“No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous … Be strong and courageous.” Joshua 1.5-7, 9.
Moses, the great man of God and leader of Israel, is dead; and now Joshua stands in his place with the awesome responsibility of completing what God began through Moses by taking Israel into Canaan to “possess the land”. Did Joshua quail at the thought? Was he filled with feelings of total inadequacy? Perhaps so; for three times in these words that the Lord speaks to him, Joshua is told to “be strong and courageous”. The trouble is that just being told to be strong doesn’t make you strong. Being told to be courageous doesn’t give you courage.
No, but being assured by the Lord himself that he is “with you” and that he will “never leave you nor forsake you” does; and that is the promise here to Joshua.
It was an assurance that Moses had given to all the people before he died. Do not worry about the inhabitants of Canaan: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31.6). And that assurance was based on God’s earlier promise to Moses: “Moses said to the LORD, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’ The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name’ (Exodus 33.12-17).
So, the Lord will always be present with his people. And it seems that, whenever his people need strength and courage, it is his abiding presence with them to which the Lord points. That is the source from which the required strength and courage is to come. Indeed it would seem that the presence of the Lord actually impartsstrength to his people whether they are aware of it or not. When, years later, in the time of the judges, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, cowering in his wine press for fear of the Midianites, the angel says “The Lord is with you”, but then he tells Gideon: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand” (Judges 6.12, 14). Gideon didn’t know he had strength, but the Lord’s presence with him had supplied it.
So it must be with me, and I need to realise that. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Matthew records: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ — which means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1.22-23). In Jesus, God was with us in the flesh. And after his death and resurrection, Jesus repeated God’s promise to Israel to all his people everywhere: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'” (Matthew 28.18-20).
Now, at this very moment, by his Spirit, God is with me, personally. So even I am strong, and I too can be courageous.