Joshua 1:1-5 (NIVUK)
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand 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. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 ‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
The final verdict of God’s word on the life of Moses is unequivocal in its praise “Since then not prophet has risen in Israel like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face.” Yet because he broke faith with God publicly at Meribah- Kadesh he was not permitted to enter the land promised to Israel. That task fell instead to Joshua, Moses’ assistant. What shoes or sandals I suppose, he had to fill!
Joshua had seen at close hand the struggles of Moses, the challenges to his leadership as he guided a headstrong and often disobedient nation. Joshua would face the same and more as he led the people in the conquest of the land they were entering, and alas he would face the same struggles to keep the nation faithful to God. As he assumed leadership of the people God knew everything that troubled Joshua, perhaps his sense of unworthiness or of being out of his depth, or just not up to the job and so he received a very great assurance from God, “As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When God makes a commitment like that he means it and unlike us he is powerful to keep the promises he makes. Joshua need not have feared, yet he was human as we are, a man of the dust like us and so he was bound by all the weakness and frailty of our humanity. It shows us first that God uses frail and feeble people in his service but also that he equips them for that service. Secondly, the promise of God’s presence does not make the task easy or minimise the challenges and so we see he charges Joshua “be strong and courageous not once but twice in successive verses 6 and 7. God knew what Joshua faced and that he would need to muster all his strength and gather his courage for the challenges ahead.
Having the promise of God’s presence does not reduce the size of the challenges we face or remove them. It does not trivialise the heartache or the painful realities of daily life or the circumstances that test our faith, hence the need to gather our strength and muster courage for those challenges. If you are a Christian, be strong and courageous but remember as well that you are not struggling alone. The Apostle Paul had this to say in writing to the church in the city of Ephesus “ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes...... so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.