Be Strong as you Face the Future

January 1, 2012 / No. 3600

Dear radio friends,
The beginning of a new year is a time for us to reflect on the changes that the passing of time brings into our lives, and also a time to think of the unknown future. When we do this, as believers, we see how weak a creature man is, how weak we are to cope with the changes and uncertainties of life. Maybe as you look back over the last year, you see many things that happened in your life that were simply unexpected and beyond your control. Maybe as you look to the uncertain future, you have many fears and wonder to yourself, “What will come?” and “Will I have the resources to deal with it?”
Today we are going to look at some verses in Joshua 1:5-9, which were spoken by God to Joshua at a time of change and uncertainty in his life. Joshua has just been appointed as the new leader of Israel. Recently he lost his friend and mentor, Moses. He looks at the nation of Israel, which he has to lead, and he sees a people who are unpredictable, who are so easily tempted by the nations around them, quick to complain about their situation, and often rebellious not only against their leaders but also against God.
He looks at the task before him not only as a leader of these people but also as an army captain who must cross over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan and conquer it. There are walled cities, and there are armies with much more strength than his own. This is a period of testing for Joshua and for Israel. Will they have the courage of faith to go forward and to look beyond the strength of these nations and the size of their task, to God who has promised that He will be with them and that He will fight for them?
As we questioning look to the future, our task is much the same. Every Christian is involved in a spiritual battle with enemies much stronger than himself. The enemies are: sin, Satan, the world, and our own evil desires. Ephesians 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” This spiritual battle can be a real cause of concern to the believer. “Will I be able to stand against temptation? I’ve succumbed in the past, and sin has had its way with me. How can I face this enemy again?”
To Joshua and to us God comes in Joshua 1 and He says: “Be strong.” Three times in these verses God repeats this. In verse 6: “Be strong and of a good courage”; in verse 7: “Only be thou strong and very courageous”; and in verse 9: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”
To be strong is to stand up in the face of opposition. A strong wall can withstand wind and waves. To be of good courage or to be courageous is to remain strong when you are battered. To not be dismayed is to not be shattered, to not panic.
God commands Joshua to be strong. That tells us something about God’s compassion. God says this to Joshua here, not because Joshua is a coward, but to encourage him in what is before him. God understands our weakness and our fears. As Psalm 103 puts it: “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” And so God, knowing our weakness, comes and encourages us to be strong.
It reminds me of when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and faced the cross. He prayed earnestly to God, and in compassion God sent angels to minister to Him and to encourage Him. So here, at the beginning of his work, Joshua is encouraged.
But at the same time, though God is sympathetic and compassionate, He still comes with a command to Joshua: “Be strong.” And the fact that it is a command means that it is sinful to be weak, to panic, and to collapse under pressure as a believer. God repeats this command to Joshua three times, so that it rings in his ears, so that later he will remember it. We have to think of Joshua standing on the battlefield, leading Israel against resistance forces, being attacked. And God’s word is, “Then, Joshua, be strong.”
That is also His word for us as we face this world, as we look ahead to 2012 and our responsibilities and the opposition and the temptations. God’s word is: “Be strong.”
Now understand that this command to be strong actually creates the strength in God’s people. That is the power of the word of God. This is not just a recommendation. It is not like a mother leaving her child on the first day of school and the child does not want to stay and cries and so the mother says, “Now, be a big girl.” No, God’s word is powerful and life-giving. That is why in verse 9 God says, “Have not I commanded thee?” He is not saying, “Remember what I’ve commanded you,” but rather, “remember who it is that commanded you to be strong.” Joshua must remember that God gives him this strength, that God, by His Word, creates this strength in him. God’s Word is powerful. When God speaks, things happen. In Ezekiel 24:14 we read: “I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it.” By His Word, God created everything. By His Word He still upholds all things. By His Word God saves sinners. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes (Rom. 1:16). By this Word, God opens our blind eyes and He strengthens our weak hearts. That is why we need to read and hear the Word of God as Christians. If you are not hearing and reading the Word of God, you will become very weak spiritually. You will not be able to stand up against sin in this world. The secret to the believer’s strength is in the Word of God.
