The action might be ours, but the strength is not. It comes from the one able to fully command it and us: Jesus as Joshua, the one who leads his people, and resources them beyond their ability to the fulfillment of great things. It is precisely in our weakness that he is strong and courageous, able to bring us into promised “new lands”.
These are trying times. Whether it is wars and rumours of wars, or global pandemics and questionable government responses, or floods, or droughts, or terrorism, or much more personal matters such as family breakups, or battles with cancer, these are very difficult days indeed.
During these tough times the strength of men may easily fail. Fear and uncertainty may be our main responses instead of strength and courage. Yet for one Old Testament character – Joshua – there was a pressing need to demonstrate exactly those latter traits.
The days of Moses were nearing their end. His was a remarkable journey. A Hebrew raised in the courts of Pharaoh, only to flee for some decades, and then return and confront Pharaoh about letting God’s people go. The mighty exodus took place under his leadership, and forty years wandering in the wilderness occurred as well.
Now it was time for Moses to meet his Maker. Joshua his successor now had to lead this large group of rebellious and disobedient people into the Promised Land. What a massive task. What a frightening challenge. Joshua would need all the strength and courage he could get.
No wonder then that seven times in two chapters we read this: “be strong and courageous”. We find this command three times in Deuteronomy 31 (verses 6, 7, 23), and four times in Joshua 1 (verses 6, 7, 9, 18). In the first instance Moses spoke these words to the people. The second time Moses spoke them to Joshua. The next four times the Lord spoke them to Joshua. And the last time it was the people urging Joshua on with this phrase.
A big job with big responsibilities requires a lot of strength and courage. So seven times Joshua and/or the people were given these words. The application for us today should be obvious. We may not be commissioned to go in and possess Canaan. But we all are often given important tasks from the Lord, or are facing major enemies or crises. We too need strength and courage.
The question is, how do we get this? Do we just muster this up ourselves? Or is it a divine gift? Or a combination of each? Let me draw upon some helpful commentators here to help answer these questions. And they all emphasise the main points found in these two chapters: the divine presence is our source of strength, but our obedience to his word is the key to our success. Both are needed.
Concerning Yahweh’s presence, we find in Joshua 1:5 these words: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you”. Indeed, when God first commissioned Moses for his immense task, he had used the exact same words: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).
As Dale Ralph Davis puts it:
It is because of this assurance that Yahweh can exhort Joshua to ‘be strong and bold’ (vv. 6, 7, 9).