True Strength and Courage

Read Joshua Chapter 1 On Your Own

It begins with the death of a father. In a valley, they bury a 120 year old man. For 30 long and bitter days, a nation weeps.

And then, out of the chaos and longing, a call is heard: Pick up your stuff and go, no harm will come to you, no wall will stand against.

To a grieving nation, this call is medicine for the soul. It feels like a long time coming. And, in fact, it was a lifetime in exile. Finally, there is hope. And yet, the author of Joshua does not say this is medicine for the soul. In fact, he writes the phrase “Do not be afraid” three times. Bear in mind, the more you write, the more you have to pay your scribes. And, this is the day before paper is fully invented. So, every five years or so, the scrolls have to be redone. It simply isn’t economic to repeat anything, let alone repeat it three times on the same page. It’s strange to, in one breath, know that we’ll all be okay soon, and yet, in the next, repeatedly acknowledge fear.

There’s something else interesting about this passage. Notice Joshua. Moses, the patriarch of an entire people has died, and a boy is called up to take his place. Imagine the burden and the fear. But notice what happens in verse 16:

Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.

Notice what happens: the people answer him. And what do they say in verse 18?

Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

The people tell him to be courageous.

Here’s the thing, friends: When we ride into battle, we do not ride in alone. Joshua tells his people to be strong and courageous and then, and then, The people tell Joshua to be courageous. Yes, we are told to be strong and courageous, and we should be. But true strength? True courage? It comes from a mutually affirming conversation. It comes from community, from vulnerability.

Friends, on the journey, there’s a lot of escaping by the skin of your teeth. There’s hiding in the house of a prostitute. There’s spies. And, yes, there’s the eventual promised land. But there’s a lot of struggle before that. There’s exile. There’s fear.

But the tribe walks together.

Jump ahead three chapters, and see the language the author uses when the people finally, finally, make it to the promised land.
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua
It wasn’t enough for God, the God whose very three-piece nature is community, to give instructions when one or most of the nation had come through. No. It is only when the whole nation, when every last tribesperson is through the door, that God speaks. The destination is not yours alone, but ours. So the journey is too.
This isn’t a blog post of admonishment. It’s not condemnation, or a reflection of the individualistic, pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstraps culture you’ve been indoctrinated into.  It’s permission. It’s an invitation to join a tribe, to sit in exile single slave songs as tears muddy the dirt. It’s a reminder that this – all of it – is out of your control.
Here’s the truth: after the nation arrived in the Promised Land, 12 men are chosen to become the heads of new nations. And it is from these men, these men who knew how to struggle and how to struggle together, that we are from. This is your heritage and mine. This fear, this tribe, this blind faith in a God we wrestle with one moment and whose power we yield to level walls the next – this heritage of anger, fear, trust and community is yours. But, more importantly, it is ours.  Rest in that, dear friends. Rest in this truth.
Just don’t try and rest in it alone. 


All verses are from the NIV translation.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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