Friday, September 3, 2010

Commanded to be Strong and Courageous . . .

Our family has been looking at Joshua for Family Worship time in the mornings, and I find that in the first nine verses of Joshua 1 we have many keys to the Christian life. I know that this is a long post (probably my longest to date), but I believe it is well worth pouring a good cup of coffee and curling up with. (I would value feedback for the future—when a post needs to be longer, do you prefer it in one shot for you to break up and digest on your own, or would you rather I break it up in to multiple posts?)

After Moses' death God commissions Joshua to lead the people into the land He has promised them and their fathers. Three times in those nine verses He commands Joshua to be strong and courageous, and tells him not to be frightened or dismayed. In other words, He tells Joshua that, despite what lies ahead and its seeming insurmountable obstacles (wide rivers, huge cities, fortified people, leading a bunch of grumblers, etc.), Joshua is to not be afraid, he is not to feel hopeless, he is to be in faith, he is not to doubt, he is to rest and not be anxious, he is to have peace. How? How is this seeming impossible command fulfilled?

1) Doing God’s Work: The first key is that Joshua will be doing what God has told him to do. Joshua is not running off on his own work or mission—he is obeying God, doing God's work, surrendered to God's call—not living by his flesh or feelings or good intentions, but by surrender and obedience. When we are confident we are doing God's work, we can be confident God is doing it through us, and that means that all He is and has are at work with us, and through us.

(There is an important caveat here—Joshua was responding to God’s direct command. He would have been, in a sense, “correct” if he tried to cross the Jordan or take Jericho by his own plan or strength because he would be trying to take the land God wanted them to take, but wrong because He didn’t do it God’s way. Similarly, in Acts 16 Paul would have been fulfilling God's commission to "go in to all the world" had he gone to the regions he wanted to, but been wrong since God's Spirit was telling him a different course. Just think of the problems Abraham caused when, in good intentions, he tried to "help" God's plan by doing it his own way! Intimacy with God and time for Him to lead us and speak to us is paramount, or our best intentions will be fruitless because, apart from Him, we can do nothing. We need to make sure we are as intimate with the author of the Word as we are with the Word He wrote, or we may fall in to the trap of believing we are in His will when we are not.)

2) Promises: The second key is that there are promises from God. God can not lie. He has promised them the land. By faith the land is already theirs (later in the story the commander of the Lord's army will say that God has already given Jericho to them, days before it ever physically fell). If God has promised something then it is done in His book—it is past tense to Him. It only awaits our faith and obedience to bring the life from the promise, and, in faith, we can stand on the promises He has given us.

3) Being OK with Not Knowing “How”: A third key is that there was nothing in any of God’s command that told Joshua how He (God) would take care of all the obstacles, simply that He would. Joshua was commanded to trust and be strong and courageous without any knowledge of how the promise would come to pass. How often do we remain anxious until we see HOW (the mechanics and plan and way) something will work out, instead of being at peace before it has?

For Joshua this will be a step by step obedience. He’ll get to a river, and then God will part it. He’ll get to a city, and then God will tell him how to take it. Step by step is usually, I find, how God will take us and carry us. Rarely will we know the end, or even the path, but rather we need to trust Him moment by moment and WALK by faith. Isn't this the heart of Proverbs 3:5–6 . . . that, as we trust Him, lean on His ways and not our understanding, and acknowledge Him in all things, He WILL direct our paths? Only the walk of faith—of completely trusting that promise—can take us ahead in these times.

4) Obedience to Word (and keeping the Word at the front): God gives Joshua another key in verses 7–8 when He says: . . . 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.

There are two keys here—obedience to God’s Word in every area of our life (sanctification—being set apart for Him and His purposes), and keeping His Word at the forefront of our hearts and minds continually that we may know it and obey it.

5) God With Him: Finally—and this is the key to it all, provided the above things are met—the reason God says that Joshua can be strong and courageous is because God is with Him. He can be assured God is with him because all of the above points are fulfilled (he is doing what God asked and how God asked it, God has promised him, he is okay knowing it will be step by step, he knows and keeps God’s Word in every area of his life). That done, knowing God sent Him and God is with him is all he needs to know.

Read verses 5, 6, and 9 of Joshua 1 where God repeatedly assures Joshua that He will be with him. This is the assurance God ties in to His command to be strong and courageous and not to be frightened (unbelieving, faithless, fearful, not at peace) or dismayed (overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless).

"I will be with you." What more assuring words do we need to hear and know than that the Creator of the universe—the One who has shown us such love that He willingly died on a cross at our own hands for us—the One who has shown us such power that He rose from the dead though all the hosts of hell would have fought to keep Him down—is with us?

Are not these the same words He gave a fearful and doubting Moses in Exodus 3 when He commanded him to lead His people out of Egypt? There was no description of the plan, or how He would free millions of slaves from a powerful and harsh Pharoah. Of all the Israelites, Moses (having been raised in Pharoah's court) would have been most familiar with Pharoah's power, and that of Pharoah's magicians, and of the scope of the problem. For Moses, according to God, there was simply those two most precious and essential things that he, and we, must know—and that are, really, ALL he, and we, must know: "I have sent you, and I will be with you."

Interestingly, as in the case of Moses' knowledge of Pharoah, of all the Israelites save Caleb, Joshua (having been a spy in the land), would be most familiar with the obstacles before him and the scope of the enemy's strength. Doesn't it seem like, sometimes, God is more willing for us to see the size of the problem than He is to tell us how He will take care of it? I believe this is because it keeps us in faith and dependent, and not running on ahead in our own good intentions and ideas. The safest place in the Christian walk, and the most powerful, is the place of total faith, dependence, and surrender where we can truly say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ is living in and through me—and I live this life by faith."

Many years later, Jesus came bearing the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” He came, encased in a human body, and walked among us. But then He left and said something better was coming. He would come to dwell in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Now, not only is God with us, but He is IN us. No wonder it is the "better” covenant, and no wonder God can say to us, "Be anxious for nothing"!

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