God still commands His people to muster all of our strength to remain steadfast and unmoved – clinging to the Word.
It might be tempting to seek to come up with a better strategy for advancing into the promised land, but the best way forward would be to cling to the one thing that even time itself cannot change. The Word of God.
After centuries of failure to obey God’s command to faithfully be strong and unmoved, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.” That is, we were given a tangible way to cling to the incarnate Word of God.
Let your heart, soul, mind and strength be wholly dedicated to the one who perfectly remains unmoved and unchanged. Confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That is not an anecdotal summary statement. That is the way we hold fast our confession of faith. We turn neither to the right or the left from the Word – Jesus Christ.
We need only to remain steadfast and unashamed in our confession of the Word – and the walls of Jericho will fall. Church of Jesus Christ, be strong and courageous. The world needs the unchanging Word of God.
Pastor Tony Minell