That comes out in verses 7 and 8, where God speaks of the law of Moses. By the law of Moses, God means not simply the law of the Ten Commandments, but the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Bible that were recently completed by Moses and now were in Joshua’s possession. Probably Joshua had the original and only copy of the inspired writings of Moses. And here, in verses 7 and 8, God tells Joshua that there are three things he must do with this law.
First, he must meditate on it day and night. He is to keep the Word of God in his mind continually so that he can understand it, so that he is ready to use it in whatever situation he faces. Joshua is going to be busy as a leader, but that is not an excuse for him to be negligent in his personal devotions. He needs to be in the Word of God himself as a spiritual leader of God’s people. There is not a situation that he will face that he will be able to handle all by himself, without the Word of God.
Second, God says to Joshua that this book of the law should not depart from his mouth. That is, it must not just be on his mind, but also in his words. This is very interesting because the task of teaching Israel did not actually belong to Joshua in his position as leader. Joshua was a military leader and a judge. It was the work of the priests to teach the people. But the point is this. As Joshua gives commands, as Joshua makes decisions, as he responds to situations, as he leads the people, he must see that this is a spiritual task, and he must let God’s Word speak through him.
And, third, God tells Joshua to obey the laws of Moses. He says in verse 7: “Observe to do according to all the law,…turn not from it to the right hand or to the left.” Now, God is saying, “Don’t be a hypocrite.” Not only must we know the Word of God and be ready to speak of it to others, but also we must obey it, we must live it. If we do not obey it, our knowledge is nothing but proud intellectualism. This command receives the emphasis here in these verses. It is first. And it is repeated both in verse 7 and in verse 8. Obedience is important. There needs to be an exactness about Joshua’s obedience. “Turn not to the right hand or to the left.” And disobedience is never acceptable. “Observe to do all that is written.”
Now I ask you: “How important is the Word of God in your life as a Christian?” Today we have more than just the books of Moses. We have the entire Scriptures. So the command to us includes all of the Word of God. Do you meditate on God’s Word day and night, so that you are thinking about God’s Word more than anything else in your life? Do you read God’s Word regularly, so that it fills your mind? Is it the lamp to your feet and the light on your path directing your living each day? Do you have God’s Word written on your heart, so that you are ready, when temptation comes, to take up the sword of the Word and to fight off the tempter, the Devil? And is the Word of God in your mouth, so that in the workplace or in the home with your children or in your interactions socially or if you are out on errands, is it evident to others from what you say that you are one who lives with the Word of God in your heart? Do you speak of God without hesitation, as the God who is the creator and the sovereign over everything? Do you speak with kindness and love that shows that you know the grace of God for you? When you speak of the future and of your goals, is it evident that you have a hope and a purpose outside of this world—that heaven is your home?
And then, do you obey the Word of God? Are God’s commandments a joy and a delight for you to live? Do you worship God alone? Do you speak respectfully of the name of God? Do you remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy? Do you honor authority? Do you respect your neighbor’s life, his marriage, your marriage, your neighbor’s name, your neighbor’s possessions? Are these important to you? Is it important to you to obey God’s Word?
This is what the child of God does with God’s Word. Today, the Bible has fallen on bad times. The inspiration of Scripture is denied. The authority of Scripture is questioned. The Scriptures are no longer viewed as infallible, inerrant, the Word of God. People are believing whatever they want and living however they please and they still call themselves Christians. And church leaders today are telling them that this is all right, that God’s Word in the Bible is not relevant anymore. And so, they say, we do not need to meditate on it. We do not need to speak of it. We do not need to obey it. And the result is that the church today is very weak.
