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Stuart Chase - 25 February 2024

Courageous (Joshua 1:6–9)

When it comes to historical books like Joshua (and also to many of the prophetic books), there are at least three audiences to consider. As we consider these three audiences in Joshua 1:6–9, we find the exhortation to be strong and courageous three times. When this exhortation is considered in light of three audiences, the repetition helps us to see how we can embrace the principles of the text for us today. We find three principles at play: 1. Strong and Courageous to Believe God’s Promises (v. 6) 2. Strong and Courageous to Obey God’s Precepts (vv. 7–8) 3. Strong and Courageous to Enjoy God’s Presence (v. 9)

Scripture References: Joshua 1:6-9

From Series: "Rightly Handling the Word of Truth"

A series examining some of the most misapplied verses of Scripture.

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Confucius once said, “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.”‌ He may have been overstating the case a little, but his point is taken: Words have meaning and cannot simply be redefined to what we want them to mean.

We must be intentional in the language that we use and the meaning we apply to words. Of all the words that have been redefined into virtual meaningless in our time, “courage” is prominent. Some of the “courage” awards that are handed out these days would be a cause for embarrassment to people of preceding generations.

‌The text before us has to do with courage and, as we will see, courage, in this context, carries a very intentional definition.

‌We have spent several studies in a series titled “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.” The goal of this series has been to take the most popular Bible verses in Africa, according to YouVersion, and consider each in its proper context. In this study, we come to another of those verses: Joshua 1:9.

‌Like many popular Bible verses, this one has often been twisted out of context and turned into a personal promise devoid of any faithful interpretation. Take, for example, this application of the text, lifted from a website: “Whatever situation you may face, be assured that if you are courageous, strong, and faithful, God will be with you to make you victorious.” Is that accurate? Is the promise of this text that God guarantees us victory if we will only pluck up enough courage? Does it all rest with us? I think not.

To be sure, there is wonderful encouragement for us in this text, but only as we consider it in its proper context before we apply it to our situation today.

What does it mean to “be strong and courageous” in our walk with the Lord? Are there promises we can faithfully cling to from these words? Or were these words intended only for an Israelite military commander centuries ago?

One of the cardinal principles of Bible study, as we have considered time and again in this series, is that, while all Scripture was not written to us, it was all written for us.‌

So, bearing in mind that this text was not written to us, let’s consider it in context to determine what it meant to its original audience so that we can determine what it means for us today.

When it comes to historical books like Joshua (and also to many of the prophetic books), there are at least three audiences to consider.

First, we consider the immediate audience in the text: in this case, Joshua himself, as the one to whom the Lord originally spoke these words.

Second, we consider the original readers of the book, who received it long after Joshua had died. We don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Joshua, but it appears to record some events that took place after Joshua’s death, which leads us to conclude it was a later composition, likely written to a later generation in the Promise Land to exhort them to remain faithful if they wanted to stay in the Land.

Third, we consider the reader of Joshua today, who seeks to learn from it.

In vv. 6–9, we find the exhortation to “be strong and courageous” three times. In this study, we will consider this threefold exhortation to each of the three aforementioned audiences. This threefold repetition will help us, I believe, to properly understand God’s promise to Joshua and, I trust, how the same promise applies to us today, albeit in different circumstances.

The Courageous Context

As always, to faithfully interpret Scripture, we must begin by establishing its historical context. Joshua had been appointed to fill the enormous shoes left by Moses as he led God’s people into the Promised Land. There were no two ways about it: God’s people were being called to war. The conquest of the Promised Land would be achieved only by military means.

This was a daunting thought for Joshua, who was being called to lead a people that had not been trained in military warfare. The temptation to fear and discouragement was certain to arise—both in Joshua’s own heart as well as in the hearts of those he was called to lead. God therefore graciously appeared to Joshua, reminding him of his promises and his presence and, therefore, urging him to courageous strength.

If we will accurately apply this exhortation to courage to ourselves, it will help us to first derive a definition of courage, as it is used in this context. As we do so, we find that courage, in this context, involves at least two things, and results in a third.

The Courageous Content

Courage, as I have said—at least as it is presented in this text—involves two things and leads to a third. We see these three elements in the threefold repetition of “be strong and courageous.”

Courage Believes God’s Promises

‌First, we see that courage believes God’s promises. “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (v. 6).

From the time of Abraham, God had repeatedly promised his people that he would give them the Promised Land of Canaan. Initially, Moses had been chosen to lead the people out of Egypt and into Canaan, but he had forfeited that privilege through his own sin. The fearful responsibility had now fallen to Joshua.

In the face of fear and discouragement, God appeared to Joshua to encourage him that the conquest was not a presumptuous hope. On the contrary, the conquest was God’s promise to his people. Joshua could be strong and courageous because he was being called to carry out what God had promised. He was not being called to drum up courage in the hopes that God would bless him. He was being called to do what God had promised to do. His courage was rooted in divine promise, not unfounded optimism.

A later generation, to whom this book was originally written, needed to be reminded that the land was theirs by promise.The generation that first received this book was already in the land, but there were looming threats of exile from the land.They needed to know that their fate—exile or inheritance—was rooted in God’s promise. If they responded to God’s promise with courageous obedience, he would keep them in the land. If they forsook God’s promise through idolatrous disobedience, they would forfeit the land promises. They could hold to the promise that the land was theirs by covenant—or they could just as easily forfeit the land through covenant disobedience.

God’s people (unlike Joshua) have no basis to claim a promise of military conquest today, but there are many promises that God has given to his people that give us grounds for courage.

Part of the struggle—and part of the reason we are in this series—is because so many people misinterpret Scripture as promising things it does not. But when we have responsibly and accurately interpreted Scripture, we can confidently claim the promises God gives to us.

