5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:5–9 ESV)
Be strong and courageous. God says this to Joshua after the death of Moses not once, not twice, but three times.
That’s how important courage and strength — Joshua’s courage and strength — are at this moment.
I don’t much care for leadership, and in fact, I’m convinced that the ideology of leadership — which arises out of both corporate management and salesmanship — in modern America is far more the problem than it is any kind of solution. We have too much leadership, too much yearning for leadership, too many who believe they are called to lead, and a strange belief that somehow, leadership is something you can unpack from a box and teach just about anyone.
But maybe this is simply because I am most certainly not a leader. And I find most of what passes for leadership shallow and silly and not motivational at all. At least I’m not motivated or inspired to follow. I’m not even particularly interested. If it’s lead, follow, or get out of the way, I’m all for getting out of the way.
Joshua, however, is a leader. And he is told, without a doubt, that Israel will succeed because he is leading them. “You shall cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them,” God tells Joshua.
Actually, Israel will succeed in taking the land — which God describes as “[f]rom the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun” — only because God is with them.
But God is with Israel not as pillars of cloud and fire, not as manna gathered at the rising of the sun, not as water gushing from a dead and dry rock, not as an abstract ideal, but as this man, this leader, this conqueror, this deliverer, who has three times been commanded to be strong and courageous, who has been promised to have God with him wherever he goes. (The you in verse 9 is singular; God is speaking to Joshua, not Israel.)
And yet, Joshua himself only does what he is commanded. He has been called, selected, anointed, given this difficult task. He has been given work to do, work he takes up willingly, a calling he embraces. But we do not, we cannot, know what Joshua would have done with his life if he could have chosen.
The truth is God leads Israel. God has led Israel, out of Egypt, around the wilderness, and now, to the Jordan River, where they behold their patrimony, their promise. The teaching is with Israel, and with Joshua, to provide guidance in the difficult days ahead.
But God uses Joshua. God may even need Joshua, this man, to lead Israel. To be used by God like this, to be needed by God for such work, is a terrible thing. Especially given what Israel has been commanded to do in Canaan. Small wonder God is so emphatic in telling Joshua:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed…