Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
The first question I have whenever I read this is: “Can I as a 21st century Christian Gentile, not a Jewish person and not living when it was written — not being Joshua — can I take a promise made to Joshua and apply it to myself?” My answer is yes for three reasons.
Can We Claim This Promise?
First, this promise is not limited to Joshua. The same words are used in Isaiah 41:10, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed” — those two words, don’t fear and don’t be dismayed, for I am with you. It’s broadened out in Isaiah 41:10.
The second reason is that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, in Jesus all the promises of God are Yes. So, if I’m in Christ, all the promises are Yes. In Christ, he says, I’m an offspring of Abraham, so that the promises made to the people of Israel are made to Christians, because we are offspring of Abraham in the Messiah (see also Galatians 3:16, 29).
The third reason is because Romans 8:32 provides the great gospel logic of all good things coming, including the promises of the Old Testament. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” — including this promise? My answer to the first question is: Yes, John Piper, you may embrace this promise and in Christ apply it to yourself.
God Commands Fearlessness
The second thing I ask is: “Is it a command?” Yes, it is. “Have I not commanded you?” The commands are four. Be strong. Be courageous — those are positives. And two negatives: Don’t be frightened. Don’t be dismayed. This is not an option.
Fear is not an option for the Christian. God says, “Don’t have it. If you have it, repent and fly to me and to this promise, and let’s get rid of it together.” We’re commanded not to fear, not to be dismayed; be strong and courageous.
How Do the Commands Fit Together?
The next question I ask is: “How do these four commands relate to each other?” Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be frightened. Don’t be dismayed. I think to answer that question, I need to go to the end of the verse and get the last piece; namely, the basis of it all, the ground of it all, where he says, “For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.”
The reason that you can be strong and be courageous and not fear and not be dismayed is that the Lord is going to be with you wherever you go. Think about what that tells you about the command to be strong.
Why would we need God with us if we pumped iron long enough to defeat the enemy ourselves, or if we had enough chariots, or if we had enough bows, arrows, and spears? Who needs God on the field? No, when he says God will be with you, then we know that be strong means be strong in the strength of the Lord (see also Ephesians 6:10).
Joshua’s puny strength is not going to be enough. God will win these battles for them. The command to be strong, in view of the ground for I am with you means: Trust in the strength of God to meet your needs as you go to battle against the enemy.
If that’s true, then the next three follow from that faith and God’s promise to be strong for us. First, if I’m strong in the strength that God supplies, I can be courageous. If I’m strong in the strength that God supplies, I don’t need to be afraid. If I’m strong in the strength that God supplies, I don’t ever need to be dismayed.
Fearlessness Is Faith
The bottom line is that this is a call to faith — faith in the promised strength of God. And for Christians, this is a strength that was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus, though we deserve nothing but destruction. We know that all the blessings that come into the lives of sinners are coming from the purchase of Jesus Christ.
Let me just ask one more thing. What’s the end game, what’s the final purpose of God summoning us to enjoy his strength so that we can be fearless? What’s the goal? Is it so we can be puffed up? You’re not going to be puffed up if God is the one giving the strength, which triggered in my mind 1 Peter 4:11, “Whoever serves, [let him do it] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”
The end, the goal, the outcome of this command when we live in the strength that God supplies and are free from fear and full of courage in our day, it is that God gets the glory.