Be Strong and Courageous

(Originally published September 17, 2016)

This week marks a new chapter in my life.  I am, once again, leading a Bible study at church.  This is the first study I will lead since we moved from Pennsylvania and I am excited to dive into the Word with this group of ladies, some of whom I have already come to know, some of whom I have not.  Nothing fuels a relationship like spending time together in Scripture.

We are beginning with the book of Joshua and will move through it into the book of Ephesians as the study progresses.  In order to address the topics raised by the study with some degree of competency I am using three commentaries to guide my own answers and fill in the holes in my knowledge of the books of Joshua and Ephesians.  They also open my eyes to what I may be missing as I read, details obscured by my own assumptions, which are legion.

The commentaries I am using are: Commentary on The Old Testament, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Volume 2 (of 10) Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, by C. F. Keil, Hendrickson Publishers, Reprinted from the English edition originally published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1866-91

Commentaries on The Book of Joshua, by John Calvin, Volume 4 (of 23) translated from the original Latin and collated with the French edition by Henry Beveridge, Esq. Reprinted 2009 by Baker Books, 500th Anniversary Edition

Joshua, An Expositional Commentary, by James Montgomery Boice Published 1989 by Baker Books

I am grateful for the wisdom of these men, who spent their lives mining the Scriptures and sharing their found treasures with us through their writings.

And now, some gleanings from our study of the first chapter of Joshua, with insight supplied by my tutors, (Keil, Delitzsch, Calvin, and Boice).   Introductory notes: “The purpose of the book is… to show how, after the death of Moses, the faithful covenant God fulfilled to the children of Israel, whom he had adopted as his people of possession through the mediation of his servant (Moses), the promise which he had made to the patriarchs…”  (C. F. Keil) I can’t help but see a parallel from this side of the cross; in that our faithful covenant God fulfilled to his Church, whom he had adopted as his people of possession through the mediation of his Son (Jesus), the promise which he made to Abraham…”

From the introduction to Calvin’s commentary I learned that this was the final book written by John Calvin, as he lay in pain, dying, in his bed.  He dictated his thoughts on Joshua to friends who recorded it.  “This work, therefore, is the dying bequest of John Calvin to the Church, a solemn ratification of the whole system of doctrine which he had so long, so earnestly, and so successfully promulgated.”  (Henry Beveridge, Esq., Dec 30, 1854)This book…

“shows how, when the intolerable impiety of the people had interrupted the course of deliverance, God, while inflicting punishment, so tempered the severity of justice as to ultimately perform what he had promised concerning the inheritance of Canaan…  This suggests the very useful reflection that, while men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails.  On the death of Moses a sad change seemed impending; … while thus in danger of dispersion, not only did the truth of God prove itself to be immortal, but it was shown in the person of Joshua as in a bright mirror, that when God takes away those whom he has adorned with special gifts, he has others in readiness to supply their place, and that though he is pleased for a time to give excellent gifts to some, his mighty power is not tied down to them….”  (John Calvin)

I read in this much encouragement to faith.  We are short-sighted and are unable to see what the Lord has planned when those we deem to be irreplaceable are removed by one means or another from the place which we believe only they can hold.  Yet God is the Mover behind history, and he will see his perfect and wise plans through to their ends, regardless of who he puts at the helm.

And, from James Montgomery Boice I learned that the book of Joshua is the first book in the Bible to bear the name of a person, named after its chief character, who was a man of great faith.  This seems fairly obvious, but it struck me nonetheless.  The first five books were all written by one man, Moses, within the lifespan of Joshua, witnessed by Joshua, and became the first and only “Bible” Joshua possessed.

Furthermore, Joshua is not a loud, boisterous, attention-grabbing hero, but a man of steadfast and obedient faith  “…his entire brilliant career was a straightforward story of simply setting down one foot after another in quiet compliance with the commands of God.”  (Phillip Keller) “Joshua is the story of a man and a story of a conquest; a bridge from the patriarchal age when the nation of Israel was called, formed, delivered, and trained to the occupation of the land; the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:7, 500 years prior.”  (J. M. Boice) Boice’s first major point in introducing the book will, I suspect, continue to resonate throughout. “God’s purposes do not change.” Finally, some compelling thoughts from the first chapter.

