Lesson 18: “Be Strong and of a Good Courage”
The current lesson is based on the life of Joshua, including both his call to leadership (early in the book of Joshua) and his charge to the Israelites at the end of his life to keep their covenants with God. Lessons from the life of Joshua form the basis of a pair of lessons in Ezra C. Dalby’s Land and Leaders of Israel: Lessons in the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1930), a textbook used by the Seminaries of the church in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Joshua, the Courageous
Lesson Text: Joshua 1:1-11; 5:10-15; 6.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 27.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” – Isaiah 26;4.
The Message of the Lesson
When Moses died, a light went out greater than ever shone in Israel again. No Hebrew prophet or leader, save Jesus only, equaled Moses in all the elements that go to make up true greatness. Great in mind, great in heart, great in character, great in personal influence, great in constructive genius, he stands on an eminence alone among the immortals of that favored race. Joshua was a small man compared with the great Emancipator and law-giver. He was not a prophet or one capable of the heights of communion with God that Moses enjoyed, but for the work at hand he was better qualified than Moses would have been. Joshua was a soldier, prompt, energetic, swift in decision, and prompt in execution – in fact, a general of the first order.
Joshua had been the military leader of Israel in all their contests with desert tribes from the beginning, and his relationship with Moses had been most cordial. He had even been with him on the sacred mountain in the very presence of God. His respect and reverence for the great prophet had grown with the years, and in every situation he had proved true to the trust imposed in him. Thirty-eight years before he had been one of the twelve spies and with Caleb had advised an immediate invasion of Canaan fro the south. Israel had refused to act on his advice. Now the time had come to make another effort to conquer the land, and Joshua was called by God to lead Israel in their invasion. Moses had approved of the selection, and had laid his hands upon his head and blessed him.
We can imagine the sad farewell when the two great leaders parted for the last time. Moses was going to his long rest, and Joshua to his great task of conquest. For forty years they had stood and worked together. Now the younger man must carry on alone. And like a continual refrain Joshua must have had ever after ringing in his ears the last words of Moses: “Be strong and of a good courage.” He certainly needed all the courage and strength that he could muster; for the walled cities, the high towers, and the giants were still in the land that he was invading.
When the last farewell was said and Moses had gone, Joshua set himself to the accomplishment of his great enterprise. first of all came a comforting message to him from the Lord: “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. * * * 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.”
Joshua had a definite thing to do, and here he is given an assurance that he can do it. God promised him success, and in that promise he trusted. There was no doubt in his mind of the outcome. The Lord said: “I will be with thee,” and that was sufficient for Joshua; such was his faith that he felt the conquest was as good as finished before it was begun.
What a wonderful thing it is to have a definite aim in life! And how few there are who have it. to be mastered and possessed by an idea is the very essence of success. How can we shoot an arrow strong and straight without a mark to shoot at? How can we be “strong and of a good courage” without something to inspire that courage? How can the Lord be with us unless we are going some place, and know where it is? Joshua had his work laid out ahead. He knew what he had to do, and all obstacles gave way before him. It was not that he undervalued the foe. He appreciated the difficulties, and knew that he would have to fight, but he knew also that God would be with him, which made him irresistible.
But Joshua did not have a monopoly on God. Every boy or girl with a worthy aim, with a noble purpose, may also hear if he or she carefully listens: “Be strong and of a good courage” * * * and “I will be with thee.” with that assurance nothing is impossible. When God is with us, there is no need to fear or be dismayed. and he will always accompany us on a worthy enterprise, if we invite him; and there is no limit to our strength, if God is with us. Every one who remembers that will succeed, in spite of a thousand obstacles.
And now let us see how God’s promise worked out in the case of Joshua and Israel. the fist obstacle was the Jordan river, which at this season of the year was overflowing its banks. Across the river stood Jericho, protected b high walls and armed men, ready if need be to withstand a siege of indefinite length. To cross a large stream such as the Jordan in the face of an enemy is a difficult operation, and not a hint had been given as to how it could be done.
At this point Joshua went out of the camp to think over his plan of campaign. Suddenly he saw the figure of “a man *** with his sword drawn in his hand.” Joshua had no idea who it was, but without a sign of fear or a moment’s hesitate, he demanded to know which side he stood for: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” “Nay,” said the vision, “but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.” Joshua had thought there were only two sides – Israel’s and the enemy’s – but here he learned there was another – the Lord’s. He fell on his face to the ground in homage and worshiped his heavenly visitor, while the Lord told him how Jericho was to be taken, not by strength of armed men, but in God’s way, which he there revealed.
And now let us visualize, if we can, the fall of Jericho, for it was one of the most important events in the history of the world, affecting mightily the destinies of mankind. Standing on the spot where recent excavations have disclosed the site of the city in Joshua’s day, it is easy to conceive the picture as the Bible gives it. The people of Jericho had known of the approach of Israel for several months. They had heard of their crossing the Red Sea and of their victories over the Amorites and other tribes in the wilderness, and now standing on the walls of the city they could see an enormous body of men slowly moving down the slopes of the mountain of Moab. This must be the army of Israel. It is not surprising that a great fear should have fallen upon the city, or that they should have closed the gate so that “none went out, and none came in.” All courage left them, and they felt a sense of impending disaster. The dark mass of men moved steadily forward. nearer and nearer they came. But surely they would stop at the Jordan, with the flood water overflowing its banks. but they crossed over on dry land, as if there had been no river. Then the great host began to spread across the plain in the direction of the terror-stricken city.
