“Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6). We see these words on everything from T-shirts to keychains to the front of fancy leather journals. It’s uplifting, it’s inspiring, and it looks great painted in loopy calligraphy on a little wooden sign.
I love carrying Scripture around with me as much as the next Christian, but there are a couple of problems with commercializing this verse: One, it’s not the whole verse and two, it’s often taken out of context.
Since this verse is shortened and misinterpreted so often, it’s important for us to explore what people often take it to mean, compare it to the verse’s actual context within the chapter it’s taken from, and what it means for us today.
How the World Wants Us to Take It
When left on its own, “Be strong and courageous” is a bit broad. In his article, Be Strong and Courageous, Pastor Andrew Courtis points out the danger of this ambiguity:
The words “strong” and “courageous” take on various meanings in our culture. To voice your own opinion and shut down others is considered strength and courage. To promote or pursue a lifestyle that is against the teaching of Scripture is often labeled “brave” or “courageous”.
American culture is no longer centered on truth. It, instead, revolves around opinion, fake news, shaming, and division. There are at least two sides to every issue, and Christians on both sides tend to use “be strong and courageous” to fuel their desire to widen the chasm between themselves and their perceived enemies.
The result: Christians who should be loving each other and taking care of the world as a unified force are demeaning each other based on their voting choices and touting infighting as courageous.
The Complete Verse
Earlier I mentioned that “be strong and courageous” isn’t the whole verse. So, what is the whole verse? The complete version says, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
This verse is set in Joshua 1, where God is appointing Joshua as Moses’s successor and the person, He will use to lead Israel into the Promised Land.
The complete version of Joshua 1:6 tells us who God is addressing and tells us one of several instructions given to Joshua, but it’s still not enough to give us 100% of God’s instructions. For that, we need to read the verses that come immediately after it:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7-9)
What is God asking Joshua to do here, aside from emphasizing that He really wants Joshua to be strong and courageous? He’s telling Joshua to:
- Obey the 10 Commandments whether he wants to or not because it’s the only way Israel will prosper (Joshua 1:7).
- Think about God and His Word every minute of every day (Joshua 1:8).
- Combat discouragement — because discouragement will come — by remembering that God will be with him wherever he goes (Joshua 1:9)
The bottom line of this passage is that despite the repetitions of “be strong and courageous,” it’s not truly about Joshua’s strength or courage. It’s about Joshua being told, rather, commanded, to seek God first above all else and make sure Israel does the same. Why? Because Joshua can only be strong and courageous if his strength and courage come from the Lord and not his own power.
What it Means for Us
God was addressing a specific person in this passage, so what does it have to do with us? Once again, Pastor Courtis concludes, in his study of Joshua 1, that Joshua is asked to model three behaviors, which apply directly to modern Christians:
1. Remember God’s promises (Joshua 1:6). God promised to deliver Israel from Egypt and give them a land of their own, and that’s exactly what He did. There was a 40-year gap between the Exodus and Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, but time is incapable of weakening the promises of God.
2. Remember God’s principles (Joshua 1:7-8). God wants to be in a relationship with us, but relationships are, by definition, mutual. As such, we need to put effort into that relationship by getting to know God through Scripture and applying what we learn from it. We obviously won’t get it right, but God knows that and is more than powerful enough to compensate for everything we lack.
3. Remember God’s presence (Joshua 1:9). God may be a God of justice, but He is also a loving father who doesn’t want His children to feel alone. This verse reminds us that even if our families don’t agree with our faith, even if our friends turn their backs on us, even if we become martyrs for our love for God, He will stay at our side when every last person abandons us.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/the_modern_life_mrs
Sonya Downing is a novelist, freelance writer, and content editor with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing. Her freelance work has been published in Focus on the Family’s teen girl magazine Brio, The Evangelical Church Library Association, and The Secret Place quarterly magazine. She has also blogged for IlluminateYA Publishing and edited for Mountain Brook Ink. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.