July 26, 2015

Lessons from the Life of Joshua: Be Strong and Courageous

[source: Revive Our Hearts]

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If we were writing the script for our lives, we would not assign to ourselves the tasks that God assigns us. We would play it safe. We would do something we think we could manage.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, April 22. Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling overwhelmed by fear of the unknown, fear of your to do list, fear that you won’t be the mom you want to be?

We’re about to continue studying the life of a biblical character whose task list seemed impossible to tackle. I think this story will make you feel less overwhelmed. So let’s begin Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 8): Before We Conquer.

Nancy: One of the important things to look for when you’re studying the Scripture is repeated words or phrases. When God says something one time, it’s important. When God says something twice in close context, like “Verily, verily, I say to you,”—God repeats something—that makes it emphasized. It means you better really listen to what He’s saying.

If He says it three times, then that’s really triple emphasis. We’re going to see one of those passages where God says something multiple times and we need to pay close attention to what He’s saying.

Now let me give you the context here. In Joshua chapter 1, we’ve seen that Moses has died and God has spoken to Joshua and has said, “You are the next leader of the Children of Israel.” Joshua had been Moses’ assistant for 40 years as the Children of Israel had been traveling in the wilderness and God says, “Now it’s your turn to be in charge. You’re the leader and you’re going to lead my people over the Jordan River”—no small challenge for starters. We’re talking one to two million people he’s leading here. This is a good-sized city. And God says, “You’re going to lead them into the land that I promised to give them.”

Now at this point, Joshua is about 90 years old. So no small challenge, not only to get across the Jordan, but for him at this season of life to take up this huge responsibility. And you have to think that Joshua in his humanness must have wondered, “Am I up to this challenge? Is there any way I can take and fulfill this assignment?”

By the way, for some of you who are older, let me just say God is never finished with you and He’s got a job for you and a responsibility and an assignment for you here on this earth until He takes you to heaven. I hope one of the things that will encourage you from the life of Joshua is thinking that you are here to fulfill what God has called you to do no matter how old you are. God will give you the strength to do whatever He has called you to do.

Now as we pick up in Joshua 1 verse 6, I want you to listen for a phrase and for certain words that are repeated multiple times. You won’t be able to miss them.

Joshua 1 verses 6 and 7:
Be strong and courageous [God says to Joshua], for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.”
Then look at verse 9.
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.
What were the words that were repeated? “Be strong and courageous.” Now the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that is translated “courage” is often tied to the concept of strength. If someone faces a challenge and loses courage, he’s going to feel weak. He’s going to feel inadequate. He’s going to feel, “I can’t handle this.” But if a person has courage, he’s going to be strengthened by that courage and he’s going to tackle whatever is before him with confidence and strength.

As I’m reading this passage, I’m asking myself why did God repeatedly tell Joshua to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid? And by the way, this wasn’t the first time these instructions had come to Joshua. If you go back into the book of Deuteronomy, God had already told Joshua previously through His servant Moses, “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”

Why did God feel it was necessary for Joshua to hear this message over and over again? Well, God knew what lay ahead for Joshua and for the Children of Israel. God knew that the task to which He had called Joshua was bigger than He could handle. God knew the task was not humanly possible. And God knew that there were many tough battles ahead. There were fierce enemies that were going to have to be overcome in the Promised Land, and apparently God also knew that Joshua would be prone to be easily discouraged, to become fearful in the face of those challenges.

So God says over and over again to His servant, “Don’t be afraid. Be strong. Be courageous.” God was speaking to the inherent human weakness in Joshua and saying, “I want to infuse you with strength, the strength of My Spirit, the strength of My presence, the strength of My promises, the strength of My Word. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be frightened. Don’t be dismayed.”

Now you also have to wonder not only why did God say this over and over again to Joshua, but why did God take the time and make the effort to record this whole speech in the Bible? Why not be more succinct? I’m an editor by background and training and trade and I have been taught you have to be succinct. You don’t necessarily need to repeat things over and over again. The passage we’ve just read we would call redundant.

So why did God in His sovereignty as He inspired the Scripture inspire the repetition of these phrases? Well, I’m convinced it’s because God knows us and God knows what lies ahead for each of us. He knows that we are prone to be fearful and to become discouraged when we’re faced with major challenges or major assignments that are beyond our human ability.

So Joshua is commanded to be strong and courageous. Courage doesn’t mean you don’t run into fearful circumstances. It means you do run into fearful circumstances and you do it with confidence and without fear. You do it with resolution. It’s a quality that God gives to us as we trust in Him, but it’s not an option for the servant of the Lord. God didn’t say to Joshua, “I hope you will be strong and courageous. I hope you won’t be frightened.” God says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.”

This suggests to me that to be strong and courageous in the midst of challenges is an expression of faith. It’s an exercise of the will. It’s a choice we can make to run head-on into the situation by God’s grace. God says, “You are to be strong and of good courage. You are not to be frightened or dismayed.” That word “dismayed” means to be afraid, to be confounded, to be alarmed.

How many of you right now in your lives are facing situations—one or more situations—where your natural response could be to be frightened or dismayed? Let me see your hands. Okay, most in this room. Let me say if you didn’t raise your hand just now, probably your hand will be up before too many more days pass because life being what it is, you’re usually coming out of a storm or in a storm or heading into a storm.

