“Haven’t I commanded you; be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” —Joshua 1:9 (CSB)
When reading through the first chapter of the book of Joshua, it is easy to imagine what an exciting time it must have been for the people of God.
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were about to cross over the Jordan, into the land promised to them by God. He tells Joshua, “I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:3 CSB).
Israel would finally have a place to call their own, a land that would essentially give them security, identity, purpose, and life. More importantly, it would be God placing His people into a land that would make His name great. This was not only the fulfillment of the promise God made to Moses, but this was also God fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham.
However, while there may have been some anticipation and excitement, we can only imagine that there was also a sense of fear as well. Part of that fear may have come from the fact that the one who had been their leader and advocate was no longer with them.
“After the death of Moses, the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’s assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead’” (Joshua 1:1–2a). The man whom God had chosen to lead His people out of captivity, the high priest who had stood before God on behalf of the Israelites, the one who was to lead them into the Promised Land was now dead.
Furthermore, the land that was promised to the Israelites was not vacant. The land was filled with other nations who were not so willing to hand over their land, and according to ten of the twelve spies sent out by Moses, these other nations were filled with giants (Numbers 13). The Israelites may not have felt as strong or courageous as they once did when their mighty leader Moses was there to lead them.
God tells Joshua three times to be “strong and courageous.” In verse 6, He says, “Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their ancestors to give them as an inheritance.”
The Lord was reminding Joshua that He was fulfilling the promise to Moses through Joshua. All Joshua needed to do was to place his faith in who God is and what He promised to do.
The second time God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous” is in verse 7, “Above all, be strong and very courageous to observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.”
Notice he uses the words, “Above all” at the beginning and then he challenges Joshua and the Israelites to, “be strong and very courageous to observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you.” It was the Word of God that Joshua was to read, understand, and obey. If the Israelites were to be successful when they crossed over the Jordan, it would be because they were faithful to God’s word and instructions.
Finally, the Lord tells Joshua in verse 9, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Not only had God given the Israelites the land, but He also promised that He would be with them as they crossed over.
Although Joshua was a great leader, and the mantle of Moses was upon his shoulders, Joshua was just a man. God gave Israel something that was more valuable than a great leader. God gave Himself to Israel. His instruction to Israel was “be strong and courageous” because I gave this land to you, I have instructed you, and I will always be with you.
When I hear the words, “be strong and courageous,” I often think of those epic films where the hero wins the battle and gets the girl, or the team who overcame incredible obstacles wins the championship. I remember watching movies like that and being inspired to be and do something incredible.
However, unlike those movies, the reality is that my faithfulness is not always epic. There are many times when I am not strong or courageous, but rather fearful and discouraged by my lack of faith and struggle with sin. Just like the Israelites, I am prone to wander. This is the reason why it is important to understand the story of Israel crossing into the Promised Land. It is about God being faithful in keeping His covenant even when the Israelites were not faithful, nor would they be faithful in the future. God is the hero in the story.
Joshua, whose name happens to mean, “Yahweh saves,” points to the Grace of God, Jesus, and the Gospel. When we are not strong and courageous, we can look to Jesus and trust that God ultimately fulfilled the new covenant through Him keeping the law perfectly (Romans 8:3–4) and applying that righteousness to us. When we are discouraged and fearful, we can hold on to that same promise that God gave the Israelites. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
The crossing into the Promised Land was not based on Joshua’s great leadership or military skills. It was because God is faithful. Take heart, we can be strong and courageous; not because of our faithfulness to God, but because of God’s faithfulness to us. Soli deo gloria.
Lee Dymond lives in Hoover, Alabama, with his wife Holly and his two daughters: Caroline and Anna. He currently serves as the Missions Pastor at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover. He formerly served as a State Missionary/Baptist Campus Minister Auburn University at Montgomery.