Where Courage Is Found

There were no failing words among all of the promises of God. That was good news for the people of God in Joshua’s day, and this is good news for the people of God today, whose very lives, just like theirs, depend no less upon God’s promises.

Chris Hutchison on September 12, 2021
Where Courage Is Found
September 12, 2021

Where Courage Is Found

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Passage: Joshua 1:1-9
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Today we’re starting a new sermon series in Joshua that’s going to take us up to just after Christmas. I’ve printed outlines that you can grab off of the table in the foyer so you can follow along each week.

Why Joshua? A big reason is that a year ago we started on a deliberate plan to pay equal attention to the whole Bible in the way that we preach the word here at EBC. Our conviction here is that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful, like 2 Timothy 3:16 says, and so we don’t want to just camp out in our favourite parts of the Bible. If it’s all God’s word, and it’s all useful, we want to hear from it all.

So last year we spent some months in Matthew 1-7, part of the gospels. Then we went to Genesis 1-5, part of the Torah or first five books of the Bible. Then we spent time in the Psalms, part of the Bible known as the Writings. Then we just finished up four weeks in Jonah, part of what’s called the Latter Prophets. Today we start Joshua, the first of the historical books, also called the Former Prophets. After this we’ll move on to 2 Timothy, one of the New Testament Epistles. Then we’ll camp out in the first twelve chapters of Isaiah 1-12, which is another one of the Latter Prophets, and then we’ll finish up with the last half of Proverbs.

And so, in a two-year cycle, that’s roughly equal time in all six major sections of the Bible. And it’s our hope is to repeat that cycle, or something like that, until we’ve worked our way through the whole Bible in roughly 25-30 years. Seriously, that’s the goal.

And if all Scripture is breathed out by God, and if it’s all useful, why wouldn’t that be our goal?

So why Joshua this morning? Because it’s in the Bible, and it was breathed out by God and it’s useful.

At the same time, we trust that God is directing this process of working through His word, and as I’ve spent more time in Joshua recently I think that this book and the message of this book has some important things to say to you and I at this moment of history, and even to our church at this moment of its history. And I trust that you’ll get a sense of that as we move through this book together.

Introducing Joshua

So what is going on in the book of Joshua? Joshua is the first of the “historical books” but it’s really a continuation of the story that began in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

And you need to know how that story goes, or else jumping in to Joshua is like watching Avengers: Endgame without having seen any of the previous 21 movies. It will be exciting, but you’ll have no idea what’s going on.

So let’s briefly review. About 500 years before Joshua began, in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel incident, God chose Abraham and promised to make him a great nation, and promised him the land of Canaan. His grandson Jacob and his twelve sons lived in that land for a time before a famine forced them to relocate to Egypt. And for the next 400 years or so their descendants lived in Egypt and became a great people.

The rulers of Egypt were threatened by them and so forced them into hard slavery. And they cried out for deliverance.

And so, to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God raised up Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and to make them into a nation and to lead them back to the land He had promised Abraham He’d give them.

Because of their rebellion, they didn’t go straight from Egypt to the Promised Land. Instead God sustained them in the wilderness for forty years, like we just sang about, until the whole generation that came out of Egypt died. And that ended up including Moses. Other than Joshua and Caleb, it would be the children of the Exodus generation that took the land.

Moses led them up to right across the Jordan River from the land of promise. And that’s where the book of Joshua picks up. The time has come for the promises to be fulfilled, and this book is all about the ways that God kept His promises to Israel by giving them the land that He had promised to Abraham.

Moses’ Death

But before this happened, something major happened which explains why this book is called “Joshua” in the first place. Right on the other side of the Jordan, Moses died. Moses, the leader who came out of nowhere (it seemed) and performed mighty sights and led Israel for 40 years. Moses, who had been like a father to this nation. Moses, who had no equal in the history of the world up until this point.

Deuteronomy 34, the last words in the book right before Joshua, say “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

There was nobody like him. And then he died. And Joshua has been chosen by God to lead these hundreds of thousands of people as they enter a strange land to engage in a military campaign against well-established kingdoms in fortified cities.

Talk about big shoes to fill and a big job to fulfill. And one of the big questions in this first part of Joshua is, “How is this going to work?” One does not simply just replace a leader like Moses, especially on the cusp on such a major mission.

