By Michael Fitzpatrick
Reading from Joshua, 1:1-18
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2”My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
10 Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 11”Pass through the camp, and command the people: ‘Prepare your provisions; for in three days you are to cross over the Jordan, to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.’”
12 To the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13”Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest, and will give you this land.’ 14Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them, 15until the Lord gives rest to your kindred as well as to you, and they too take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land and take possession of it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan to the east.”
16 They answered Joshua: “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18Whoever rebels against your orders and disobeys your words, whatever you command, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”
As a military veteran, I have been encouraged to be “strong and courageous.” I have been told to have courage in pursuing my higher education in environments where veterans are regularly ignored or discriminated against. The virtue of courage has served to aid my personal goals and development.
I also heard “be strong and courageous” in service. On the eve of a patrol, a firing mission, or a medical visit to impoverished communities, my commanders encouraged us to have strength and courage as we carried out our orders. A mission was on the line then, not personal goals. The virtue of courage, of “being strong,” was an aid to our obedience, not our self-fulfillment.
Since returning to civilian life, I rarely see strength and courage valued in contexts where our obedience to others is expected. How foreign the opening to the story of Joshua’s leadership can sound! The people of Israel are encouraged to be “strong and courageous” in taking the promised land; in obeying the laws of the covenant with Elohim; in trusting the will of God. They must strictly obey commands from the outside, not first from their “inner compasses.”
This story is about learning to obey. Israel’s identity lies in YHWH and their obedient trust in him, not in their own desires. Only learning this obedience will train them in wisdom, so they can understand when their own inner compasses point to the purposes of God or not. This is faith: the courage to put it all on the line for God, no matter the circumstance.
May we also choose to trust the divine wisdom so that we will know the commands of God, and live by them!
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in Philosophy at Stanford University and a student leader for the Episcopal-Lutheran Campus Ministry at Stanford. Michael attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, CA.
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