SOAP Journal – 16 June 2017 (Joshua 1:9)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

The book of Joshua is about the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land. They do not complete the conquest, there are still bits left unconquered when this book closes, but they make a good beginning. This morning’s verse is the end of the words God speaks to Joshua immediately after Moses’ death.

When people close to us die, it can shock us into inaction. Many years ago, the younger of my sisters died. The phone call that informed me of her death shocked me for a moment. A couple good friends happened to be present and asked me to start making decisions. Being forced out of the moment of shock helped in the hours that followed; hours in which my remaining sister and I made phone calls to inform my late sister’s friends that she had died. Some people could afford to sit a while with the shock of an unexpected death. We could not. There was work to be done. And we were the ones to do it.

In a similar fashion, God steps into Joshua’s moment of shock and gives him marching orders. Moses is dead. Joshua is now in command. Follow God’s orders as Moses did and everything will go the way God intends it to. And Joshua, to his credit, follows God’s instructions. Immediately following this verse, Joshua goes around the camp and tells the leaders of the Israelites that the nation is crossing the river to begin their conquest of the Promised Land and they have three days to get prepped.

And God’s words to Joshua are marching orders for God’s servants today.

The first thing to know is whether or not God told me to do what I am thinking of doing. God asks Joshua, Have I not commanded you? This boils down to God asking Joshua to consider the source of the instruction. The task might look overwhelming. Leading the Israelites is a bigger job than Joshua has every really had to do on his own. But God is the One Who told Joshua to do it. And that comes with certain assurances.

The biggest assurance is that God will be with you wherever you go. So long as Joshua is walking the path that God has set for him, then God will be there at every turn. Every difficulty and every uphill battle will be filled with God’s presence.

In light of this, God tells Joshua to Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed. There will always be the temptation to shrink back from what God has commissioned me to do. If I am certain that God has called me to that, then I can be strong and courageous, confident that my God is with me.

Father, thank You for going before me into whatever place You call me to go. Please give me a courageous heart that is ready to follow You into those places without trembling or being dismayed.

Can’t Please Everyone (Romans 15:1)

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not please ourselves.

Romans 15:1

As I read this verse, an old song came to mind. The song says that you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself. While the tune is catchy and the sentiment expressed is decidedly in keeping with the world’s philosophy, God calls His children to something higher: to please our brothers and sisters.

There are, in this verse, two groups and two courses of action for one of the groups.

Group one is we who are strong. Paul classes himself in this group. If I have grown in faith the point where I can exercise Christian liberty — i.e. I can eat what I want and wear what I want and so on — then I can also class myself in the group of we who are strong. To put Christian liberty in context, I read an account of an exchange between D.L. Moody and a woman in his congregation. She claimed that Moody was too severe and too stringent and never did anything that he wanted like go to the theater and other entertainments. Moody replied that he went to the theater and enjoyed other entertainments exactly as often as he wanted to … and he did not want to. Christian liberty is not only the freedom to do something, but also the freedom to refrain. This becomes important to Paul’s instruction.

Group two is those without strength. These are folks whose faith is young or weak or just happens not to extend as far as my own does in a particular arena. I am one of these without strength in some areas of my walk, so I am hardly in a position to throw stones. And I will not.

So we have the weak and the strong. What to do with that? Paul gives instruction: bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not please ourselves. The weaknesses in question could also be translated as errors coming from weakness of mind. The weaknesses that must be borne are bad thinking; misunderstandings of grace or forgiveness or Christian liberty or a host of other things. And these are weaknesses, indeed, as they hinder the ability of the person without strength to move forward in Christian living.

Walk with God long enough and quite a bit falls within the purview of Christian liberty. My liberty should never be a cause for stumbling to my brothers and sisters, but should be an opportunity for me to exercise the other part of liberty, viz. the freedom to refrain from something that is perfectly acceptable. Liberty, true liberty, is the freedom to do or not do as seems best. God’s call to me through Paul’s instruction is to be free enough to not do the things that might cause my brothers and sisters to stumble.

