Scripture: Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:7-8 ESV
Observation: After challenging the people to choose life over death, blessings over curses, by obeying the Lord’s voice, Moses then reminds the people that now age 120, he is too weak to lead the charge into Canaan, but Israel’s all-powerful Lord will go before them and destroy the nations with Joshua leading the way (vv.1-3). He then reminds them of how Yahweh handed over the five kings of the south to Israel as they approached the Promised Land. Thus, they can count on God to do the same in Canaan. So be strong and courageous, for the Lord will be with them and not leave nor forsake them (vv.4-6).
At this point in the installation ceremony, Moses turns toward Joshua and, speaking directly to him in front of the people, repeats the charge to be strong and courageous, for the Lord will go with Joshua and not forsake him. And what is Joshua’s mission? It’s two-fold: bring the people into the Promised Land and distribute the land among the tribes. Thus, Moses assures Joshua that Yahweh will be present with him each step of the way. So do not fear the enemy or be dismayed (above verses).
Takeaway: Moses’ commission echoed an earlier event when the Lord affirmed Moses in front of the people at Sinai that they might believe in and follow Moses’ leadership (Exodus 19:9). And Moses’ challenge to be strong and courageous ripples into the future when the Lord commissions Joshua (Joshua 1:6, 9), the people encourage Joshua (Joshua 1:8), and King David exhorts his son Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:13, 28:20). In each instance, the succession of leadership involves commissioning the leader, the witness of the community, the call to allegiance (the leader to God and the people to the leader and God), and affirmation that Lord will prosper them. And undergirding the process, the Lord will go before the leader and all the people.
As the text points us to Christ, our Gospel tells us that the Father commissioned his Son at his baptism in the community of future believers, and John the Baptist would step aside and point his disciples to Christ. Additionally, the Father would speak words of affirmation and go before his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Son would declare his allegiance to his Father: only doing what the Father tells him—even unto death on a cross.
How does this apply to us? Indeed, we need to follow this pattern in the commissioning of Christian leaders. But, more importantly, we would do well to remind ourselves that the Lord goes before all of us. It may not be obvious, but if we take the time to reflect on how we have arrived at this point in our faith journey, we will remember those who, through the leading of the Holy Spirit:
- spoke timely words that guided us,
- advocated us to others that opened doors,
- strengthened us with practical help when we were overwhelmed, and
- encouraged us when we wanted to give up.
These are just a few ways the Holy Spirit orchestrates others to help us, and we to help them. And it all began with our Lord going before us to crush the ultimate enemy’s head and remove the sting of death so that we might take possession of our eternal Promise Land. Meanwhile, as we sojourn into enemy territory, we scout signs of the Lord’s presence and remember his commission: “Be strong and courageous, for I, the Lord, am going before you!”
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who went before us and prepared the way to forgiveness and reconciliation with you. Would you please us to remember that you have and will continue to go before us and thus follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the strength and courage of your Son?” Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling