After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 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. 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 1:1-9 NIV, underlines mine)
As Joshua leads the Israelites into the land God promised them, the Lord reminds Joshua three times to be strong and courageous. This is after Moses had told Joshua the same thing three times while Moses was still alive (Deuteronomy 31).
Why was this so important? Why did both Moses and God keep repeating this phrase?
Let’s put ourselves in Joshua’s shoes for a moment. Joshua has been Moses’ assistant since his youth (Exodus 33:11, Numbers 11:28). Whatever Moses needed, Joshua took care of it. Moses sent Joshua out to fight battles, and Moses sent Joshua and Caleb to spy on the land God had promised to the Israelites. It was Joshua and Caleb who brought back the positive report, trusting in God’s hand to lead them and overthrow the current occupants. And Joshua and Caleb were the only two survivors from the generation of Israelites going into the promised land. Now Moses, Joshua’s hero and mentor, was dead, and the weight of leading God’s people was on Joshua.
So not only did Joshua feel intimidated as he looked at taking over Moses’ role as leader of the Israelites, but God told Joshua that the Israelites would disobey God and break their part of the covenant God had made with them (Deuteronomy 31). God had also promised to make good on His covenant to give the Israelites a place to call home, but they would have to obey the Lord and walk in faith to receive what God had promised.
So what did God tell Joshua to do? Be strong and courageous.
The word “strong” means to be strong of mind, to be focused. The Lord knew the battles would be long, and Joshua would need to persevere to fulfill God’s command.
The word ‘courageous” means to be alert, paying attention to details, nimble, able to change direction quickly as needed. God knew that Joshua would need to be listening to Him, and not going off and trying to take the land by brute force alone.
And so it is with us – whatever God has called us to lead, we must keep our eyes focused on the Lord, and lead ourselves and those who look to us with strength and courage. God promises to walk with us along the way, if we will simply listen to Him and follow His leading.