One of the most popular and well-known Bible verses is Joshua 1:9. Actually, its several places in Joshua 1. It is the phrase “Be strong and courageous.” This short phrase is very encouraging and easy to remember.
It is also a popular tattoo and is even marketed as a slogan for breast cancer awareness. It is exactly the kind of Bible verse that people love to take out of context, misuse, misread, and misapply. It is used a pep-rally cry to encourage people and to elicit emotional responses.
I am not going to say those kinds of things are all wrong, or all bad. Afterall there are plenty of examples of bad interpretation that carry significantly worse applications than this. Nonetheless, the verse is not meant to be a pep-rally rah-rah cheerleading verse.
It is, first and foremost, a command. It would be sin to disobey it. Read it again “Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous?” It is a command, first and foremost. It is not a cheerleader’s verse, telling us that we can do it. It is a command, telling us that we must do it, or else we are in sin and disobedience.
Joshua had a lot of room to be nervous, worried and fearful. Forty years earlier he and Caleb had come back from the land with a good report, full of courage, hope and strength in the Lord. They were met with nothing but fear and reproach. The people were so afraid they attempted to stone Joshua and Moses to death, for daring to suggest they could take the land. His courage in that instance mirrored in some ways the courage of Lot in Genesis 19. Now it is 40 years later and Moses is dead. The people are looking at Joshua and wondering if he can fill Moses’s shoes.
God appears to him then and commands him to keep moving. Of course it is encouraging and derives an emotional response, but it is much more than that. It is a command. It is God’s law for Joshua. He is put into this place for the purpose of being strong and courageous in the Lord. He is told to go to the land and to step on it. Every place he sets his foot God will give him, but he must go there and set his feet there. To do that will require courage.
If he fails to do these things he is missing out on God’s plan. He is dismissing God’s promises and God’s eternal plan for his people and for the land. In the same way, when we fail to claim our families for Jesus, and fail to discipline our children, and fail to witness to our neighbors, we are in sin. It is a sin of omission, which is easier to miss, but it is a sin nonetheless.
In the past two weeks I have spoken with two different people about bringing family members to church. Both of these people are mature believers, and both responded the same way, saying “He will never come.” They said it emphatically, as though it were part of their identity. They had taken in the lie and now they believe it as though it is part of their person.
Where is the room for courage and strength when you have already admitted defeat? How could Joshua set his foot all over the land if he did not believe God would provide it? God does not tell us to win the fight, but he does command us to fight the fight and leave the winning to him.
Be strong and courageous is a command, not a self-help phrase. Go and do it!