The book of Joshua opens with God calling Joshua, upon the death of Moses, to rise up and lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.  He had already been publicly commissioned to lead before Moses’ death, and it was now time to rise up and assume his role as leader.  In the middle of this call, God gives Joshua a bold promise: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.  Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not leave you or forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5)

There is a lot to unpack in the first two sentences of this promise, but I am especially drawn to the final bit, “I will not leave you or forsake you.”  Calvin points out that God’s purpose in these promises is to reassure Joshua that he will be able to do what he has been called to do, even though it seems to be an overwhelming task, because Joshua saw firsthand just “how” God was “with” Moses and accomplished his purposes through him.  And a fuller reassurance is given in the final clause, which the author of Hebrews borrows, for the purpose of calming all anxieties and suppressing all excessive fears.”Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

This grabbed my attention particularly in showcasing the internal hermeneutic of Scripture.  Clearly, the Lord is not addressing Joshua about money, and the author of Hebrews is not talking to future leaders of nations.  But God’s promise, while meaning one thing only—his promised presence with his people—is applicable across many situations, and is a key to relieving our fears and anxieties.  Knowing that God is near and will not forsake us is foundational to our trust in him and our confidence to face the trials through which he is calling us to persevere.  Whether it be into armed conflict or through financial distress, God is with his children.  Also note that his promises to Israel in the Old Testament are carried over into the New Testament to his Church.  (There is far more to say—a whole library’s worth, about this, but those books have been written so I will leave it at this for now…)

We next looked at Joshua’s history as recorded in Exodus and Numbers in order to gain some insight to his response to the Lord.  In Numbers 14 Joshua has been sent with 11 others to spy out the Promised Land and was one of only two who believed the Lord’s promise to conquer the Canaanites in order for the people of Israel to possess their inheritance.  God then declared that because of their grievous unbelief the people of Israel would wander for 40 years in the wilderness until the entire generation of unbelievers perished before he would allow the younger generation to enter the land.  Only Joshua and Caleb, because of their belief, would be allowed, from the older generation, to enter the Promised Land.

Boice points out that in this incident,

“Joshua learned that the majority is not always right. He learned that disbelief is fatal. He learned that the only thing that matters in the long run is trusting and obeying God.”

Pause a moment and re-read these statements.
These, my friends, are still true for us today.

We then (and this will be my final point for this post) looked at the passage from verses 6 to 9 where the Lord tells Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous,” and then commands him to be, “…careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.  Do not turn from it to the right hand or 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.” From Keil and Delitzsch upon this passage:

“Joshua was to remain firm and strong, ie: well assured, courageous, not alarmed.  He was to rely firmly on the Lord and his promise… he was to strive to attain and preserve this firmness by a careful observance of the Law… an uninterrupted study and laying to heart of the commandments of God,… to read every day in the law (Deut 17:19).  “Not to depart from thy mouth” is to be constantly in the Word.  The law is in our mouth not only when we are preaching it, but when we are reading it intelligently for ourselves or conversing about it with others.  To this is added meditation, or reflection upon it both day and night.  Not theoretical speculation as the Pharisees indulged in, but a practical study for the purpose of observing it in thought and action.”  (C. F. Keil)

In short, in order to live it, we must know it!  And this is not only a command for Kings or Generals, it is for each and every believer who follows Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”  (Colossians 3:16)This is only one of many passages in the New Testament which admonish us to be in the Word daily, for the purposes of building our own faith and encouraging our brothers and sisters in theirs.  It is my sincere desire that the time and effort spent in this study of the Bible this year will be exactly that; a means by which we sisters in the Lord encourage one another in the Word.

There is so much more that I could say, but this post is already longer than I anticipated.  Onward to Lesson 2!

Be strong and courageous!

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