“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Yesterday, my congregation and I started a new message series that I’m calling “Almost Bible.” In it, we’ll be looking at a few of the “encouraging slogans” that we often use in Christian circles, which — upon closer examination — turn out to be promises that the Bible doesn’t make, or that we misappropriate by applying them to situations quite different from the circumstances in which they originated.
I’ve wondered from time to time whether this powerful promise given to Joshua in today’s Old Testament lesson (Joshua 1:1-9) might be one of those passages that we’re tempted to misappropriate. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Bible’s story of God’s redemptive purpose gives us plenty of reason to be “strong and courageous.” And there are numerous places in scripture that God’s faithful presence is promised to us. But at the same time, this particular promise comes amid a unique set of historical circumstances. Moses has just died; new leadership is emerging; and all of this is happening as God’s people begin the intimidating process of entering the Promised Land. What’s more, the promise comes in the context of certain expectations. In this passage, the Lord also says to Joshua: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you…Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (verses 7-8).
So, what am I saying? That we shouldn’t “be strong and courageous,” or that we shouldn’t trust that “the Lord our God will be with us wherever we go”? Absolutely not. But at the very least, perhaps we could remember that the promise is given to people who are “on the journey” of participating in God’s mission and who are guided by His law on the way.
What steps will we take to be “on mission” with God this week? And what will we do to keep God’s law on our lips, to meditate on it day and night, and to do everything written in it? May we enter God’s story in such a way that we, too, may receive the promise. And may we discover that God’s presence gives us strength and courage to handle any challenge we face.