Joshua was familiar to the people, because of the way he has been with Moses, but he had always just been an assistant. How is he going to do, and how are the people going to respond to him, without Moses around?

Joseph Coleson wrote, “Joshua as sole leader was new, his abilities unknown and untested. How did the people, and Joshua himself, know he would be a good leader? Would God be with Joshua, as he had been with Moses? Anxiety, even fear, would be natural reactions both for Joshua and for the people at this time. Joshua may have wondered what was to come next…What was Joshua to do now?” [Joseph Coleson, “Joshua,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, ed. Philip W. Comfort, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012), 39.]

If we put ourselves in Joshua’s shoes we can just imagine the kinds of questions that might be going through his mind, and if we put ourselves in the shoes of the people we can imagine all of the questions going through their minds.

And as the book of Joshua opens up, it takes these questions for granted. It assumes we’re asking these kinds of things of the story. But rather than dwell on those questions, Joshua opens up with God’s answer to those questions.

God comes to Joshua and speaks to him and tells him what he needed to know in order to get up and get moving.

And that’s what our passage is all about today. We’re going to look at four elements of this passage which unfold what God knew Joshua needed to hear right at that moment. And as we’re going to see, there’s a number of enduring principles here that have a lot to say to you and I right in our moments today.

1: God Let Them Grieve Hard and Then Told Them to Move On

The first element here is that God let the people grieve hard, and then He told them to move on.

These first words in chapter 1 and 2 might strike us as harsh when we first read them: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise [get up], go over this Jordan, you and all this people” (Joshua 1:1-2).

“Moses is dead; get up and continue the mission.” That seems a little unfeeling, doesn’t it?

It does until we remember what came before. Here’s these words from the previous chapter in Deuteronomy: “And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended” (Deuteronomy 34:8).

They wept for Moses for 30 days. Can you imagine that? But then they were done. That doesn’t mean that they’d never miss Moses again. But it does mean they were ready to keep moving. They faced the reality of Moses’ death head-on. They grieved hard. And now it was time to get up and keep moving.

And from this point on, we do not see a single person moping for Moses. We do not see a single person saying “I’m just having such a hard time moving on without him.” We don’t see a single person saying “Wow, Joshua is so different from Moses. We’d better stay just here in Moab for a while because we need some time to get used to him before we actually follow him anywhere.”

And that’s certainly not what God said. “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan” (Joshua 1:2).

Moses was dead, they had grieved, and it was time to keep moving.

I think there’s some important lessons for us to learn today. In our culture, we don’t grieve and mourn very well. We tend to distract ourself from our grief rather than leaning into it. We’ve renamed funerals a “celebrations of life” and we get uncomfortable at them if someone cries too loudly. And then we wonder why so many people get so stuck in their grief and stay there for so long.

And so I want to suggest that we would do well to recover this idea of grieving hard and then keeping on moving.

And this is true even for us who know about the hope of eternal life. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve at all. Acts 8:2 says that “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.”

That would have been hope-filled grief, but it was still grief. And after they were finished grieving, they carried on with the mission.

Now what I’m saying here is not the last word on the grieving process. Parents who loose a child unexpectedly are going to have a different grieving process than a community whose leader died after a long and full life. And even there, I’m not suggesting that the people never missed Moses again.

But even if they did, it was time to get up and get moving.

And so that’s the first element in God’s instruction to Joshua here. God helped Joshua move on by giving him time to mourn and weep and grieve. But when that time was complete, God reminded Joshua that Moses was gone, and he wasn’t coming back, and it was time to get up and keep moving.

2: God Reminds Joshua who Moses Was

The second element that we see here is that God reminded Joshua who Moses was.

Moses’ name is mentioned six times in this passage. And five of those times, God specifically reminds Joshua that Moses was special because God was with him.

Verse 1: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord.” Verse 2: “Moses my servant is dead.” Same thing in verse 7 Moses was just God’s servant. He just did what God wanted him to do.

Do you see how this language shifts the focus off of Moses and on to God? God was the real leader of His people. God was the real shepherd of his flock. Now that Joshua was leading the, nothing truly important had changed. God was still in charge.

