Thursday, March 8, 2018

Strong and Courageous

"Be of good courage." (Numbers 13:20 ESV)

My daily Bible reading has me currently in the book of Numbers, and I came across this verse a couple of days ago. It's a familiar verse. Over and over in scripture we have this admonition. Be of good courage. Be strong and courageous. Don't be afraid.

When I came across Numbers 13:20 this week, it really grabbed my attention. Even though it's a familiar verse, it was almost as though I had never seen it before. And truthfully, when I think about this verse and others like it, Numbers is not the passage of scripture that immediately comes to mind. I more often jump to this passage in the book of Joshua. That's what I did when I read this verse in Numbers, and that's where I have been camped out for the last few days.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:9 ESV)

The first chapter of Joshua, and the chapters that follow, covers the point in the history of the Hebrew people where they were crossing into the Promised Land.  As they were moving forward to claim the land, it was important for them to remember to "be strong and courageous".

This passage from Numbers is closely related. In Numbers, Moses has sent twelve men to explore the Promised Land and then to report back with their findings. And as he sent them out, Moses gave this instruction: Be of good courage. Of the twelve men Moses sent out, only two came back with a good report - Caleb and Joshua. And this is the same Joshua who was chosen, following the death of Moses, to lead the Hebrew people into the promised land. You can get the full story by reading in Numbers and Joshua.

We can learn a lot from these passages of Scripture for our own lives. We may not have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, as the Israelites did; even so, the challenges we face in our daily living can also be faced with strength and courage. Whether our challenges are financial or relational or health, or they have to do with the work place or with politics or some other circumstance, there are principles in Scripture to guide us. Think for a moment about what we can learn from Joshua.

We need to be people of the Word.  The Lord said to Joshua, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it."  (Joshua 1:8 ESV)  We need to take that instruction to heart. If we're going to live as God's people in a world that increasingly is turning its back on Him, we need to know the Word. We need to spend time in the Word. We need to obey the Word. We need to be people of the Word.

We need to be people of prayer.  There's an episode in Joshua chapter 9 where Joshua made an alliance with the Gibeonites. This turned out to be a bad alliance; the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and the Israelites. How did that happen? Because, according to verse 14 of that chapter, "they did not ask counsel from the LORD."  Just like Joshua, we can get ourselves into some trouble when we fail to pray and seek the Lord.

We need to be identified with God.  For the Hebrew people, that mark of identification was circumcision. For us today, we identify with God through baptism, through church membership, through the relationships and associations we cultivate, through the choices we make.

We need to be strong and courageous.  That was God's instruction to Joshua and the Hebrew people. It's an instruction repeated throughout the book of Joshua. And, in various forms, it's an instruction repeated throughout the Bible......."fear not"!

How do we live this way? How do we live strong and courageous lives? By remembering!  Remembering who God is. Remembering what He has done. Remembering His promises. 

When the Hebrew people had crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, they erected 12 memorial stones. These stones served as reminders to the people and to generations to come of what God had done for them.

As we face our challenges in life, whatever they may be - whether illness or job loss or financial strain or some other challenge - we need to remember. We may not have erected physical stones as reminders, but as life's challenges come - and they will - we can look back and remember. Remember God's promises. Remember His provision. Remember all the times and all the ways He has provided. Has there ever been even one time when God didn't provide for you  Has there ever been even one time when He didn't care  Has there ever been even one time when He forgot about you  No  Then trust Him!

If we are willing to trust Him with our eternity, can we not also trust Him with our today?

"When your children ask their fathers in time to come, what do these stones mean, you shall let your children know, Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."  (Joshua 4:21-24 ESV)

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