Adversary. Accuser. (Zechariah 3:1)

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.

Zechariah 3:1

The footnotes of my Bible tell me that the word translated as Satan can also mean Accuser. From the most holy to the least holy of believers, Satan accuses us. As Christ continually makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), so, too, does Satan continually accuse us. What is both haunting and hopeful in his accusations is that they need not be false. The Accuser could simple recount what I have done on any given day and there is sin and transgression enough to condemn me. But Christ intercedes; steps between for me. Because He has paid for my sins and transgressions on the cross, He is willing and able to step up and dismiss all charges against me. Not because I did no wrong, but because my wrongs have been atoned for.

The footnotes also tell me that the word Satan could be translated as Adversary. In this morning’s verse, Satan stands at Joshua’s right hand. We still have the phrase “right hand man” in English and the person on our right is metaphorically supposed to be our strongest supporter and help. But it is the Adversary who weasels his way to Joshua’s right hand. I suspect he does the same to many a believer. Someone comes along who seems like they want to help; want to be a support and a stay for us. Instead, they end up weakening us. Maybe we win small victories and think that we can handle greater trials on our own. One of the things Sun Tzu wrote about war is that one must appear weakest where he is at his greatest strength and must appear to be losing right before he secures victory. Our Adversary knows this tactic well and uses it to his best advantage.

Application. The Accuser is going to accuse me. He will accuse me to God and God, because of Christ’s work on the cross, is able to dismiss the charges. The Accuser will accuse me to me. If God has already dismissed the charges, I need to do likewise. If I have not yet repented of that thing, then I must repent and move forward. The Adversary is going to come against me. He may, as it was phrased in the movie Serenity, “Sidle up and smile, hit you where you’re weak.” Get inside my guard and make any defense or offense ineffectual. I need to remain vigilant and aware that he is no friend to me ever and he is never as helpless or weak as he seems. He is trying to draw me out; get me to commit to something that leaves me exposed.

It has been said that the price of peace is eternal vigilance. The price of peace with God is the blood of Christ and vigilance on my part to not be deceived by the Adversary and to repent and be made right with God so that the Accuser’s accusations are refuted.

Strong and Courageous (Joshua 10:25)

Joshua then said to them, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies with whom you fight.”

Joshua 10:25

Joshua and Israel made a treaty with the Gibeonites and five kings banded together immediately afterward to attack Gibeon. So Joshua and Israel came and attacked those kings and God laid a whooping down on those kings and their armies. The kings themselves hid in a cave out of which Joshua had them dragged when the fighting was done. Joshua then had the war leaders in Israel place their feet on the necks of those kings and spoke today’s verse while the war leaders had their feet on those kings.

I’m not going to pretend that what Joshua says is some kind of promise to all believers, because that would be taking the verse wildly out of context. But a similar principle is put forth in the New Testament. Paul tells believers that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Israel was in a physical battle while the believer in Christ is fighting a spiritual war. Our enemies are not human beings. Our enemies are our sinful nature that must be put to death daily and a world system that is contrary to God’s will and Law and spiritual foes that will try to tempt us away from faith in God and obedience to Him. Paul also instructs the believer to suit-up for spiritual battle by putting on spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) and standing firm. Another place, the way it is expressed is that the believer should resist the devil and he (the devil) will flee. The culmination of all the verses on spiritual warfare is, to my mind, when the believer is told that the One Who lives in us is greater than the one who is in the world. Ultimately, God can guarantee victory in spiritual war just as Joshua was able to guarantee victory over the people living in the Promised Land and for the same reason. Joshua guaranteed his soldiers victory because of God. Notice that he says that the LORD will be the One Who places enemies beneath their feet. It is God Who grants victory in spiritual warfare, as well.

Does Joshua’s promise extend to me? No. But the principle is extended to every believer with regard to spiritual warfare. God is able to put every spiritual foe beneath our feet; to make every spiritual enemy fall before us. For that to happen, I need to remember the first thing Joshua tells those leaders, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous.” I need to be strong in the LORD and courageous where He tells me to go.