One of the first books of the Bible that I chose to study after I became pastor was the Book of Joshua. I felt a kind of kinship with that man of God, who was thrust into leadership after the departure of his powerful predecessor. Over and over again in the first few chapters of Joshua, we hear God encouraging him. It was as though the man who was willing to take up a sword and to run upon the enemy, felt intimidated about leading his own people into the promised land. “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
Verses like those became a part of my heart and mind in the first few months of my first pastorate. And whenever we come to similar statements elsewhere in the Bible, my heart returns to Joshua. As Joshua became more accustomed to his role as national leader he encouraged Israel. “Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.” There are lots of scriptures like these. “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” And David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.” Stirring are the words of Hezekiah to Israel – “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him.” The Bible is filled with such encouragement – “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts.”
But doesn’t it seem strange to you that Daniel should need to be encouraged with these same words? Look at young Daniel standing up to Melzar and Ashpenaz, telling them that he will not eat the king’s food. And in the next chapter he walks right into Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room – despite the king’s orders to kill all the “wise men” in Babylon. Does he show any fear whatsoever as he faces apparent death by lion? Daniel has never been a timid man – a weak man – a cowardly man. And even when in the past he has faced the angels of God, it was not like most men. Daniel was a breed unlike any other. And yet now, with all of his past experiences, it was necessary to strengthen him for what was coming.
Perhaps he felt weak because he was talking to an angel of God. Scriptures often describe weak knees, weak hearts and physical fainting in the presence of angels. But Daniel had met angels before, and probably even this particular angel, without this kind of effect. That is not an explanation for his debility in this case.
Ah, but never before had he seen the face of the pre-incarnate Son of God. That is certainly true, and I can’t just dismiss this as the cause of his lack of courage and strength. And yet, somehow, I just don’t think that this was the problem, because it comes a little after the fact.
Perhaps rather than trying to guess at a cause for this feebleness, it would be more beneficial to us to consider why the Lord strengthened him. If there is any human need in our world today, it is Christians who live and die like saints of God. There is a need for Joshuas and Daniels today just as there has always been. This kind of people are needed in God’s churches, in business, in society generally, and in especially in our homes.
I’d like you to return to Joshua 1, because its from that chapter that I’d like to take my outline this morning.
Despite all of Israel’s sin, and her obvious lack of courage to take possession of the Promise Land, once again, God reiterated the promise which He had made to His chosen nation. Joshua, “thou shalt divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers.” Here is an anomaly – why was it necessary to encourage Joshua if there was a divine promise in place? Shouldn’t God’s promises in themselves be all the encouragement that we need? Well, as far as Joshua was concerned – he had been in this position before, about 40 years earlier. God had made a promise to Israel about a land of corn and wine, prosperity and peace much earlier. But when the spineless ten spies stole what little faith the people had, Israel suffered for 40 years. For every right-thinking, God-leaning, faith-following leader, there are five faithless, cowardly rebels. “Be strong Joshua and of a good courage.” “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong.”
Obviously, it takes courage to lead, even when we’re talking about leading the people of God. Because following the Lord often takes people through dangerous territory. Israel at that point didn’t know what would befall them outside the walls of Jericho. And we know that men will later loose their lives at Ai, but Israel could only guess at that point. But guess is what they did, and you can be sure that most of their guesses were rather negative. That is the nature of the human heart – even our own – we usually think the worse. Joshua know that Israel might fight a few dozen battles in the future. It takes courage to lead men into harms’ way. Israel would have to take up swords and spears. There would be women and children left at camp without many human guards to protect them. It may be years before there will be true peace for the nation of Israel.
And the fact remains: people are inherently lazy, not wanting to do anything more than the minimum. Lazy people are often rebellious and cantankerous people. Joshua 13:1 tells us that when Joshua was not quite as old as Daniel there was still much of the Promised Land yet to be subdued and occupied. Even later in chapter 18 – “And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance. And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?” Be strong and of a good courage Joshua, for you are going to have to lead this people kicking and screaming into their inheritance.
