Those were the words God repeatedly set before Joshua, the successor to Moses who had died having led the Israelites out of Egypt and through a 40-year maize of a wandering wilderness journey. At the age of 120 Moses, who had received the 10 commandments from God’s hand on Mt. Sinai, Moses, the larger-than-life legend, was, simply put, dead. Who could, who would follow this giant of the faith and faithfulness but his right-hand man, his understudy, God’s choice for the commission, Joshua.
It would be a herculean task. Taking the nation of young men and women with their children, in to possess walled cities, fortified city-states that would, as Jericho, appear impregnable. Who would dare take upon himself the assignment? Only the person picked and prepared for the task by the Lord Himself, the great God who lived before Moses lived and who would live after Moses died, the Lord Jehovah.
Joshua is called as recorded in Joshua 1:1: “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua….” What God said was that Joshua was to arise, go over Jordan with all God’s people, unto the Land, the promised land, flowing with milk and honey, to possess “Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, that I have given unto you, as I said unto Moses.” (Joshua 1:3)
That call was accompanied by God’s commitment as recorded in verse 5: “…I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Two people are a majority anywhere, and on any occasion, if God is one of the two persons. It would be foreboding, but not outside of the realm of faith. “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Consensus asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ Courage asks the question, ‘Is it right?’“ (Rod Rogers) And if it is right the safety issue will not top the list of determinates. Nor will the issue of what does everyone else think? God assured Joshua that the commission would be a success because “I will be with thee.” God’s commitment with His call is sufficient to move the man of God.
Doubtless, though, it would require courage. “Only be thou strong and of a good courage…be thou strong and very courageous….” (v.6,7) That’s why those words from God must have made all the difference to this not so young (80 years of age) recipient the mantle of Moses: “…I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (v.5) Ever feel, traveling on the narrow road of which Jesus spake in His Sermon on the Mount, that it is lonely out here? Edgar Guest wrote some lines that are apropos here: “The easy roads are crowded and the level roads are jammed; the pleasant little rivers with the drifting folk are crammed; But out yonder where it’s rocky, where you get a better view, you will find the ranks are thinning and the travelers are few.” But with God by your side and His promise ringing in your ears and through your heart that “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” you will muster the courage to go on. “Where the going’s smooth and pleasant, you will always find the throng, For the many, more’s the pity, seem to like to drift along. But the steps that call for courage, and the task that’s hard to do, in the end, results in glory for the never-wavering few.” (Edgar A. Guest, The Few)
So, Joshua has God’s call, His commitment and His charge for courage. Next, God gives Joshua in the simplest of terms, the command: “Have not I 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.” (v.9)
What has God commanded you to do this year? Where has He directed you to go? Are you afraid? Does the prospect overwhelm you? Peter jumped out of the boat having seen Jesus walking on the water, then began to sink. Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army told a story of his father, General William Booth and himself. “The old General,” he said, “had a great liking for Peter, but I always thought him a rather wobbly type. On one occasion I said to my father, ‘How do you explain the circumstances of Peter’s getting out on the water and seeing Jesus, and then with all of this to convince him, suddenly losing his faith and sinking?’ Well do I remember the old General’s reply, ‘Bramwell, my boy, you would never have gotten out of the boat.’”
With God’s call and commitment and charge to be courageous, we can and must obey His command, trusting Him to take care of our natural tendency to be afraid or even dismayed.
Finally, at the end of this great chapter which tells us of the change of command and of commanders, comes a word of caution from the willing hearted people themselves: “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken to thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.” (v.18) That’s from the followers of Joshua, the children of Israel, who, having witnessed the call and commission of their new leader, with God’s guarantee of success in the doing of His will and work, join in as a great choir saying, “we will do it and if anyone rebels and refuses to follow Joshua and Joshua’s God that person will die!” The chapter closes with the choir singing and saying “Only be strong and of a good courage,” taking the lyrics from the words of God Himself. What a great day; what a great dawn for a new chapter in the fledgling nation’s history: the call, the commitment, the courage, the commandment and the caution to, in Caleb’s words, “take that mountain.”
“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth: but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Joshua 1:8