“Be strong and courageous”
At the end of Deuteronomy we find Moses speaking these words, which God had given him, words so important that they occur three times in three verses (Deut. 31:6;7;23). They were addressed particularly to Joshua and generally to the Jewish people. Joshua was to lead them into the promised land, God having told Moses that he would die before the crossing of Jordan. Joshua was to take Moses’ place – a tough act to follow!
Not a request
Has it struck you that this is a command? We tend to think that weakness is something inbuilt over which we have little control, but God tells his people (including us) that we are to be strong, and he does not expect us to obey impossible commands. Conversely, we are not to think that we have the natural strength to do his will. The apostle Paul urged the Christians of Ephesus to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength (A.V. ‘power’) of his might” (Eph. 6:10). We are totally dependent on him.
A daunting task
Israel was not to think that the conquest of Canaan would be ‘a piece of cake’; it would involve war and bloodshed right from the start, with the destruction of Jericho. There would be times when they would experience defeat, the rout at Ai, for example, being allowed by the Lord because of Achan’s sin. There would never be a time when they would not have enemies. We should heed the words of James: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
God told Moses that, on his death, the people would be unfaithful, and consequently would experience punishment until they repented (Deut. 31:16-18). They were commanded to totally rid Canaan of pagan tribes and their gods, which they didn’t do. Their hearts were turned away from the one, true and living God. We need to take Scripture’s warning seriously: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 12:12-13).
A Loving God
How can we be strong? How can we stand in an evil day? We must remind ourselves where the command came from – a loving God, whose commandments are not onerous, but are for our eternal and spiritual good. And by the grace of God we can say we love him, the triune God who first loved us, the Father, who chose us in Christ before the world began and gave us to his Son, who died for our eternal salvation, and the Holy Spirit, by whose power we have been born again to a living hope. The Spirit ensured that those given to the Son would come to him and never be cast out. Would you be strong? Then focus your minds on the source of your strength.
A merciful God
But I have been so weak and unfaithful. How can I be effectual in the future? Just before he died, Moses said to a weak people, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread upon their backs” (33:29). There is forgiveness for sin, strength for weakness and restoration for back-sliding.
A faithful God
The Lord never changes and will never leave his people. He reminds Israel of his faithfulness in the past (31:3-6) and commits himself to be with them in the future.
It’s a good practice to meditate on examples of his faithfulness shown to people in the Scriptures, in church history and in our own experience.
“His love, in time past,
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink:
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review
Confirms is good pleasure
To help me quite through.”
Remember his promises and the One who never forgets them and always keeps them.
John Martin is an elder in Lampeter Evangelical Church