We see Moses mentioned again in verse 3: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:3). The Promised Land wasn’t something Moses was going to give to the people. It was a promise from God. And even though Moses had died, God hadn’t.

Again in verse 5: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” What made Moses special was that God was with him. And now God was going to be with Joshua, too.

God doesn’t talk about Moses without mentioning Himself. And that’s what Joshua needed. Joshua did not need to idolize Moses or be reminded of how awesome Moses was. Joshua needed to remember that whatever amazing work Moses did, it was ultimately God doing those things through Him, and God hadn’t changed. So nothing truly important had changed either.

Once again, you and I can learn a lot from this. We live in a day and age of celebrity culture. We love powerful, charismatic personalities and we love building large ministries around one strong or compelling leader.

And so often, when those leaders are gone, their ministry empire crumbles. Which sadly proves how often it had been about that person rather than the God they were supposedly pointing people to.

That’s why I loved seeing what God did here at EBC seven years ago when your pastor of 26 years died. This church did not shrivel up. It thrived. It even grew.

And I’ll never forget my first weekend up here talking to the search committee, and I said to Aimee, “These people talk about God the way that many churches talk about their pastors.” Instead of “our pastor did this” and “our pastor said that” it was all “God did this” and “God’s been doing that.”

And I know a part of that was that you didn’t have a pastor at the time, but my desire is that we never stop talking like that. Because nothing truly substantial has changed.

Like Paul said to the Corinthians, “This is now one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Pastors are just servants and stewards. This church does not belong to me. This church does not belong to you, either. This is God’s church.

The people of God belong to God and their leaders are just God’s servants. That was true for Moses and Joshua and it’s still true today. Let’s never forget this.

3) The Commands: Courage and Faithfulness

The third stop in our text this morning is to look at the specific commands that God have to Joshua. We’ve already seen the first one, in verse 2—“Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”

This was not a new command. This was the mission that God had given to them before Moses died. The book of Deuteronomy is all about Moses preparing the people to do this very thing before his time was complete.

And so God is essentially telling Joshua to continue the mission. Don’t stop, but keep going. The leader had changed, but the promises of God and the mission He had given to His people hadn't.

The second command that God have to Joshua is really well known, and it’s found down in verse 6. “Be strong and courageous.” And then it’s repeated with emphasis in verse 7: “Only be strong and very courageous.” And then again in verse 9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed.”

That’s what Joshua is going to need, isn’t he, as he assumes leadership and takes the people across the Jordan into war? He’s going to need to be strong and of good courage or boldness. He’s going to need to reject fear and cowardice and weakness and uncertainly. He’s going to need to embrace strength and boldness.

God’s words here are so meaningful. But we’ll realize just how meaningful they are if we flip back a few pages to Deuteronomy 31, where Moses is delivering some of his final words to Israel close to the end of his life.

And what does he say to the people? Deuteronomy 31:6: “‘Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.’ Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed’” (Deuteronomy 31:6–8).

And here, with Moses gone, the Lord himself comes to repeat these same words to Joshua. Be strong and courageous. Moses is gone, but I’m still here with you.

Now connected to the command to be strong and courageous is a tightly-connected command to be faithful. If we continue in verse 7, we’ll read these words: “Only be strong and very courageous, 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” (Joshua 1:7–8).

Joshua was to be strong and courageous as he was faithful to God’s word. His strength and his courage in leadership were tightly connected to his faithfulness to what God had told him to do.

In other words, Joshua was not free to lead the people in whatever way he wanted. He was not a dictator who could just say “listen to me because I said so.” His leadership depended on his faithfulness to what God had already said in the law.

His courage was tightly connected to his faithfulness God’s word.

4) Standing on the Promises

And why is that? Why was faithfulness and courage so connected? The answer is that Joshua’s faithfulness to the law was the condition for God Himself to be with Him and to bless him in all that He did.

Leviticus 26 is one of the important chapters where God promised His people that if they listened to Him and obeyed His law, He would be with them and would fight against their enemies.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them…You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Leviticus 26:3, 7–8).

And so this is why faithfulness to the law and courage went hand-in-hand. If Joshua was careful to do all that God had commanded him, and didn’t turn from the law of Moses, he would have good success wherever he would go—just like verse 7 said—because God Himself would be with him and would Himself fight against His enemies.

