Before the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land, the Lord told them several times to "be strong and courageous" in the first chapter of Joshua. They were about to enter a land filled with giants and other fearsome tribes, and they had no real training as an army, having left Egypt as slaves, and journeying for forty years in a desert. To the human mind, it would seem that those words of encouragement the Lord told them to stand on might sound hollow.
Thankfully, we do not serve a God who is finite, who thinks as we do and is limited as we are. God is sovereign, all-powerful, and eternal. He existed before the world did, He spoke it into being. This is the God we serve, a God who has confidence in who He is and what He is capable of. And this is why He could encourage approximately 2 million people in a desert to not be afraid and to be strong and courageous despite all that they would be facing in the days and months to come. And when they crossed over, God had the men circumcised in consecration to Him, rendering them vulnerable to their enemies. Once again, to our finite minds, that does not make sense. Why would God take them out of Egypt, and after forty years, have them enter the Promised Land only to leave them vulnerable before their enemies? And why did God not remove their enemies so they could enter the land and live without fear of being attacked?
Simply put, they needed to mature. Both spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Those who entered the Promised Land were not the same generation who had left Egypt, and except for Joshua and Caleb, those who entered the Promised Land were the children who had been born in the desert. While the next generation of Israelites did not know about slavery, they would have heard enough from their parents to understand what it was and would have also been affected by the slave-like mentalities of their parents. They had also been living off the manna that God had provided and knew nothing of providing for themselves.
If they were to become men and women of God who would be fearless to stand for His righteousness in a pagan land, they would need to learn how to trust Him fully, while also learning how to take responsibility for themselves. By not removing the enemy tribes and by allowing them to be in vulnerable positions, God was teaching His people how to trust Him, how to start taking responsibility and possess what has been given to them. And of course, they would be fearful as all humans would be. Their lives had been one of constant motion, there had been no sight and end to their traversing the sands of the desert and suddenly, as a generation comfortable with being nomads, they were facing tremendous changes and many unknowns they would have felt unequipped for. However, they were in the process of learning that God had gone before them and He was still with them and would be their rear guard. He would still be their protector and tower of refuge if they continued to walk in His statutes and righteousness.
As we go through life's journey, we might ask the same questions and face the same fears of feeling inadequate, uncertain and vulnerable. We might wonder why God did not remove all the obstacles in our paths to smooth the way for us; why are we battling problems that seem insurmountable and unending if He could simply speak the Word and all would go away? Friends, God is growing us up and transforming us to become more and more like His Son, Jesus, on a daily basis as we walk with Him. Our problems, and the inadequacies we feel only point us to Him, to demonstrate that we need Him in all areas of our lives because we don't have it all figured out. They are there to remind us that while we think we can do it all in our own strength, we cannot, and we need to surrender to Him daily.
The adversities we face reveal to us the condition of our hearts and whether we are truly and deeply anchored in Him or not. The reactions that we demonstrate in times of hardship and deep pain reveal the level of our spiritual, emotional and mental maturity.
Can we simply trust the Lord to "be strong and courageous" even as we stand at the threshold of difficulties? Yes, we can and we must. When we know who He is, when we know His character and His heart towards us which is to give us a future and a hope as well as to turn all things around for good to us who love Him, it will not be difficult to believe and trust. If we are already walking with Him in complete surrender, we will have already experienced His goodness and love, a love that is not permissive, but a love that transforms us to be more like Him, and we will know that no matter what we go through, we can truly be strong and courageous, simply because He has said that He will never leave us nor abandon us.
(The events discussed in this article are found in Joshua chapters 1 to 5, Deuteronomy 7:22)