By the end of May 1967, Israel was surrounded by 250,000 enemy soldiers, two thousand tanks, and seven hundred jetfighters. Egypt had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
Syria was bombarding the Galilee with heavy cannon fire, as it had for nineteen years. And Jordan had expelled all Jews from Judea and Samaria. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser told his parliament, “The problem presently before the Arab countries is not whether the port of Eilat should be blockaded or how to blockade it—but how totally to exterminate the State of Israel for all time.”1 Outgunned and outnumbered, Israel faced annihilation.
Despite the odds, however, Israel fought courageously. The result was breathtaking. In what became known as the Six-Day War, Israel completely overwhelmed her enemies. A few weeks later, then-General Yitzhak Rabin reflected, “Our soldiers in various branches of the Israel Defence [sic] Forces who overcame our enemies everywhere, despite the superior numbers and fortifications—all of them revealed not only coolness and courage in battle but a burning faith in the justice of their cause. . . . This army . . . prevails over all enemies by virtue of its moral and spiritual strength.”2
More than 3,300 years earlier, another Jewish general also faced superior forces, plus giants and fortified cities (Num. 13:28). Moses had just died. Encamped on the eastern side of the Jordan River, the sorrowing congregation waited to see what stuff Joshua was made of. It was then God reminded this general that true courage is not grounded on human foundations, but on the promises of God.
Originally named Hoshea (Num. 13:8) like the prophet Hosea, Joshua was the son of Nun, an Ephraimite. Moses changed Hoshea (“salvation”) to Joshua (“Yahweh is salvation”), a name that praises God as the true source of deliverance (Num. 13:16).
God had been preparing Joshua for leadership for many years. As a young man, he served the prophet Moses (Ex. 33:11). It was Joshua whom Moses assigned to lead the attack on Amalek (Ex. 17:9–10, 13). Joshua also accompanied Moses partway up the mountain when Moses received the original stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:13).
Before the Tabernacle was constructed, Moses pitched a tent outside the camp of Israel and met with God there (Ex. 33:7). Joshua stayed close by and would not depart from the tent, even after Moses returned to the camp (Ex. 33:11). On another occasion, when others in the camp prophesied, Joshua was jealous for Moses’ reputation (Num. 11:28).
But young Joshua is probably best remembered for his profound faith in God. He was among the twelve Israelites sent from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land of Canaan, and only he and Caleb returned with a good report (Num. 13—14). Consequently, God rewarded them for having “wholly followed the LORD” (Num. 32:12). Forty years later they were the only two people who were twenty or older at Kadesh-barnea who lived to enter the Promised Land.
All these events prepared Joshua for what God had in store for him. Shortly before he died, Moses himself asked God to appoint a leader for Israel (Num. 27:15–17). God chose Joshua, “a man in whom is the Spirit” (v. 18).
God actually commissioned Joshua more than once. In Numbers 27, Moses publicly laid his hands on Joshua, signifying identification as well as the transference of authority and wisdom (v. 23; Dt. 34:9). Moses then publicly exhorted Joshua to lead the congregation into the Promised Land (Dt. 31:7–8). Finally, in Moses’ presence, God Himself commissioned Joshua at the Tabernacle (Dt. 31:14, 23).
Joshua’s call carried great responsibility. He was to lead the people into the Promised Land (Dt. 3:28), apportion it as an inheritance to nine and one-half tribes on the western side of the Jordan River, and insure that the two and one-half tribes on the eastern side helped in the fight (Num. 32:20–21). It is no wonder Joshua was commanded no fewer than six times to “be strong and of good courage” (Dt. 31:7, 23; Josh. 1:6–7, 9, 18).
Yet it is one thing to be told to have courage and quite another to possess it. Joshua’s courage was not predicated on wishful or positive thinking. It was predicated on the immutable promises of God.
Courage for the Journey
No one who fights God’s battles goes it alone. Moses pointed to the defeat of the two Amorite kings as a demonstration of what God could do to all the Canaanite kingdoms. He admonished Joshua not to be afraid, “for the LORD your God shall fight for you” (Dt. 3:22); and he promised that God would precede Joshua into the Promised Land, be with him, and not fail or forsake him (Dt. 31:8).
The Lord Himself also bolstered Joshua, promising, “I will be with thee” (Dt. 31:23). When God is with you, nothing more is necessary. Joshua understood that fact and must have felt greatly encouraged.
In Joshua 1, however, Joshua’s situation changed. Moses was dead. The mourning period was over. And the mantle of leadership had passed to Joshua. It was now time to act. But would he have the courage? It was then God gave to Joshua what would become the platform for his success for the rest of his life.
The Lord began by commanding Joshua to get up and get going, he and all Israel. The Promised Land was already theirs. God already had given it to them. Their possession of it depended only on how far they were willing to step out in faith (Josh. 1:2–4).
Next, Yahweh dealt with Joshua personally and directly. He gave him a succession of promises: (1) Joshua would be invincible; (2) as God was with Moses, so He would be with Joshua; and (3) God would not fail or forsake him (v. 5). Then God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. The basis for that courage was the surety that Joshua would be an instrument in God’s hands to fulfill the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 6).
Joshua was also commanded to be especially careful in observing God’s law (v. 7). The Lord even told Joshua how to be careful:
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 (v. 8).
First, Joshua was to saturate himself in God’s Word. Just as he did not depart from the tent of meeting (Ex. 33:11), so God’s Word was never to depart (same Hebrew word) from his entire being. The word mouth in 1:8 is an idiom for internalizing the Word to such a degree that it comes out of one’s mouth. Second, Joshua was to meditate on the Word all day. He was not merely to accumulate knowledge; he was to reflect on what he was putting into his mind and heart, learn from it, and apply it. Thus he would be guaranteed success.
Finally, God concluded His encouragement with a rhetorical question: “Have not I commanded thee?” (v. 9). The question implied that with God’s command comes the resource to fulfill the command. Therefore, God has the right to command Joshua to be strong, courageous, and fearless, for the resource God provides is Himself: “for the LORD thy God is with thee wherever thou goest” (v. 9).
It is one thing to be told to have courage and quite another to possess it. Joshua’s courage was not predicated on wishful or positive thinking. It was predicated on the immutable promises of God.
Performance With Courage
Joshua was subsequently filled with courage because in the immediate context he began to act. He delegated responsibility (v. 10). He prepared the people (v. 11). And he followed up on his promise to remind the tribes east of the Jordan to help their brethren fight (vv. 12–15).
The tribes expressed loyalty, but with qualifications. The Israelites wanted a strong, courageous leader who evidenced God’s presence in his life: “Only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses. . . . Only be strong and of good courage” (vv. 17–18). Such qualifications would commend any godly leader in any age.
We also know that Joshua was filled with courage because of his actions throughout the rest of the book. He led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, defeated their enemies, and apportioned the land among the tribes.
He had courage, indeed; and his courage was based on the faithful Word of God. As he reminded the people of Israel years later, when an old man, “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof” (Josh. 23:14).
Principles of Courage
Like Joshua, whatever personal struggles we face, whatever battles loom in our lives, we can be strong and have courage—not because we are inherently brave, but because as believers, our courage is rooted in God’s unchanging promises.
We can be strong and courageous because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Jesus promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age [world]” (Mt. 28:20). Truly, God has promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
In our modern world of terror and uncertainty, we still can be like Joshua and fix our courage in the bedrock of the Word of God and in the certainty that whatever God calls us to, He will give us the resource to accomplish: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Th. 5:24).