There are a lot of promises God makes in the Old Testament that Christians love to appropriate for themselves, and are notorious for ripping out of context. You’ll see these printed on mugs and posters, and magnets and bumper-stickers, and retweeted and posted to Facebook. Jeremiah 29:11 readily comes to my mind as the worst of the lot, and it’s highly likely I don’t need to write out the verse for you to know what it says.
And it seems to me the trend lately is for there to be a good backlash against this practice; with pastors and churches looking at the context of the promises, and learning about what they actually meant for their original (and solely intended) audience. Of course we still learn from these promises, but it means we don’t appropriate them as promises meant for us, thousands of years later in a completely different context.
One of the verses this happens a lot with is Joshua 1:9, probably the best-known passage in the whole book of Joshua: “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.”
This encouragement was given to Joshua just after Moses died and just before Joshua was to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. And Joshua needed it! Moses was the greatest prophet and leader Israel had ever had (Deut. 34), and Joshua was stepping into those shoes. Also, Joshua was about to lead a whole nation into a land they had never been in, to conquer and possess it (as per God’s promise to Abraham centuries earlier). That left a lot of unknowns. So Joshua needs all the affirmation and encouragement he can get.
So we can see that this command (“be strong and courageous”) and this promise (“the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”) is specifically given to Joshua in his context. So, is it right for Christians to appropriate it for our own encouragement?
To answer this, we turn to the New Testament and ask “are there any scriptures there that are given to Christians and say the same thing as Joshua 1:9?” And we find that there are.
The Promise – “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”:
Matt. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
Matt. 28:20 “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
The Command – “be strong and courageous”:
Rom. 8:15 “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.””
2 Tim. 2:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
1 Cor. 3:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”
Heb. 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”” (actually, this passage contains both the promise and the command in it!)
For the follower of Christ we have no need to fear, because Jesus has both promised to be with us himself and to send the Holy Spirit to be with us (which he did shortly after his ascension – see Acts 2).
Is it right for Christians to appropriate the promise and command given to Joshua for themselves? Yes, yes it is. Joshua 1:9 is a pithy summary of what God consistently commands and promises throughout the Bible to those who follow him. While given to Joshua specifically and solely in Joshua chapter 1, there are enough NT passages that encourage and remind us of the same thing.
Something to note, though, is that the emphasis in Joshua 1:9 and elsewhere is primarily on the presence of God with us. Because he is with us, we can be strong and courageous. God’s continuing presence is the both the basis for and source of our courage!
So, if you are a follower of Christ, then be strong and courageous! because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.