Be Strong and of a Good Courage
“Be strong and of a good courage; for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.”—Joshua 1:6
Reprinted from February 1961 HERALD, article by John Ensoll, England
The dictionary rendering of courage is bravery, boldness; and of the word strong, powerful. Be thou powerful and very brave is what the Lord meant.
As the world estimates courage and strength people go to great lengths to prove their skill and stamina in feats of strength and endurance—climbing great heights, crossing oceans alone and in a variety of different ways—but that is not what the Lord wants of his people. Strength of mind and moral courage are the qualities to be acquired. True, his ancient people did have to endure hardness of a physical kind, and as we read the life of Joshua we recall the unpleasant task he had of smiting and subduing the surrounding nations before he could possess the land for the children of Israel, but it was a far deeper and more significant thing that was required of him. As recorded in the last few verses of chapter one, the children of Israel were willing to accept him if he would keep faith with God and give them good leadership.
In keeping with this line of thought let us examine the record of some of the people mentioned in Holy Writ who demonstrated these virtues in their little span of life—records that come down to us as examples of how we should live today.
We recall the very severe trial that Job had to endure, Wracked with pain, and passing through a time of mental anguish, he was forced to listen to the arguments of worldly-wise men. His resistance to the admonition “curse God and die,” and his confidence in God in saying, “If he slay me yet will I trust him,” prove that although he was unable to combat their arguments, his faith was still strong. The whole book of Job is eloquent with the fortitude of this man of God, showing a picture of the suffering of the whole world of mankind and their final deliverance and inheritance.
Now let us look at Gideon. Recall his strength of endurance and courage, and his implicit trust and faith in God when the numbers were whittled down to three hundred. In Judges, chapter 7, we have a wonderful picture of the way in which God ordained which should be the ones that would assist Gideon in the remarkable victory that was his. The seemingly simple test of how they drank the waters had in the act of being prepared for any emergency. It makes stirring reading even in these days when we take so much for granted, to refresh our minds as to the way God dealt with his servant. We read of the culmination of their victory, how they took up strategic places (one hundred on each of three sides of the Midianites), how they had lamps in their pitchers, and trumpets in their hands, and at a command from Gideon they “brake the pitchers and holding the lamps in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.”—Judges 7:20, 21.
There is a very similar Scripture in 2 Chronicles 20, verse 17, which reads: “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you.” Surely these passages have a very special meaning for us at the present time.
Coming to David, we will only take one example from a life full of incidents. The one that stands out most vividly is the slaying of the Philistine giant Goliath.
Here was a strapping young lad obviously in the prime of youth, but even so, no match for such an antagonist. We can well understand why the Philistine hero should have derided him and poured scorn on those who sent him. In 1 Samuel 17 we read how King Saul clothed David in his own armor and put a helmet of brass on his head and armed him with a coat of mail. Lastly he got him to gird his own sword on his armor.
Needless to say, David felt must uncomfortable in all this paraphernalia, and of course cast it all off. He then took five smooth stones from the brook and put them in a bag. And he took the sling that he had used so many times before when he had protected his father’s sheep from the lions and the bears. You will also remember the confident words of David when he was face to face with his adversary. “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (v. 45).
What a marvelous example this is for the Lord’s people today—this is the only safe way to meet our Adversary.
Elijah is another example of tremendous courage and dependency on the Lord. We recall the times he had to go before Ahab and Jezebel to prophecy before them; and also how he had to flee on more than one occasion and she sought his life. Just picture his steadfast courage as he stood on Mount Carmel and defied the priests of Baal. In 1 Kings, chapter 17, we are told of the famine that had been in the land; of how there had been neither dew nor rain for many years; how he was succored by the ravens and the widow of Zarephath. And then in the 18th chapter we come to the wonderful climax, and to the passage where his strong faith was vindicated.
We readily call to mind the assembling of the great multitude of people, all the children of Israel and more than 800 prophets of Baal and of the groves. How Elijah prepared an altar and had the sacrifice slain. And after it had been lain on the altar he commanded that they fill four barrels with water and that it should be poured over the sacrifice so that it run over the wood even down to the trench that had been dug around the altar. This he repeated so that the whole thing was thoroughly saturated—and this at a time when there had been no rain for years.
Then crying on the Lord: “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (v. 37, 38).
Later Elijah called upon the Lord: “It is enough, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.: But the Lord showed him that he still had work for Elijah to do, that even at that time there were many thousands that had not bowed the knee to Baal.
Jeremiah had a very unpleasant mission to perform, nevertheless he carried on, steadfastly determined to follow the leading of the Lord. He was called at a very early age to the prophetic office and continued to prophesy for forty-two years. One commentator has said of him: “We find him sensitive to a most painful degree, timid, shy, hopeless, desponding, constantly complaining and dissatisfied with the course of events, but never flinching from duty. . . . Timid in resolve, he was unflinching in execution; as fearless when he had to face the world and he was dispirited and prone to murmuring when alone with God. Judged by his own estimate of himself, he was feeble and his mission a failure; really, in the hour of action and when duty called him, he was in very truth `a defensed city,’ and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land. He was a noble example of the triumph of the moral over the physical nature.”
It is worthwhile noting how he was called, as recorded in the first chapter of Jeremiah, verses 4-9: “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou cames forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet among the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words into thy mouth.”
Passing on we come to Daniel and try to conjure up the scene as he was thrown into the den of lions—an innocent man wrongfully condemned by jealous men—his feelings of complete trust and confidence in the Lord and the courage he showed when actually confronted with the ferocious beasts. His exultant reply when the king went to visit him the next morning: “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. might.”
Lessons for Today
How do these reflections affect us? Are we being strong and very courageous in our present, everyday experiences? Do we trust sufficiently? Are we bold to come to the throne of heavenly grace to get the necessary strength to assist us in our trials and difficulties?
Again, let us think for a moment how we react in times of national and international stress. These upheavals sometimes make us fearful, and as human beings we shrink from them, but should we not rather look on them as additional opportunities to prove ourselves. We are instructed to be more than overcomers; if this is to be true of us we shall need to be equipped with the whole armor of God. We shall need to be sure that it is securely buckled on, that it is kept bright and shining, and that there are no cracks anywhere, and particularly, we should keep our eyes ever on the goal set before us, to the end that we shall be overcomers through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What an ennobling thought, that the great God of the universe has called us to be joint-heirs with his son. That, just as he dealt with the heroes of faith, whose lives we have briefly touched on foregoing; dealt with them by fighting their battles, preparing the way for them, cheering, encouraging, and fortifying them when they lost hope; so does he deal with us if we are willing and obedient.
If we are truly his, and his spirit witnesseth with our spirit that we are the sons of God, then each of us can claim the promise: In quietness and confidence shall be our strength, while with joy we are able by the eye of faith to look forward to that wonderful day—not far distant—when God shall “make wars to cease even unto the ends of the earth. Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps. 46:9, 10