God is saying to Joshua and to you and to me that the secret to strength for the believer is his use of and his relationship to the Word of God. If you would be strong in the year 2012, then you must meditate on the Word of God day and night. You must let your conversation be filled with the Word of God. And you must obey God’s Word. Without God’s Word you will become very weak. You will not be able to stand. You will not be able to handle the trials that come your way. You will not have the strength to stand up against temptation. God’s Word explains to us everything in our life. God is the sovereign over all these things. And God’s Word gives us the strength, by His Spirit, to resist every temptation.
We need the Word of God. Oh that Christians would go back to reading and studying and knowing God’s Word in the Bible. Oh that churches would return to biblical preaching and teaching. There is so much paraphernalia in our lives that distracts from and has replaced the Word of God. There is so much garbage in churches today that has taken the place of the pure preaching of God’s Word. And the result is that the church is not able to stand against the world anymore and instead is being swept along with the tides of immorality and pleasure-madness that this world offers.
Now, what is it in God’s Word that gives strength to His people? The answer is, the promises of God. We stand on the promises of God.
In Joshua 1 God gives many promises. He says in verse 2: “I will give you the land.” He says in verse 3: “Everywhere your foot falls will be yours.” In verse 4 He tells them the specific geographical borders of the land that they will possess. In verse 5 He tells them that no one will be able to stand before them. They will cross the Jordan and they will go on conquering till the whole land is theirs. These promises give great courage to Joshua and the people of Israel. As they look at things from their personal perspective, there are many reasons for fear and uncertainty. They are ill-prepared for warfare. There will be no path for retreat once they cross the Jordan River. They will go from a wilderness of wandering to a jungle of enemies. They have nothing to trust in themselves. The only basis they have for confidence is the promises of the Word of God. Only because God has said these things can they be confident as they go forward.
That is important for us as we look ahead. The answer to the future is never yourself. Am I going to be able to do it? Do I have the resources to take on what is before me? No. But God has made promises. I stand on the promises of the Word of God.
There is one promise here in Joshua 1 that stands out above all the others at the end of verse 9: “The Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” That was so important for Joshua. He had seen in Moses what it meant that God was with him. Moses had been strong for forty years, when the whole nation was weak. And now God says, “I’ll be with you, Joshua. Don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t tremble and fear before your great task. Don’t think of the strength of your enemies. I will be with you.”
That is a beautiful promise. And you find it over and over in the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It comes to Jacob at Bethel. It comes to Moses at the burning bush. It comes to David standing before Goliath. It comes to Solomon as he becomes king with a great task ahead of him. It comes to Hezekiah as the city of Jerusalem is surrounded by the Assyrians. In the New Testament you read this promise in Hebrews 13:6, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”; in Romans 8, in this powerful question: “If God be for us, who can be against us.” And, of course, this promise is one of the names of our Savior: Immanuel, which means God is with us. And so Jesus, as He leaves His disciples on the Mount of Olives, says, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
That is God’s promise to His people: I am with you. I’ll never leave you. By His Word and by His Spirit and in the strength of the communion of the saints, trusting in the promises of God, we go forward.
Maybe your task is like Joshua’s—facing great spiritual enemies. Maybe you are pursued by those who hate God and you as Jacob was. Maybe you have a giant sin in your way—a Goliath. Maybe your task as a spiritual leader is to build your home and to build in the church of God as Solomon had to build the temple. Maybe you are surrounded by the enemy and shut in on every side as Hezekiah was. This is God’s promise: “I will be with you.” And that is not only a promise, it is also our hope. This is the essence of heaven to come: covenant life with God. In Revelation 21 God says, “I will be with them and be their God and they shall be my people.” We stand on the promises of God. We labor, we work, because of the promises of God. And we hope, in the promise of God, to be with Him.
Trusting this promise, we can be strong. May God’s Word and His promises be your strength in the year 2012.
Let us pray.
Lord, be with us in what lies ahead. And help us to see our own weakness, so that we place all our trust in Thee. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.