At the end of last year, YouVersion highlighted the top 10 Bible verses that were shared the most. I found the list interesting and thought that it could be helpful to understand them in their original context. Today we are looking at Joshua 1:9—which according to YouVersion was the eighth-most shared verse in 2013. (It also ranked as the fourth most popular verse)
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 ESV)
The book of Joshua begins with the death of Moses. The man used by God to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity and to the promised land has now died. The Israelites have not yet possessed the land that the Lord had given them. But now Moses is dead and a new leader must emerge. That new leader is Joshua.
The first chapter of the Book of Joshua is the Lord’s charge to Israel’s new leader, Joshua. Three times in the first nine verses Joshua is commanded to “be strong and courageous”.
Such a charge is not surprising given the daunting task of leading a stiff-necked people into the promised land. They’ve just wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of disobedience. Taking leadership of such a group would be a scary proposal to say the least. As the assistant to Moses, certainly Joshua would have witnessed the toll that leading such a people had taken on Moses. Now he must take up that mantle.
The call for Joshua to be strong and courageous is grounded in the fact that the Lord will be with Joshua wherever he goes. In the same way that the Lord was with Moses so too he will be with Joshua. Joshua 1:9 caps the Lord’s charge to Joshua. He is called by the Lord to follow His every word (Joshua 1:7-8) and to do it with courage, because the Lord is with him.
We like Joshua 1:9 because we’ve had times in our lives where we feel much like Joshua would have—overwhelmed by the call of God upon our lives. In such times it is comforting for us to grab ahold of this promise that God is always with us and therefore we can be strong and courageous. But should we? Is this a promise to individuals in the 21st century or only to Joshua?
In one sense this promise is very much directed to Joshua alone. The promise that “The Lord is with you wherever you go” is certainly a reassurance that Yahweh will be with Joshua just as he has been with Moses. This specific promise is not ours—we aren’t following in the line of Moses leading the people of Israel into the promised land.
But at the same time this promise is indeed ours. And it is ours because of the accomplishment of the Greater Joshua. Christ has led us into the true promised land—the true rest of God (see Hebrews 5) and because he has done this he has secured the promise given to Joshua that the Lord would be with his people wherever they go.
Having said that I’m still not confident that we really apply Joshua 1:9 correctly. In my opinion we move to quickly to personal application before really chewing on what the Lord is saying specifically to Joshua. Because of this tendency the strength and specificity of the Lord’s words to Joshua are often lost on us.
We often apply this verse whenever we are faced with a daunting task or a tough decision. And so we give ourselves these promises and we comfort ourselves that the Lord will be with us in our new job and that we shouldn’t fear because God will give us success.
And that is where we go off the rails in applying this promise to our own lives. The promise of the presence of God for Joshua equaled success in leading the people of Israel into the promised land. Presence of God + Obedience from Joshua = Successful Mission.
We cannot apply that same formula. For instance, if you are a lawyer that is really stressed out about a case, you cannot go to Joshua 1:9 and apply that formula. You cannot rightly say, “God is with me, I’m going to obey him, he’ll give me success in this trial”.
But we can apply Joshua 1:9 and say that Christ (the Greater Joshua) has conquered all of our greatest problems in the Cross. He, and he alone, has faithfully lead us into the Promised Land. Because of this we can rest—knowing that He is ever present with us through His Spirit. And because of this we, like Joshua, can respond to difficult callings with courage instead of fear.
Joshua 1:9 is applicable for us, but be careful in how you apply it. The great and precious promise of the presence of God is fully ours. And because of this promise we too can live with courage instead of fear. As you share Joshua 1:9 do so with a great thankfulness that Christ has purchased the eternal presence of God on our behalf.