When the Lord says something once, we typically listen. When He says something twice, we start to get the hint and search for meaning in the words. But when God says something three times, we need to learn the lesson and apply it to our lives, because He’s trying to show us a vital life lesson.
That’s what happened in Joshua 1. Joshua had just been given a new leadership position. His mentor Moses had died, and Joshua was suddenly the leader of millions of people who had been wandering around a desert for forty years, complaining almost the whole time. Not daunting at all.
But God understood how Joshua must have felt, so He gave him a pep talk.
“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9 NLT)
Joshua was familiar with God’s presence. He had been one of the first Israelite spies to explore and witness the Promised Land. He had believed in God’s ability to give them that land. He had joined Moses for part of the climb up Mount Sinai, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. He was the first one to see Moses’ radiating face that reflected God’s glory. He was handpicked by God and Moses to be the next leader of Israel.
But when God spoke to Joshua directly for the first time, He had to repeat the same thing three times in that one conversation.
“Be strong and courageous.”
Maybe Joshua was afraid of letting everybody down. Maybe he doubted his own ability to guide these people. Maybe he was worried about what the Israelites would say about him. Maybe, after forty years of waiting, he was starting to question God’s promises.
So, God spoke through all those debilitating thoughts and doubts and replaced them with four words of encouragement: Be strong and courageous.
Joshua would need to be strong and courageous as he led the Israelites to the land God had promised their ancestors years before. He had to be strong and courageous as he followed odd instructions to walk around a huge fortressed city for seven days, while its people jeered and mocked. This required not only physical strength and courage, but mental and spiritual, as well.
Joshua had to obey God, fight for God and trust in God. He had to study God’s Word and meditate on it, because those instructions would give him wisdom and encouragement (Joshua 1:8). When he and, subsequently, the Israelites obeyed, God enabled them to succeed. God didn’t abandon them; He guided them and blessed them.
What I love about Joshua’s story is that he learned the lesson God gave him in the beginning of his ministry and applied it throughout his life. One example of this occurred when he spoke to his people after he and his warriors had defeated the Amorite kings. Joshua used the same words with which God had once encouraged him:
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” (Joshua 1:25 NIV)
Joshua had learned the lesson: God would not fail him. His strength and courage came from the Lord.
But how can these words apply to us? We’re not Joshua, chosen by God to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. We didn’t see the Jordan River miraculously part or watch the walls of Jericho crumble. Yet, these words still hold a life lesson for us.
- Be strong and courageous. Why? Because you have been chosen by God to lead people to their promise of hope, love and eternal life through Jesus.
- Be strong and courageous. Why? Because when you obey the Lord, you will be successful in His eyes, even when others laugh at you, gossip about you or tear you down.
- Be strong and courageous. Why? Because the Lord is with you wherever you go, even when you’re facing a barren wasteland that has sucked out the joy and hope you once carried about God’s promises for you.
- Be strong and courageous. Why? “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of life, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV)