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. —Joshua 1:9
Jesus made it very clear that trusting Him and following Him by faith and obedience is not easy. To follow Him means denying ourselves and taking up a cross (Matthew 16:24). It means being hated by the world (John 15:18-19), enduring persecutions and sufferings (Mark 10:30), and losing our lives (Matthew 16:25). In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul suggests that the life of faith is a battle and the weapon we have been given for that battle is a sword, which Paul tells us is the Word of God. Joshua 1:9 begins Set 3 of the Fighter Verses collection of Bible verses chosen especially because they are helpful in the fight of faith. Having these verses memorized is a way to keep the “sword” close at hand for use on a moment’s notice.
Memorizing helps to facilitate meditation which, as Lou Priolo says, “fastens into our hearts truths which we received but have not yet assimilated into our character.” (Teach Them Dligently: How To Use The Scriptures In Child Training study guide, p. 86.) In other words, meditation helps to sharpen our sword and our skill in using it. Joshua 1:9 is rich with meaning and worthy of much meditation. There is truth enough in this single verse for a week’s worth of meditation and certainly more than I can fit into this short amount of space. My aim is to simply prime the pump with a few thoughts that I hope will spur us on to more reflection as we memorize this verse.
First, consider the context. Forty years of wilderness wanderings are over, Moses is dead, and the time has come for Israel to cross the Jordan and take possession of their inheritance—the long—awaited Promise Land. Even though there are many battles to be fought, the Lord assures Joshua that every place the sole of his foot touches, “I have given to you, just as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:3). Victory is certain because the battle is already won.
Second, consider that twice before getting to verse 9, the Lord told Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (1:6 and 1:7). The third time, the Lord asks the rhetorical question, “Have I not commanded you?” referring to the time when Joshua was named as Moses’ successor (Deuteronomy 31:6-7). Also notice that on this third occasion, the Lord reminds Joshua of what he must not be: “Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed.” Think about this command. Could Joshua, by the sheer force of his will, be strong, courageous, and fearless? It seems like a person is either courageous or he’s not. How can God command us to be something that we are not?
The answer to this question is glorious. The Lord gives us what He commands, as St. Augustine affirmed in his famous prayer, “O Lord, command what you will and give what you command.” The foundation beneath Joshua’s strength, courage, and fearlessness is the presence of God—"for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
As I was contemplating this truth, I was reminded of a recent visit to our 2nd grade Sunday School class. The point of the lesson was “the Lord will fight for you" (see Faithful to All His Promises). To illustrate, the teacher invited four children to engage in a “tug of war.” He gave one end of the rope to three children and the other end to one small child. It was obvious to the class which side was going to win, until a grown man stood up and joined the single small child. The combined strength of three second graders was no match for the strength of the small child when the grown man was with him. So also, no enemy could match the strength of Israel when the Lord their God was with them.
In meditating on this verse, we should consider if this verse applies to those who are God’s people in Christ. As we have observed, the command with the corresponding promise was given to Joshua at a specific time in Israel’s history. What makes us think it applies to us today?
My first thought was to affirm that, in Christ, we have become God’s people (1 Peter 2:10) and therefore God’s promises to His people apply to me (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Joshua 1:9 is only one of several times God assures his people that He is with them. One of my favorite Fighter Verses is Isaiah 43:1-3, which also begins with a command not to fear and is grounded on the promise of God’s presence:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
In looking for other Old Testament passages when God instructs or commands His people to be strong, courageous, or fearless, you will often find in close proximity the promise of His presence. Similarly, when you find God promising to be with His people, it is often in the context of Him calling them to faith and courage.
The assurance of God’s presence also carries over to the New Testament and applies to all who are in Christ. The night before His death, Jesus told his disciples, in John 14:16,
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”
Even more to the point are Jesus’ last words on earth in Matthew 28:18-20,
“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Just like the heirs of the Promised Land, we who are fellow heirs with Christ have His authority and His presence with us always which is the ground for our strength, courage, and fearlessness in pursuing His kingdom.
May the Lord Almighty be with you as you begin another year of Bible memory and may the God of Jacob be your fortress both now and forever.