Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest (Joshua 1:6–9).
This Scripture passage, especially the last verse of it, was related to me by my pastor on the day of my confirmation. It has guided me in various ways through life, and has offered me encouragement and counsel when I needed it. Let me therefore pass it on.
But would the question be raised that this text is giving a typical example of American activism, the aberration with which we have all been so often charged? I think not. For the directives involved are divinely given in a direct sense. Who would charge Joshua, in doing what God commanded, with being guilty of unwholesome activism? And does not the giving of an order on God’s part involve, without question, the promise of divine aid in its fulfillment?
Advance In Confidence
Let us look at the first directive that is given here: Go forward strong in the faith in God’s promises. The divine imperative suggests boldness of approach: “Be strong … of a good courage … be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”
Tasks are always enormous. Joshua’s was to take a land and give it to a nation. The task of Christ’s disciples is to evangelize the world. Canaanites fought to the blood. In like manner, opposition to the Lord’s work has always been bitter and fierce. The world and the devil are implacable in their hatred of the Gospel.
With orders from on high, the servant of the Lord can only regard timidity as disgraceful. Valor is the requirement of those who have so great a commander, so great a high priest. God, who seems to command the impossible, gives strength for the performance of it. He is the great helper, ready to supply all that we ask, yea, even more than we think.
When we are dealing with divine imperatives, and God bids that men go forward, who are we to say no? God’s work, therefore, is to be done with the boldness that is born of true humility.
Rely On The Word
The second directive runs thus: Direct your course by the Word. There is good reason to believe that a generous measure of the Word was available at the time, sufficient to guide a man in the successful performance of the duties that fell to him. So it was with Joshua. He that bid Joshua guide his steps by it, seemed to regard it as entirely adequate for all exigencies.
It takes courage for a man to steer his course by this chart or norm. We are inclined to follow schemes and plans of our own devising and to regard them as reliable. Divinely formulated orders strike us at times as being impractical, but the Lord said, “Be strong and very courageous that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law which Moses, my servant, commanded thee.”
Obviously, that Word is to be regarded as an utterly safe norm. It becomes the norma normans not only for the Church, but also for every individual. “Do according to all that is written therein.”
Here, as so often is the case, the word was a word of promise. It specifically said to Joshua: “Thou shalt divide for an inheritance the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them.” In the Word of God, the element of promise is often more in evidence than the word of demand.
Live In The Oracles
The third directive, closely analogous to the one previous, runs thus: Live in the sacred oracles of God. Much reading and study of the Word is ordered: “The book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth.” This involves more than frequent quoting of key passages for one’s own direction and for the advice of others. In days of old, the Hebrew would softly pronounce the words as he sought to decipher the unpointed text that lay before him. Thus the use of the mouth involves reading aloud as the first step in the process of studying.
The next step was continued meditation upon that which had been read: “Meditate therein day and night.” I see Joshua early in the morning in his tent bending over the sacred Scriptures. I see him after the others have retired at night perusing the same Scriptures by the light of a lamp, for this is what the Lord had told him to do. Such meditation, in the very nature of the verb used, involved more than some kind of dreamy reflection. It included careful planning as to how to put the word just read into effect.
Such study does not paralyze action, as too much reflection is apt to do at times. That it is to be practical and effective meditation is made clear: “Meditate … that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.” Joshua was to cultivate a wholesome personal piety built on a love for the sacred oracles of God. The manner in which Joshua was to proceed in the administration of the duties of his office is indicated: First, determine what the Word of God bids you to do; then act.
Trust In God’S Presence
The last directive is, in a sense, the most important of all: Trust in the Lord’s presence. This directive comes in the form of a promise: “For the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” This resounding climax and emphatic conclusion to the whole instruction stresses the help and presence of the Lord.
But such trust, being the most vital thing of all, has certain obvious prerequisites: faith in the God who calls, complete readiness to go forward in the manner and direction he indicates, and complete adherence to the norm he would have a man follow. There must be no laxity in meditating deeply upon the Word that the Lord has given. Trust without this rests on sand and will be swept away.
But if His conditions be met, then the Lord promises to go with the man he sends. The divinely reassuring word is given: “Thou shalt make thy way prosperous and then thou shalt have good success.”
If thou but suffer God to guide thee,
And hope in him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days;
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
The account of Joshua in the sacred Scriptures is a success story. When this intrepid hero first appears on the scene in the battle with the Amalekites, he is directing the conflict down in the valley while Moses, with the rod of God in his hand, prays on the mountain. Israel discomfited the Amalekites in this battle with the edge of the sword. After that, Joshua with Caleb constituted a minority when the spies had reconnoitered the land of promise. Nevertheless, the hostile majority could not deter Joshua from giving a favorable report.
Joshua’s most successful enterprise was the occupation of Canaan. He virtually gave a land to a people by establishing an enduring foothold from which they could not be dislodged. For that achievement, he was ever after held in grateful remembrance. Significantly, in the book that bears the name of Joshua and records the achievements of this man of God, not one word of adverse criticism of Joshua is recorded, nor is Joshua criticized elsewhere in the Bible. Apparently he did according to the word that the Lord had laid upon him at the time he assumed office.
To you all, my beloved brethren, and to you, my dear brother in Christ Jesus, I say, Go and do thou likewise, and the Lord thy God shall be with thee whithersoever thou goest.
JOHN S. BRUBACHER
Professor, Yale University
The desire of important religious denominations … for a literate, college-trained clergy was probably the most important single factor explaining the founding of the colonial colleges.… The Christian tradition was the foundation stone of the whole intellectual structure which was brought to the New World.… Equally important, … the early colleges were not set up solely to train ministers.… The civil society would thus get educated orthodox laymen to be its leaders; the church would get educated orthodox clergymen to be its ministers. This was the idea which colonial higher education hoped to attain” (John S. Brubacher and Willis Rudy, Higher Education in Transition, Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 6).
This was a sermon preached by Dr. H. C. Leupold, of the faculty of Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, at the service of induction of President Alfred H. Ewald at Wartburg Theological Seminary, November 6, 1957.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.