It’s right up there with Jeremiah 29:11 as the top verse quoted in times of transition. I received it on cards when I graduated high school. I’ve quoted it when I needed the encouragement. Heck, I can even sing this verse to you because of a childrens’ Bible-memory tape I listened to over and over as I grew up. Do you know what verse I’m talking about?
It’s Joshua 1:9. Say it with me if you know it: “‘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 Lord gives this pep talk to Joshua upon breaking the news to him that Moses is dead and he is now the one in charge of approximately two million people. I always thought that promotion was plenty enough context for Joshua to need such words of encouragement from Almighty God, but recently I learned something new that made this more powerful than ever.
What I realized, or perhaps the Lord showed me, is that this would have been the first time in forty years that Joshua would have needed told that God was with him. His reality throughout the entire journey through the wilderness was one in which God continually manifested Himself visibly before the entire congregation of the people. Exodus 40:34-38 tells us the story:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
Every morning for forty years, Joshua would rise from his bed, exit his tent, and see a pillar of cloud rising from the Tabernacle. Every evening, he would see a pillar of fire rising from the Tabernacle. Every time the pillar lifted up from the Tabernacle, the people packed and followed. Every time the pillar settled down again, so did the people. The pillar was constant, ever-present. It provided continual reassurance that every single person was exactly where God wanted them and that He was with them in that place.
But now, for the first time in forty years, Israel—and their leader, Joshua—could not visibly see God’s presence with them, leading them in the way to go. With as much trouble as Moses had in leading the people even with God manifestly among them, Joshua would have to take over without this visual help. Certainly, at a time like that, Joshua needed to hear that God was with him.
This transition in Joshua’s life gives us plenty to learn from, but there is one more that we must see that is subtler, but far more significant. It is that, in the wilderness, God moved and then the people moved. God settled and then the people settled. To put it more in the language of the key verses here, “The people of the LORD God were with Him wherever He went.” Now listen to what God said to Joshua, “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” (emphasis added).
Can you imagine this situation for Joshua? In the midst of all the other transitions that he is enduring, he is now told that instead of him following God, God will follow him. This is a huge shift. It means that instead of being a servant who only had to follow, he now has to step up and lead. It means a new freedom within which he has to think for himself, make history-altering decisions, and be aggressive to go after whatever lies in front of him. It means embracing strategy, creativity, and ingenuity in a way that was far beyond the level required in the wilderness. He had to do things he had never done before, think in ways he had never thought before, and act in a manner that had never been permitted before. This is no small task!
Believe it or not, each of us goes through the same transition that Joshua experienced, beginning with a training phase that in some way resembles these four elements: 1) Listening to what God desires from and in our lives, 2) Learning to trust and follow God during difficult times, 3) Cultivating relationship with God by meeting with Him in the intimate places of our soul, and 4) Learning from spiritual fathers and mothers in our lives (even if that means learning from God’s example in our lives). Joshua was trained in these in the wilderness, and they will lead us to the same place they led him—a place where we can have confidence despite the risks we’re called to take.
So what risks are you called to take? Has God been talking to you about a new job or career? Maybe He’s been leaning on your heart to engage your neighborhood to show them His love. Perhaps He’s calling you to a new level in your marriage and parenting. It really doesn’t matter what the risk is that He’s calling you to take, His preparation looks the same. Which may mean that you’re also still in the preparation stage of life, though if that’s you, consider that Joshua still led battles in the wilderness and that his character was tested by his ability to serve.
The bottom line is that, whether because of a pillar of cloud and fire or whether God simply gives us His promise, we know that He’s with us. As G.I. Joe always said, “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half is to step out in faith to do the work required for the job, knowing that wherever I go, the Lord my God will go with me.