And this brings us to the fourth and final aspect of this passage we want to consider, which is the most important and which I’ve saved for last in purpose. And it has to do with the promises of God throughout this passage.

God’s commands to Joshua come coupled with some amazing promises. This pattern begins in verse 2 where God tells him to get up and lead the people “into the land that I am giving to them.” And then into verse 3: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:3–5a).

These are all promises that Joshua has heard before. But once again the Lord reminds Joshua of what He’s promised to do as a way to strengthen him to do what He has been commanded to do.

And this string of promises finishes up with the best promise ever at the end of verse 5: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Back in Deuteronomy 31, Moses had told Joshua that the Lord would not leave him or forsake him. That would have been so encouraging. But how much more encouraging to hear that directly from God Himself?

What challenge is Joshua going to be afraid of if he knows that God Himself is with Him and is never going to leave? We often talk about how lonely leadership is but the promise here is that Joshua is never going to be alone. Joshua is never going to be without God with Him.

And so, after making these promises, God has laid a firm foundation for the command again in verse 6: “Be strong and courageous.” Of course! Of course Joshua can be strong and courageous if God Himself is going to be with Him.

And yet another promise comes as verse 6 continues: “For you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” It’s a done deal. This will happen because God has promised it. It’s like when you check the back of the book to make sure that the good guys win. God is promising Joshua how this is going to turn out. Talk about a reason to be strong and courageous!

And then this passage finishes off with one more reminder of God’s presence with Him in 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” (Joshua 1:9).

Strength and courage come when you know that the most powerful person in the universe is with you wherever you go, and that success has already been promised to you.

This is such a rich pattern in this passage. And what we find when we zoom out a bit more is that this is a pattern that’s repeated all over the Bible. God’s commands are never far from supporting promises.

Consider these words from Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

There’s an exact quote from Joshua 1:5! The author of Hebrews has applied the promise to us, knowing that though the Holy Spirit God is truly with His people and will never leave them. And he takes that promise and applies it to contentedness.

Be content with what you have, because God is with you. You don’t need a bigger TV or a fancier house if you have Jesus as your treasure. Command and promise.

One of the clearest examples of this pattern is the Great Commission given to us by Jesus. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).

That’s a big mission. That’s an even bigger mission than the one Joshua had. It concerns the whole world, announcing to the world that Jesus is king and making disciples of Jesus.

This is the mission that our whole lives as believers, and our whole life as a church, should be built around.

But this mission is hedged in with promises. Right before giving the command Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). That’s not worded as a promise, but in the context of the command it functions very similarly to one. Jesus is telling us that wherever we go, Jesus already has 100% authority there. There is not a place we can go where Jesus does not rule supreme.

And right after giving the command, Jesus said “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 29:20b). That’s basically a different way of saying “I will never leave you or forsake you.” We don’t go alone. As we go to make disciples we’re not running errands for Jesus. He is with us as go.

And the more we believe that, the less scary and intimidating this mission will be and the more readily it will become a part of our life. Jesus has all authority, and Jesus is with me right now. How much strength and courage comes our way as we believe that?

So this is true for us today, and it was true for Joshua back then. We literally stand on the promises, like we sang earlier.

And this is what the book of Joshua is all about. It’s all about God’s promises to His people coming to pass, down to the word. As Joshua himself says near the end of the book, and the end of his life, “you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

That’s where the title for this series comes from. There were no failing words among all of the promises of God. That was good news for the people of God in Joshua’s day, and this is good news for the people of God today, whose very lives, just like theirs, depend no less upon God’s promises.

It’s my prayer that our time in Joshua this fall and winter will be used by the Holy Spirit to remind us of all of God’s promises to us, especially the promise that God is with us, and thus to make us strong and courageous as we carry out the mission He’s given us.

And that can start for you this very week. What’s ahead of you this week? What’s daunting or challenging or tempting you?

Let me encourage you to press in to the promises of God which we find in His word. And then, by faith in those promises, we can march in obedience and confidence and strength and courage into whatever Jesus has for us.

Maybe you’re here this morning and you don’t know Jesus as your saviour and your king. You need to start by believing the most basic and important promise of all: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

When we know that Jesus died for us and rose again for us and by His Holy Spirit is with us today, we can follow Jesus anywhere with strength and with courage.