“Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
“Have I not commanded thee?”
This is an obvious reminder of the command that the Lord had given to His servant Joshua in the past, and now is bringing to his attention anew.
In his farewell address to Israel, Moses reminded the people of God’s promise that He would go before them and drive out the enemy to give them the land sworn to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The man of God who had led Israel for forty years through the wilderness urges the people on the basis of that sure promise to be strong and of good courage, not to fear, nor to be afraid of the enemy, for the Lord God Who accompanies them will not fail them nor forsake them. (Deut. 31:1-6)
Then Moses called Joshua, the new leader, spoke to him in the presence of the people, and urged him, even as he had urged the people, “Be strong and of good courage,” for the responsibility of leading this people into the promised land rests on Joshua’s shoulders. (verse 7)
Now Moses, the servant of the Lord, had died on mount Nebo. Until the day he bade them good-by his strength had not failed, his eyesight had not grown dim, his hearing had not been dulled. The Lord has sustained the old testament mediator in giving him patience with a murmuring and rebellious people as the meekest of men. Yet Moses’ own weakness had shone through in that fateful hour when he had struck the rock instead of speaking to it, angrily declaring that this rebellious people was not worthy of receiving water from the Lord. He had failed to be the proper representative of the Christ, the perfect Mediator Who was still to come, in Whom God sees no transgression in Israel and no iniquity in Jacob. In spite of his own weakness, the Lord made Moses strong, even of great courage these many years. He was privileged to see the promised land from afar, but was not allowed to finish the work of leading Israel into the rest.
God had prepared another for that task. For forty years Joshua had been very close to Moses. Joshua had led the army of Israel to an early victory against the Amalekites. He had been one of the twelve spies to spy out the land of Canaan, and he was one of the two who brought a favorable report. Joshua had been schooled, not in a military academy, but in the hard school of daily experience. Now the Lord speaks to him personally, commissioning him to be the Joshua (Jesus) of the old dispensation, a type of the greater Joshua Who would come to save His people from their sin and bring them into the heavenly Canaan of everlasting Rest.
The commission is expressed in a few simple words: “Go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give unto them, even unto the children of Israel.” (Joshua 1:2).
To that commission is added the encouragement: “Be strong and of good courage.” (verse 6) And again, “Only be thou strong and very courageous.” (verse 7) And then, as if to warn him of the stupendous task that rested on his shoulders: “Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage, be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed!”
Three times this call to courage is imprinted upon the soul of Israel’s leader to make a lasting impression upon him, that he be steeled with courage in the super-human task that awaited him. What applies to Joshua applied no less to all of the army, no less to all of Israel, no less to us in whatever station of life God may place us.
A grave responsibility fell upon Joshua’s shoulders. Before him lay the Jordan river swelled by spring floods, a madly raging, boiling stream of water that could not possibly be safely crossed by two million people, including women and little children, along with all their cattle and their sheep. On the other side of Jordan the enemy awaited Israel in their strongly fortified cities, prepared to fight to the last man, while Joshua’s small army consisted of nothing more than raw recruits, poorly equipped for warfare. There had been no long days of drilling and maneuvers in the wilderness. They were not equipped with battering rams to break down the massive walls of the cities, or with weapons to oppose a large army. An impossible task awaited Joshua, and he knew it.
What made Joshua’s responsibility so great was the fact that Israel was no ordinary nation striking out to gain land and power by conquest. They were God’s chosen people, separated from all the nations of the earth to .be a .peculiar people unto the Lord. Israel had been promised this land already centuries before. They were the heirs of the world and of the kingdom to come. In them the Lord had arisen, that by His might He might put all His enemies to flight in fear and consternation. On the one hand, this would seem to make the entire venture very easy; they need but rely on their God to give them the land. On the other hand, this was a faith venture. Israel had to take the land by faith, entering, marching, fighting, conquering in the Name of the Lord and by the power of His might. Not human strength or mighty hosts, not charging steeds or warlike boasts could save from overthrow. They lacked all of that. They were called to go forth in faith, trusting in the Captain of their salvation Who had appeared to Joshua and given him his battle instructions, as it is recorded in Hebrews 11:30, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”
“Be of good courage.” Natural courage under these circumstances could never serve their purpose. There are persons who have so much confidence in themselves that they can face dangers and difficulties without fear or trepidation. They are heroes in the eyes of others because of their sheer recklessness. They boldly throw all caution to the wind, to take a chance. If they succeed they find themselves in the hall of fame; if they fail they are branded as fools. These heroes seek the vain honor and praise of men. Spiritual courage is rooted in faith, faith in God. Faith gives the soldier the assurance that he is fighting the battle of the Lord, Who gives him the victory. He is not afraid of the enemy, for the One Who is with him is more than all his foes. He is not a turncoat in the face of battle; he stands firm, immovable in the confidence that the victory is the Lord’s. He is well equipped, for his uniform bears the insignia of Jesus Christ, given to him at baptism and engraven in his heart. His shield of faith is capable of quenching all the fiery darts of the wicked. His sword of the Spirit is the powerful, sharp Word of the living God, which no power of hell can resist. Faith supplies him with endurance. As a good soldier of Jesus Christ he never grows weary, never complains that too much is demanded of him. Christ’s soldier is willing to bear reproach, to deny himself, to lay down his life for the cause of his God, fighting in the strength and endurance of the Lord.
