One of the biggest questions I’ve been wrestling with lately is this:
“What does it look like to be a fully devoted, fully obedient follower of Christ?”
What would life look like if I fully yielded to what God has set before me? What would life look like if I took God at his promises and didn’t question Him or second guess His goodness? I think the Bible tells us pretty plainly what life would look like in John 10:10, when Jesus says:
“... I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Abundant life. That’s what life would look like. How awesome is that? Yet, I’m troubled because I can’t help but ask myself the question of why life doesn’t always feel so abundant? Why do I still struggle with a lot of insecurity? Why does anxiety still creep in?
There’s definitely an aspect of these continual struggles that can be attributed to the fact that sin is real and we live in a broken world. But I think another aspect is that I’m still not fully yielded and fully obedient to what God has laid before me. I don’t always experience the peace that surpassess all understanding because I don’t always come before God in prayer, laying out my insecurities and anxieties (Phil 4:6-7). The peace (the promise) is contingent upon me bringing my requests and insecurities to God in prayer (obedience).
Now, while this personal account isn’t necessarily the same stage that is set throughout the book of Joshua, the principle remains the same. Seeing the promises of God fulfilled in our lives is often contingent upon us being obedient to what He calls us into.
Joshua 1:9 is without a doubt one of the most often quoted verses in the Bible and for good reason! It provides a strong message of encouragement that God will go before us and that He will always remain by our side. It reads:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
God provides this reminder to Joshua at a time where I imagine fear and nervousness were running high amongst the Hebrew people. They had just lost their leader of many years, Moses, and the torch was now being passed to Joshua, who was tasked with leading the people into the land that God had promised them many years ago. So, the command to “be strong and courageous” seems to be very fitting to the season the Hebrew people find themselves in.
I don’t know about you, but for me Joshua 1:9 always seemed like a one-off verse where God just spoke this profound message at the perfect timing and that was all Joshua needed to buck up and find the courage to lead his people home. But upon starting a study through the book of Joshua, I was surprised to find that throughout the course of Joshua 1, this command is repeated three times (1:6, 1:7, 1:9). And I was even more surprised to find out that the command was repeated another three times in Deuteronomy chapter 31 verses 6,7, and 23.
I don’t think God experienced a brain fart here and just forgot that He had already told the Hebrew people that they needed to be strong and courageous. He very intentionally drives the point home that for what is ahead - His people will desperately need to be strong and courageous. Not courageous enough to blindly run into battle, but courageous enough to, this time, believe that what God has said is true and His promises will be kept. Because if you’ll remember the previous time that the Israelites were on the verge of arriving in the Promised Land, they missed out on the prize because they lacked the courage to actually believe what God had said. God flat out told them that the land would be theirs! In Deuteronomy 11:24, God tells Moses:
“Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea.”
I don’t think God could have made it any clearer that the battle had already been won. All the Israelites had to do was trust the word that God had given to Moses on that day. Yet, as the twelve spies overlooked the land over those 40 days, ten of the twelve were troubled at what they saw. They saw the giants and the great fortresses, and in a moment, at the sight of these immensely large humans, they fell victim to fear and lost sight of their evermore large God, who had already promised them victory.
Fast forward roughly 40 years and we find ourselves in the latter half of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Joshua. After a 40 year period of wandering, the Israelites find themselves, yet again poised to enter the Promised Land. This time, through Jericho, yet another fortified, strong city.
Cue the commands to be strong and courageous! As Moses’ life is coming to an end, the last message that he gives to his people is that he is too old to continue to go before them so Joshua will now be leading the charge. He encourages them in Deuteronomy 31:6 to be strong and courageous because God will not fail them. One verse later, Moses repeats himself directly to Joshua and then again in verse 23 when Joshua is officially commissioned as the leader. Moses knew he missed out, he missed out on the fulfillment of God’s promises because his people were struck by fear and as their leader he was unable to lead them out of it. I think Moses really drives this point home to Joshua, to be strong and courageous, because Moses knew firsthand that the task ahead of Joshua would be difficult. He’d have to rally his troops and lead them through fear and he’d have to stand firm on the promises God had made. But I also think Moses knew what he missed out on. He missed out on seeing God’s promises unfold before his very eyes as they entered the Promised Land, and Moses didn’t want Joshua to miss this either.
As the Bible turns into Joshua 1, we quickly come across Joshua 1:3 which reads:
“Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”
I’ve often heard God called the God of second chances and this is a prime example of why God is the God of second chances. “Just as I promised to Moses.” The same promise that was given to Moses is now placed before Joshua as they prepare to take another stab at possessing the Promised Land. Moses and the Israelites along with him, failed in trusting God and taking the land. But this doesn’t negate the fact that God had already promised that He would give the Israelites this land. The promise was never revoked, but rather the disobedience of the Israelites caused the fruit of the promise to be delayed. The fruit was still ripe and the land was still flowing with milk and honey, the only question was: would the Israelites trust in the promise of God this time around?
Continuing through Joshua 1, in verses 6, 7, and 9 God continues to drive the point home that strength and courage would be needed during this conquest of the Promised Land. Not only physical strength, but spiritual strength to hold tight to all that God had commanded through the Law of Moses (v.7). Not only the courage to take on giants and large armies, but the courage to stare fear in the face and stand on the promise God had made. In verses 10-11, immediately following God’s final reminder to be strong and courageous, Joshua rallies the troops, commanding them to gather their stuff and prepare to move because God's promise remains and the battle has already been won. If you continue to read through Joshua, you’ll see how the promises of God unfolded right before the Israelites' very eyes, simply because they chose to be obedient. Simply because they chose to trust the God who has never failed and never will.
I wanted to equip you with a few takeaways that encouraged and challenged me throughout the writing of this, and the reading of Joshua 1.
- God’s promises are true. They are not void and they are not revoked. Just as the Israelites' own disobedience, under Moses, caused them to miss out on the promise of God, take some time to ask yourself what areas in your life is disobedience causing you to miss out on the promises God has made to you.
- Take God at His word now. Even though the Israelites were given a second chance at taking the Promised Land, Moses wasn’t. Before the Israelites could take the land, Moses had to die. God’s purposes ultimately won’t be thwarted and His promises will come to pass, but delaying obedience may cause us to miss out on those promises, just like Moses.
Here's what this passage of Scripture spoke to me in a single sentence: Be strong in your faith and courageous enough to take God at His word.
History has shown that when we don’t take God at His word, we miss out on the promises set before us.