One day last winter my wife Diane was reading the first chapter of Joshua, and she asked a question I couldn’t answer. “Why is it that the phrase ‘Be strong and of good courage’ appears so many time in this chapter?”
The question is a good one, and maybe even a better one than Diane thought. Not only do these words appear in Joshua 1, but also in Deuteronomy 31 where Moses aims “be strong and of good courage” at both Joshua and the people.
What is going on here that one of the most courageous biblical characters has those words directed at him seven times in those two chapters?
Put yourself in Joshua’s sandals. He was about to take over the leadership of a new nation that was preparing to capture its birthright. Both hardship and celebration lay ahead. Moses was dead, the same Moses who had met God face to face and who had confronted Pharaoh eyeball to eyeball. This was the Moses who had parted the Red Sea, turned the Nile into blood, visited plagues on Israel’s enemies, brought the law down from Mt. Sinai, called forth water from a rock, and led the nation of Israel in the wilderness for forty years.
Those were some shoes to fill, and it was Joshua’s job to fill them.
Is it any wonder that first Moses and then God himself had to tell him to “be strong and of good courage”? Joshua was human and would have the natural need for encouragement in times of transition.
And there is a little more to the story. In Deuteronomy 31, it is Moses encouraging Joshua. In Joshua 1 God himself encourages Joshua. But the very last verse of Joshua 1 provides us with an additional lesson, for it is neither God nor Moses providing the encouragement. It is the people themselves who encourage Joshua to be strong and and of good courage. Leaders often need the encouragement of those who follow them, else the leaders can be tempted to believe that the responsibilities of leadership are not worth the ingratitude. Followers sometimes have the responsibility to take the lead.