Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be strong and courageous

by John D Ramsey

We should resume our Tuesday morning men's Bible study, Kingdom in Context, soon, so I decided to read Joshua through 2 Chronicles before settling into the specific passages where the word kingdom appears. I began reading in the book of Joshua this morning. When we read the first chapter of Joshua, four times we read the words, “be strong and courageous.”

God tells Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead this people . . .” God then tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous . . . obey all the law that my servant Moses gave you.” God promises Joshua success conditional upon his honoring the Law, and then God tells him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” The Septuagint translates the word for courageous as andrizou, meaning “be manly.”

After God speaks with him, Joshua gathers the leaders of the people together and tells them to get ready to conquer the land of Canaan. The men pledge their support to Joshua saying, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” They tell Joshua that they will follow him as they followed Moses. In reading this, remember that this was the faithful generation. These were not the adult generation that came out of Egypt and perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. These were the children who came out of Egypt and the children who were born in the dessert. They had indeed followed Moses. They swear allegiance to Joshua and institute the death penalty for rebellion, but then they make one request of Joshua, “Only be strong and courageous!” Perhaps Joshua was thinking, “Yes, I have heard that before.” God required Joshua to be strong and courageous, but Israel demanded it of him, too. No one wanted to follow a man who was weak and cowardly.

God equipped Joshua with everything he needed including an army willing to follow Joshua anywhere; Joshua needed to respond with commitment showing strength and courage. There were three facets of strength and courage that Joshua had to display:

  1. Strength and Courage in Leadership
  2. Strength and Courage in Obedience
  3. Strength and Courage in his Personal Life
Joshua led the people across the Jordan. When the feet of the priests carrying the ark touched the water, the river stood back and let Israel cross on dry ground. Joshua commanded the priests carrying the ark of God to step into the Jordan at flood stage. This demonstrated Joshua's strength and courage in leadership.

When Israel had crossed over, Joshua enforced the Law and required that his army be circumcised. His army's compliance is testimony to the strength of Joshua's will. Joshua showed strength and courage to enforce the Law that Moses had given him.

When Achan sinned, and Israel was routed at Ai, Joshua fell on his face before God, God responded by telling Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” In other words, be strong and courageous even before Almighty God. Joshua again had to be strong and courageous to enforce the law. Achan and his family were discovered and stoned to death. The punishment for Achan, by the way, was the punishment that men of Israel (including Achan) had demanded for rebellion. Joshua was strong and courageous to fulfill the vow. Afterward, Joshua had to lead Israel back to the place of their defeat. God told Joshua, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.” Joshua had to set aside his fear and disappointment and take up strength and courage to press on.

Moses and Joshua led Israel as a singular authority figure between the people and their God. When Aaron and Miriam tried to usurp Moses' authority, God struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses' authority and Joshua's after him was absolute. God did not rule Israel by committee. He worked through one man. The judges, too, exerted absolute authority. The kings following them exercised total authority. The prophets who judged Israel did not negotiate settlements, they demanded that Judah and Israel repent.

Today one man leads the church of Jesus Christ; we all answer directly to him. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:8-10 that we have one Teacher, one Father, and one Leader. Our Father is God in heaven. Our Teacher and Leader is Jesus Christ himself. No other man stands between a believer and his God. Although we submit to each other in love, we will answer only to Christ.

This arrangement puts us in a similar position as Joshua leading Israel — direct accountability to God. We are not conquering nations with the sword; nor are we commanding armies to obey our every word. We do not have authority over people, but we do speak with the authority of the truth. Consequently, we need to be strong and courageous. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men [be courageous], be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NASB)

Like Joshua, we know that God is with us. Like Joshua, we know that God will never leave us or forsake us. Like Joshua, we need to be bold to speak the Word of God. Like Joshua, we need to have courage to obey the voice of God. Like Joshua, we need to set aside our fear and disappointment to be strong and courageous. Like Joshua, we know that God is with us everywhere we go.

Like Joshua, God tells us, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . For I have delivered . . ."

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