Be Strong and Courageous

  • Jeff Crotts
Bible and a notebook

The opening chapter to the book of Joshua has always captivated my attention.  The book begins with the LORD issuing Joshua a striking command, four successive times, “to be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18).  This command stands out especially in today’s culture which is in an all-out assault against manhood.  There is an androgynous cultural agenda that is out to neutralize men from “acting like men” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13) and this is for a variety of reasons.  It is not my intention of this post to unpack why our culture seeks at every turn to emasculate maleness and to feminize men, but I will say, that this in-your-face push is everywhere if you take the time to notice.  Male passivity is the DNA behind original sin when Adam ceded his position to Eve in the garden (see Gen. 3). This passivity has evolved from the acceptable caricature of weak men into the Nuevo metro-sexual. 

Instead of decrying what is going wrong with boys, teens, and men (maleness in general today), I want to take a positive approach on one way a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ should counter this societal problem.  In a word, the powerful draw to be passive and to digress toward femininity as a man is counteracted through Spirit-empowered “obedience.”  Before you accuse me of being a simpleton who ignores all the millions of variables that make someone who they are, I want to simply turn to Scripture.  There is a reason the LORD gives a repeated and straightforward command to Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” To put it simply, to “be strong and courageous” was a real choice that Joshua could make no matter his natural inclinations, personality, upbringing, social structure or status, aptitude, testosterone levels, or whatever other qualifiers might come to mind.

A good old-fashioned look into the historical context might be appropriate to fill in details for what led up to Joshua needing to hear this bold exhortation, “Be strong and courageous.”  You remember many years before this moment, the Jews, were captives, slaves under Pharoah in Egypt.  Moses had been directed by God to confront Pharoah and lead God’s chosen people to the Promised Land.  Moses did that very thing, being Yahweh’s mouthpiece and servant to guide them out and toward Canaan, the land of milk and honey.  The people of God observed miracle interventions that both cursed and crushed the Egyptians through ironic plagues that made a mockery of their idol worship!  The LORD swallowed the Egyptian armies that had cavalierly followed the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea on miracle-made dry land.  This future nation comprised of millions, followed the LORD by following his servant Moses as he was their beloved leader.  This man was the one who took them on a ten-day journey, into Kadesh-Barnea, where God’s people would have to make a choice.  Would they bravely cross the Jordan as they had crossed the Red Sea and go into the land of Canaan, or would they tuck tale and moan and groan for Egypt?  Most of us know the story.  Moses sent in twelve spies to see who they would be facing off against, in a probable turf war and whether they believed they would be up for it.  Ten spies came back, faithless, decrying hopeless defeat because there were literal people groups described as giants in the land.  They make us look like grasshoppers by comparison.  You also remember that the other two spies, namely Joshua and Caleb came back, filled with faith (not unlike future King David) saying the LORD is far bigger than facing giants. 

God’s people chose wrongly, turning away from the LORD’s opportunity and blessing and turning toward their malaise, wandering in the wilderness for the next forty years.  What happened through these years is one sad event after the next.  The Law is given, a golden calf constructed, complaints issued, fiery serpents unleashed, a tribe swallowed whole just to name a few things.  Perhaps on the surface, a lesser tragedy but which still created a deep spiritual chasm was when Moses struck the rock for water rather than speaking to the rock for water.  If you are unfamiliar with this moment, to summarize, the LORD miraculously provided water for these wilderness children to drink when there was none, by Moses striking a designated rock with his walking staff.  However, to test Moses’ faith, the LORD directed Moses to instead speak to the rock to initiate the water.  Moses was frustrated.  He was mad at Israel’s complaining.  In a moment of great weakness, not exercising faith, Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it as the LORD had instructed and in so doing, forfeited his opportunity to cross into the Promised Land.  Moses was a true believer but was now disqualified from entering into this version of heaven on earth.  He along with the first generation of wandering Jews were barred from crossing the Jordan and entering Canaan.

This is the precise moment where we pick back up with Joshua in Joshua chapter 1.  It’s been forty years, the first generation has rebelled and has been “laid low” in the wilderness.  Only two of the twelve spies from the first generation (along with everyone who had not reached the age of adulthood from the first generation) would be permitted to enter Canaan.  The second generation of God’s people has now been established and they were looking for someone to fill the leadership vacuum as Moses. Their hero has died with their parents. Who will take lead?  Who will bear this load and lead this self-prescribed God-army into hostile territory, still known to be inhabited by giants?  The LORD chose Joshua.  It is a lot to read through but with this background in mind, why not scan through eighteen verses?

Joshua 1:1–18 (ESV) 

1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant,2“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.4From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.5No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.6Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.8This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.9Have 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.”10And Joshua commanded the officers of the people,11“Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’ ”12And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said,13“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’14Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them,15until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”16And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.17Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses!18Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” 

Remember the LORD issues the command to “be strong and courageous” four times.  This is the command he will need to hang onto as he assumes the position of General and leads God’s army into war.  What does it mean to “be strong” and “be courageous?”  There are a couple of foundation stones that take this straightforward command to what could be misunderstood as mere positive thinking.  The immediate context around these commands lay these two foundation stones and they are, God’s promises and God’s Word.  I am making a functional distinction between a promise from God and God’s Word, not to say God’s promises are not God’s Word.  I realize they are, however, there is a functional distinction that empowers Joshua-like obedience. 

The LORD’s first promise made to Joshua is that the same protection given to Moses will be given to Joshua.  We might apply this today in terms of our promised eternal life and promised future resurrection, though the LORD does give us physical grace to accomplish what he has mapped out long before, for us to do while on earth.  The second promise the LORD makes is that he will always be present with Joshua.  We certainly can apply this too, knowing Jesus promised to every one of his disciples that he will never leave nor forsake them.  Jesus is with you and the Holy Spirit resides in us offering power and direction to face every day-to-day challenge.  

The other foundation stone is God’s Word and how it becomes bedrock by practical meditation.  The LORD calls Joshua to lead in strength and courage by meditating on his Word.  Practically, this means to think deeply about God’s truth, namely, your Bibles!  RC Sproul said, “It is not enough to read God’s Word, you must study God’s Word.”  Please hear me when I say, I do not mean that effective Bible study is academic study.  No!  Both for Joshua and you and I, the key to being strong and being courageous is considering, praying through, gut checking, and soul searching our hearts with the Word of God.  The Word is a mirror that tells us what we are and are not.  The Word is the voice of God’s Spirit who will tell us what to do, not do, where to go, and not go.  The Word is what takes our minds captive if we let it.  

To “be strong and courageous” makes the active choice to exercise faith in what God promises and to meditate hard on Bible verses!  One suggestion that might be beneficial to try is the practice of journaling through Scripture. This has been a great help to me of late. I try and take a single Psalm and journal through what it says and what it means for my day.  God convicts me when I utilize the discipline of journal incites, prayers, and applications from his Word.  So, the question to the men reading this post is “Will you be strong, and will you be courageous?”  The world says this is unnecessary within today’s media-driven, soft, emo-culture.  I say, “hogwash!”  Love your God, love his promises, put your armor on and “be strong and courageous.”  People are afraid out there and they need a leader.  They need you to lead as Joshua did.  They need you to lead them to Christ!