“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Before we really dig into verse 9, I want us to take a look at the verses leading up to it. I’ve found that in the past I have often quick-claimed inspiring verses like this one, but failed to acknowledge the context proceeding it. The context helps us understand who said the verse, why it was said and to whom. It adds a depth and a power that would otherwise be lost to us.
In these verses, the Lord is talking directly to Joshua. Here’s what he said…
5 “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.6 Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”
Joshua was among the twelve Israelites that went into the land of Canaan to explore and bring back a report before the entire population Israel was to enter1. Of those twelve, only he and Caleb returned full of faith that God would be with them and fulfill his promises. The other ten were so terrified by the obstacles and opposition they saw that they caused the entire nation to rebel against God.
Though God punished them and set them to wonder in the wilderness for forty years, Joshua’s faith remained firm and did not go unnoticed. At the end of their wilderness punishment, Joshua was appointed to take over and lead the people into the Promised Land.
As we consider God’s powerful promise in verse 9, we need to make note of its caveat in verse 7. It says, “Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.”
After reading these passages, I find myself thinking of two different belief systems.
The first is that God created all, including us. And including the rules. That the only way to succeed is by following his instructions. That he is the way, the truth and the life. Our hearts are always yearning for more of God and are being refined by him.
The second is that we’re smarter than God, who is out of date, old fashioned, and behind the times. We have full understanding of the world and can, and will, be just fine, if not better, on our own. God will ultimately only slow us down and hold us back from all that life has to offer. Our hearts are growing ever more hard and stubborn.
The world I live in loves this second system and is doing everything it can to eliminate consequences to bad, sinful decisions. It wants good things, prosperous things, but it doesn’t want rules on how to get it. It prefers an anything goes mentality. Satan cleared the way for this, and he paved it to make it easy. He lit it up, made it public, and made it socially acceptable. The stops along the way are irresistible, even predictable, so that we do not have to wonder, second guess or fear.
But Satan doesn’t love, he hates. And he’s cunning and will keep those who follow this path moving further and further from God and closer to eternal separation from Him.
In direct contrast the first is, at its core, submission. It’s admitting that we’re human and not deity. That we see only in part. That we can’t create our own peace or joy. That we don’t know it all. That, when we truly look at our own actions and thoughts and motivations, we’re not better than anyone else – we’re actually far worse that we thought. That we don’t actually know what’s going to happen.
It’s admitting that we’re mere sheep and we desperately need a good shepherd to provide for us, protect us, guide us, heal our broken bones, find us when we’re lost, and redirect us when we’re wandering off.
When we follow the first, when we are careful to obey God and not deviate from him, turning either to the right or to the left, this is where his promise comes into play. This is where he says “…be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is when we can go boldly, knowing that the Lord is on our side and is mighty to save, strong in battle!
God knows what’s best for us, and his way is our base case scenario. Whatever you’re facing today, submit it to God. Then go forward with courage. Be strong. Be very courageous! For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
1 Numbers 13-14