So we need these words. God gave this instruction not just to Joshua but for our instruction, for our exhortation. “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be frightened or dismayed.”

Now Joshua got his direction from God. Joshua didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’d like to go across the Jordan River with these one to two million people. I think we’d like to take over Canaan, the Promised Land. I think we’d like to go tackle Jericho.” This was not Joshua’s idea.

If we were writing the script for our lives, we would not assign to ourselves the tasks that God assigns us. We would play it safe. We would do something we think we could manage. Some of you have a lot of children and if you were writing the script for your life, you would probably have determined how many children you think you could manage and then that’s how many children or how few you would have had.

But God knows what you can manage and God wants you to live in the realm of faith, so whether it’s children or marriage or work or church or relationships, God takes us past what we think we can handle, past what we can handle apart from Him, and He says, “Now go in and be strong and courageous.”

When we’re doing what God has assigned to us, we can be strong and of good courage. But we need to make sure what we’re doing is what God has assigned us to do.

Then God’s direction for Joshua was accompanied by some great and precious promises. God said in verse 3, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you.” That’s a promise.

Verse 5:
No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. [That’s a promise.] Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. [That’s a promise.] I will not leave you or forsake you. [That’s a promise.]
I think that was the most reassuring promise God could possibly have given to Joshua and the same promise God gives us. He doesn’t just tell us what to do. He says, “I’ll go with you. I will be there. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

“Go therefore make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said to the disciples as He was leaving this earth. “And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He never sends us to do anything that He does not go with us.

Now as you study the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, which kind of blend together in this story, you’ll see that one of the things that helped protect Joshua and Moses from fear was the fear of the Lord. We see in the Scripture that the proper fear of the Lord displaces our natural human fears of what God may ask us to do.

Fifteen times in the book of Deuteronomy, twice in the book of Joshua, we’re told to fear the Lord. I think that’s one of the keys to being free from other fears.

Now Joshua needed to learn, as do we, that we are to be strong and courageous, not in our own strength or ability, but in God’s strength. Ephesians chapter 6, verse 10, tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

If I have a mantra for my Christian life (pardon the use of that word), it’s this little phrase that comes to me over and over and over again from the little song, Jesus Loves Me. It’s that phrase: “We are weak but He is strong.” We are weak but He is strong. Many, many days I awake with that phrase on my heart. I am weak but He is strong. It’s His strength.

The Scripture says in Psalm 18, “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (verse 29). “It is God who arms me with strength” (verse 32). “I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed” (verse 37). “For You have armed me with strength for the battle” (verse 39, NKJV).

Remind yourself of that when you feel like the battle that you are in is more than you can face, when you’re tempted to be discouraged, disspirited or fearful. “You have armed me, O Lord, with strength for the battle. It’s Your strength."

Think of that wonderful passage in Isaiah chapter 40.
The LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. . . . He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. . . . Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength . . . they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (verses 28-31, NASB).
It’s an incredible exchange God offers to us. We give Him our weakness. He gives us His strength. As long as we are in this flesh and in this world, we will face powerful enemies. The world, our flesh, the devil—they’re always opposing us. Even as Joshua was going to go into Canaan and face these Canaanites and Hittites and Perazites [that’s not parasites—that’s Perazites], but all these people who were opposed to God.

We face powerful enemies and we have no chance of resisting them successfully, much less overcoming them, as God has called us to do, if we are dependent on our own strength. We can’t do it. But when we go forth into battle—it may be a battle against that besetting sin, that temptation you face. It may be a battle for your marriage. It may be a battle for the soul of one of your children or your grandchildren. It may be a battle against the encroaching worldliness of this world system. When we go into battle armed in His strength, we cannot lose. The enemy, no matter how fierce, is no match for Christ.

I love that hymn that Charles Wesley wrote hundreds of years ago.

Soldiers of Christ arise and put your armor on.
Strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son. Strong in the Lord of Hosts and in His mighty power.
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.

You want to be a conqueror? Realize you don’t have the strength to conquer. Come to Jesus and say, “I am weak but You are strong. I trust today, Lord Jesus, in Your strength and Yours alone.”

As I was studying for this session, I came across a quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon that relates I think beautifully to this passage in the book of Joshua. He says,
Be not disspirited [disspirited, discouraged, disheartened] as though your spiritual enemies could never be destroyed. You are able to overcome them. Not in your own strength. The weakest of those enemies would be too much for you in your own strength. But you can and shall overcome them through the blood of the Lamb.”

Do not ask how shall I dispossess them for they are greater and mightier than I? But go to the Strong for strength. Wait humbly upon God and the mighty God of Jacob will surely come to the rescue and you shall sing of the victory through His grace.
Isn’t that a great word of encouragement? Go to the Strong for strength and God will surely come to your rescue.

I shared earlier in this series how my study of the life of Joshua was prompted by a time of great weakness and discouragement in my own life as we were heading into a new phase of the ministry. We were moving from a quarter-hour format on the radio program to a half-hour daily format and I was feeling very disspirited. I’ve shared some of that earlier with you.

During that period of time when I was wallowing in discouragement and fear, I got an email from a man who’s in the Christian radio industry. He works with one of our partner stations. This man has got a pastor’s heart. He’s an encourager. We had not talked about what I was going through, but somehow God put it into his heart to know that this might be a difficult time for Nancy.

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