Let’s think about some of the promises God has given to his people today.

We can confidently claim the promise of gracious forgiveness. God has promised that everyone who repents of his sins, casting himself on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, will receive what he asks. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

We can claim God’s promise of growing holiness. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). If you desperately desire to overcome the sin that so regularly trips you up, be courageous to believe that God wants that too. He wants you to overcome your anger, bitterness, lust, unforgiveness, greed, gluttony, and covetousness as much as you want to be done with those sins.

We can claim God’s promise of gracious provision. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). There is context to this promise, of course. In context, Paul is writing to those who had sacrificed financially for the cause of missions, thereby creating need in their lives. They were so concerned about the spread of the gospel that they had created need in their own lives by sacrificing to give financially to Paul. God promised to meet the needs of these sacrificing saints, a promise that remains for us today. Courage believes that, if you sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, God will honour your sacrifice by meeting your needs.

We can claim God’s promise of gospel advance. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20). “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). God intends and promises to save every one of his chosen ones. Do you want to see the gospel advance? Believe God’s promise that he will do exactly that—despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to it.

Believer, as you rightly divide the word of truth and accurately determine God’s promises to his church today, be strong and courageous to believe them.

Courage Obeys God’s Precepts

Second, we learn here that courage obeys God’s precepts:

Only 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. This 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.

Joshua 1:7–8

If Joshua courageously believed God’s promises, he would courageously obey God’s precepts. Belief would be manifested by obedience: “Be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.” God had promised Joshua and his people the Promised Land, but they needed to act on that Promise to carry out the commands that he gave.

The Lord reiterated this principle in v. 8: It was as he acted in accordance to what was “written” that he would be “prosperous” and “have good success.” The success that God promised Joshua rested on his belief in God’s promises and obedience to God’s precepts.

A later generation needed to manifest their belief in God’s promises by obedience to his covenant stipulations. The generation that originally received this book was in danger of forfeiting the Promised Land through covenant faithlessness. They needed to be reminded that the land had only become theirs through the strong, courageous belief and obedience of the Joshua generation. It would only stay theirs by the same courageous strength. If they would not courageously stand firm in their covenant obligations, they would face the consequence of losing their place in the Promised Land.

‌The principle remains for us today. When we have rightly divided the word of truth and understood the promises that God makes to use today, we can act on those promises by fulfilling the obligations that they imply. Let’s examine this by considering the promises we highlighted in the previous section.

If you believe that God has promised forgiveness to those who ask it, repent of your sins and trust him to give what he has promised.

If you believe that God has promised growing holiness, cut off that offending right hand and gouge out that offending right eye as you trust him for the grace to resist temptation.

‌If you believe that God has promised to provide your needs, be faithful in sacrificing for the sake of his kingdom and trust him, as you create need, to meet your need.

If you believe that Jesus has promised gospel advance, be bold in sharing and modelling the gospel before the unbelievers with whom you come into contact.

Take him at his word and courageously do what he requires as you trust him to give what he promises.

‌Courage Enjoys God’s Presence

‌This brings us to the primary verse under consideration: “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).

Notice how God brings it back to the basic principle. Why should Joshua “be strong and courageous”? “Have I not commanded you?” He could be courageous because God had commanded him to do what he was calling him to do. As Joshua believed God’s promises and obeyed God’s precepts, he could be confident of God’s presence. He would not be marching against the Canaanites alone.

‌Moses had earlier refused to go to Canaan if God’s presence did not go with him (Exodus 33:15). Joshua did not need to fear God’s absence—so long as he believed and obeyed God’s commands.

‌The first generation readers needed to understand this same principle. They wondered if God was really with them. The enemies seemed overwhelming and they needed to find courage somewhere. The message of Joshua for them was that, if they believed and obeyed the covenant stipulations, they could be sure that God was with them in the land he had promised to them. There was no need to fear the enemy if they believed and obeyed.

‌When we believe what God has revealed and act in appropriate obedience, we have every reason to confidently believe that he is with us. Of course, God being with us does not mean that we will live a life without affliction. It does not mean that we will live a life of leaping from one victory to another. God’s presence with his people is often most strongly felt inaffliction and defeat. It is when we suffer and fear that we most tangibly experience the comfort of God’s presence.

But that comfort is contingent on believing what he has revealed and acting in appropriate obedience. One of the curses of contemporary evangelicalism is it’s teaching that Christians should expect victory in every effort. God offers us no such promise. He does offer the comfort of his presence even in our defeats if we will trust his promises and obey his precepts.

The Courageous Conclusion

‌So there, I believe, is a responsible handling of the text before us. Joshua needed to be courageous to believe and obey God’s promises to lead Israel into the land. As he did so, he could be assured of God’s presence with him.

‌The first readers of Joshua needed to be courageous to believe that God had given them the land and to be faithful in obeying the covenant precepts if they would stay in the land. As they did so, they could be assured of God’s presence with them.

‌We need to learn to be courageous to believe the promises God gives to his new covenant church today and to be obedient to the precepts that attend those promises. As we do so, we can be confident of God’s presence with us, whether in victory or defeat, blessing or burden, elation or affliction.

‌Of course, the greatest evidence of God with his people is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, God took on flesh and became a human being so he could live with and for his people. As a human being, he lived a life of believing his Father’s promises and obeying his precepts. For three unimaginably dark hours, Jesus experienced a sense of separation from his Father (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) as he took upon himself the sins of all those for whom he had come to die. Having paid the price for sin, he once again rested in his Father’s presence (“Into your hands I commit my spirit”). Because of his work on the cross, as vindicated by the resurrection from the dead, we need never fear separation from God, if we will but trust in Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.

‌Believe God. Obey God. Rest in God’s presence with you.‌