This already precludes that a courageous soldier must be strong. The admonition is most proper, “Be strong,” for only then canst thou be of good courage. But again, the soldier of the cross must not rely on the arm of flesh. He must not seek himself or the praise of men. He must heed the call of Scripture to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Not by human strength, human reasonings, human philosophies is the victory ever attained, but always only by the Spirit of the Lord working mightily within us, that no flesh may ever glory before the Lord. This means, first of all, that the true soldier must love his God above all, surrendering himself completely to God’s cause in an evil world. He is fighting God’s enemies, which have become his enemies. Saul lacked that love of God. Therefore he was afraid. When Goliath blasphemed the God of Israel and challenged Israel to fight a duel with him, Saul, who should have gone out to silence that blasphemy, sat cowering with weak knees and chattering teeth in his tent. It took a David, filled with the Spirit and love of God, to strike down the giant. Secondly, the true warrior of God must love God’s people. Under-shepherds of Jesus Christ, whether ministers, elders, or deacons, or school teachers, fathers, or mothers, must be concerned about the flock. They must count it a privilege to be a part of that flock which Christ gathers and leads to the sheepfold of glory. Much more must every one consider it a privilege to show concern for the sheep, to seek their welfare, help to feed them, having patience with the stubborn sheep, showing forgiving mercies to the wandering sheep that returns, bearing the lambs in his bosom, in Christ’s name. Thirdly, the true soldier must pray. Faith, love, consecration to the task are not natural gifts. They must be given to us from God. In the deep consciousness that without Him we can do nothing, and, on the other hand, that we are able to do all things in Christ Who strengthens us, our hearts and faces are lifted heavenward for daily succor. Our eyes are fixed upon the everlasting hills, from whence cometh our help.
Still there will be times of deep trouble and distress. God does not give His people the victory without their tasting the bitter anguish of the battlefield. God does not make us strong and courageous except in the hard school of bitter experience. We have our Jordans to cross, where the waters threaten to overwhelm us. We are confronted with formidable walls bf Satan’s powerful opposition. We meet our Ais, because of our sins. We too often listen to the deceitful lies of our tempters. Like Joshua we know what it means to be plunged from the heights of triumph into the depths of despair. We need the encouragement of the Word of God: Be not afraid! Do not become discouraged because of the strength of the enemy and your own weakness. Do not give up when the opposition seems too strong for you. Trust in the Lord with all your might. Rely on Him. Cast all your burdens upon His mighty shoulders, and He will see you through.
Is this true, or do we only say that? Is God’s Word (rue, or are we following cunningly devised fables? Our faith must answer these questions every day anew.
There is one more requisite for fighting the battles of the Lord. Joshua has been told by the Lord, that he must observe to do all that Moses had commanded him, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left. The Book of the Law, the Holy Scriptures must be in the opening of his mouth, must be his meditation day and night. (verses 7, 8). A soldier must carry his marching orders in his hand. He must have his maps and directives clearly before his mind. He must carry out the orders of his general, no matter whether they aie pleasant or unpleasant, no matter whether they seem proper or all wrong to him. For us that means that the Word of God is our infallible Guide Book, the absolute authority over all our lives. It is the Lamp before our feet, the Light upon our pathway, the Rock upon which we stand, the Armor that protects us, the Weapon wherewith we fight. There is power, divine power, in that simple Word: “So saith the Lord!”
We do this only when we have God’s promise in our hearts: “For the Lord thy God (Jehovah, thy Almighty) is with thee whithersoever thou goest. We are the Lord’s, for He claims us as His own. We dare not venture out without Him. Alone we are afraid. Without Him we soon become dismayed. But prayerfully looking to Him we are strong, even filled with a courage that amazes ourselves. The battle we fight is the Lord’s. The victory is the Lord’s, for Christ has already fought the battle and attained the victory for us. The scars, the ruins, the devastation, the horrors, of death that accompany any warfare belong completely to the enemy. We come forth unscathed, unharmed, stronger, more confident, more blessed than ever. More than conquerors are we in our Lord Jesus Christ Who gives us the victory unto the everlasting praise and glory of God’s Name.