And here comes Daniel, receiving prophecies which are far less appealing than those given to Joshua. Daniel hears promises about the Greeks – and a Grecian antichrist. And following him will the far worse Romans and the true Antichrist. “What am I supposed to do with this information, Lord?” “Give it to my people, Israel. Write it down and seal it up for use by the saints that I shall have under my new covenant.” Call Israel to repentance; invite them to look toward the heavens. Urge them to watch for the Messiah.”
Be strong and of a good courage Daniel, for I have commissioned you to point the way toward salvation and the Kingdom of God.
I take you back to what we considered about Daniel last week. Remember that he had just spent three weeks in soul-search, heart-cleansing and spiritual house-keeping. For three weeks he gave up his prime-ministerial duties, his dining privileges at the king’s table, and just about every other pleasurable thing in his life, in order to focus on the Lord and his relationship to God. Does that mean that before this time, Daniel had inadvertently fallen into neglect or even terrible sin? I suppose that it all depends on your definition of “terrible.” Unless we are deliberately striving for close fellowship with the Lord, our native corruption will kick in and sin will be found laying at our door.
Every once in a while it would do us good to review a very simple scripture found in I Thessalonians 5:16-22. In less time than it takes to take three breaths, we have eight simple commandments that not a single person in this auditorium has completely obeyed since getting up this morning. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” These are all positive and relatively easy commands from the Lord, and yet how inconsistent we are in obeying them.. Do we have the courage necessary to admit to our sin and to ask God to forgive us and enable us? We could read dozens of scriptures like these – filled with exhortations and commands. The only way that we can successfully keep these divine orders is with divine strength. “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong.”
To fill our lives with God’s good things and to avoid evil requires strength – if not actual courage.
It is interesting to see how often Joshua is reminded of the presence of the Lord. There it was in Moses’ charge to the young man in Deuteronomy 31 – “And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” There it is in Joshua 1:5 – “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” There it is again in verse 9 – Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. In that same chapter, the people prayed that the presence of the Lord be with Joshua in verse 17 – “And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go. According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.” Then as we read through the book – the Lord actually was with him. Just as the Lord was with Daniel.
But what if Joshua was not strong enough to lead, obey and grow? Earlier there was another leader named Aaron. Aaron was often times as weak as water: His sister pushed him around and made him rebel against his brother. That was when Miriam’s hand turned leprous. And during the 40 days of Moses’ stay on the mountain, the people pushed Aaron into idolatry. Aaron had no personal guts, no spine, no resolve, no strength. And the fact of the matter is that Aaron didn’t enjoy the Lord in the same way as Moses or Joshua.
God seems to say that it takes strength to enjoy the blessings of the Lord. We cannot expect others to follow us, if we are not following the Lord. We cannot expect the blessing of the Lord if we are not disciplined in the things of the Lord. We will never have the strength to be the Christian we are meant to be unless we are courageous enough to want the Lord and to love the Lord.
Or to put it another way….
What exactly is prosperity? Obviously Daniel didn’t enjoy prosperity, because he was little more than a slave – a eunuch. Oh? Prosperity is not to be measured by the number of Canaanites that we are able to defeat. Nor is it measured by the amount of money we amass. And its not in the size of our flocks, our stocks, our houses or our BMWs.
Prosperity refers to the blessing of the Lord. The Hebrew word speaks of “advancing, progressing, and growing.” It doesn’t take a position of great responsibility before we can claim the Lord’s prosperity. This prosperity is found upon us when of our children display good character. It can be seen in the souls that we bring to the Saviour. It might be in the positive influence that we have on others. Joseph was as prosperous in Potiphar’s prison as he was in Pharaoh’s palace. Paul was as prosperous in the Philippian jail as he was on the streets of Thessalonica. And Mephibosheth was more prosperous in the house of David after all his property was given to Ziba than he ever was in the house of his father or grandfather.
But it takes strength and courage to deny oneself the prosperity of the world in order to have the prosperity of God.
“Lord give us what it takes to be the kind of Christians that this world needs us to be. Give us strength and courage to be leaders – obedient leaders – spiritual leaders. Give us strength to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to prosper in the things of the Lord.” Joshua was a powerful force for good in the lives of the people of Israel in his day. And Daniel has been even more important to thousands of people over the last 2,500 years. Dare to be a Daniel.