I told my sister-in-law Aline that there is so much of the Old Testament I don't understand. She said: Just ask the Lord for one thing in each chapter. Surely even the census lists of Numbers and the bad advice of Bildad in Job impart spiritual value, if you look for it.
As I happen to be in Joshua in my private devotions, let us test Aline's proposition here. If the gambit proves successful, we will come away with 24 words from the Lord, the better to know Him, obey Him, and enjoy Him.
I would be very dense indeed not to see the emphasis of chapter 1, as it is commanded four times: "Be strong and courageous" (verse 6), "Be strong and very courageous" (verse 7), "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened" (verse 9), and "Only be strong and courageous" (verse 18).
I say "commanded" as a reminder to myself that this is an order, not a sweet nothing in my ear, as I am prone to make of it. I have done this same injustice to many an imperative in Scripture. "Do not be anxious about anything," Philippians 4:6 insists, and I have received it as treacly sentimentality---and not obeyed.
Israel under Joshua is being told to do something totally beyond herself---to go in and take possession of a land of giants and fortified city states (Numbers 13). Where man lives beyond himself is where God most shines. God is best glorified in the differential between our natural ability and the size of the objective. For instance, "Love your friends" is reachable by most folks, but "Love your enemies" is out of reach for people "behaving only in a human way" (1 Corinthians 3:3).
The word rendered "be strong" is the Hebrew "chazaq." It is the same word used in 1 Samuel 30:6 where it is translated "David encouraged himself [literally made himself strong] in the Lord." How do you "make yourself strong" in a scary situation? Well, you can always "Whistle a Happy Tune," like the song says. Or you can lie to yourself. Or you can speak truth to yourself.
A missionary I know was filled with dread about a transfer to Germany and didn't know why. She then realized that it was because her father, a German, had berated her since childhood, and now she unconsciously feared 82,000 replicas of him telling her she would never amount to much. She told me she decided to preach the truth to herself about how much God values her, and it strengthened her. She said, "A lie is still a lie, even if you've been believing it for 40 years; and the truth is still the truth, even if you've been believing it for only two weeks."
Here is some truth Joshua preached to himself:
- "I have given [the land] to you" (verse 3). This is a past participle verb. That is, it's a done deal in heaven; now just bring it forth "on earth as it is in heaven."
- "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (verse 9). The thought of God being with his people should be our confidence, as it is our enemies' terror (Genesis 21:22-24; 26:28). When God goes "with" you (verse 9), it's not like your friend Harry going "with" you on a trip. Harry is just company; God is power and protection.
This is true whether the conquest is the Old Testament takeover of land or the New Testament takeover of land. Land is involved in both cases---a repossession of territory from the enemy. Just as the devil was sitting on Israel's physical inheritance, he sits on our spiritual inheritance. Warfare should be our all-consuming passion as it was our ancestors'. I don't see much difference between Joshua 1 and Matthew 28:18-20.
The convicting question is: Are we of the new age army really up for it? Do we get up in the morning bent on warfare, determined to "take captive every thought" and "put to death" every unholy desire? Or is Ephesians 6 just talk?
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.