They were a wild, stern, unkempt folk, clad in rough garments made from the skins of animals, such as men of Jericho had never seen before. Onward they came, ever drawing nearer the doomed city. Upon the shoulders of four men was borne a mysterious chest of wood overlaid with gold. this was the Ark of the Covenant, constructed at Sinai. It represented the visible presence of Jehovah to Israel, but to the people of Jericho it seemed to be the symbol of death. Before the ark went seven priests, who held in their hands trumpets of rams’ horns. As soon as the shuddering city was reached, the quiet of the hitherto silent host was broken by seven blasts from seven horns. Then all was silent again, while the army of forty thousand solemn men marched once around the walls of the ill-fated city.
History records no siege like the siege of Jericho. For seven days of anxious suspense, this skin-clad army of uncouth men kept up their solemn and silent march about the walls of the city, once each day. On the seventh, they marched around seven times. Then without warning there arose from forty thousand throats a sound that hushed every bird and beast of the imprisoned plain. It reverberated from the adjoining hills; it brought the walls of the city to the ground. And Jericho passed from the sunlight of day into the darkness of night.
So Joshua had crossed the Jordan on dry land, and conquered Jericho without a blow; supreme faith had laid low its walls and towers. This was not done by human power; the voice of God was the cannon that made the breach. One moment it stood unharmed, the next it lay a mass of ruins.
The Unknown Warrior
By Jericho’s doom’d towers who stands on high
With helmet, spear, and glittering panoply?
“The Christian soldier, like a gleaming star,
Trained in the wilderness to iron war.”
Take off thy shoes, thy promised land is found,
The place thou standest on is holy ground.
“Take thou the shield and buckler, stop the way
Against mine enemies! thou my stay!”
I am thy rock, thy castle: I am He
Whose feet have dried up the Egyptian sea;
Fear not for I am with thee; put on might;
‘Gainst thrones and powers of darkness is the fight.
– Isaac Williams.
Questions and Problems
1. What is the outstanding thought in this lesson?
2. Compare the characters and ability of Moses and Joshua.
3. Why is the clause: “Be strong and of a good courage,” repeated so often?
4. What is necessary in order that we may have courage?
5. What happened at Jordan? Cause?
6. What was manna, and why did it cease after Israel crossed the Jordan?
7. What gave to Joshua his great courage?
8. What was the plan of attack on Jericho?
9. What is meant by an aim in life? How early should we select an aim?
10. Name other men who have shown the same faith that Joshua did.
11. Show the importance of faith. Is faith inborn, or must it be developed? How can this be done?
12. Give illustrations of how this lesson may be applied in our lives.
13. Discuss the Memory Gem.
14. Read the first six chapters of Joshua.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, there is much for us to do, and we come to thee for help. Wilt thou not leave us nor forsake us in our hour of need. Like Joshua, we have our Jordan to cross, our Jericho to take, and the hosts of Canaan to subdue, before we can enter and take possession of our inheritance. Without thy assistance we cannot succeed. Wilt thou give us courage and strength sufficient for the task which thou hast appointed unto us. May we have the comforting assurance that there is no need to fear, for thou art with us, “thy rod and thy staff” are our support.
Joshua, the Conqueror
Lesson Text: Joshua 23; 24:14-28.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 32.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “Take good head therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God.” – Joshua 23:22.
The Message of the Lesson
Choosing Whom We Will Serve
When Israel was purged from the sin of Achan, the conquest began in earnest. Ai, the city which at first had defeated Joshua’s army, was easily taken and destroyed through a simple stratagem. And now city after city fell before the terrific onslaughts of the invincible army of Israel. Joshua proved to be one of the ablest generals of all time. His mind ran naturally in the line of warfare. He had the ability to plan military expeditions, and could devise methods of attack which completely surprised the enemy, and scattered the foe before they knew what had happened. Coalition after coalition was formed against him, but to no purpose. He swooped down upon his enemies like a thunder bolt, and scattered them as if they were chaff. Like an angel of doom he appeared to the terror-stricken Canaanites, who fled before him in every direction.
This went on until practically the entire hill country of Canaan was at his feet, and he apportioned the land among the tribes that had conquered it. It must not be understood, however, that the land was entirely subdued. The inhabitants of the low country, in many cases, could not be driven out, but remained to vex the children of Israel after Joshua was gone. The greatest danger which remained, however, was not military but religious. Finding they were among a people of greater culture than themselves, it was easy for Israel to adopt their ways and methods of worship. Israel, having always been inclined to practice idolatry, soon gave way to it in Canaan. In many cases, they lost their individuality and mixed with the inhabitants of the land, and adopted their ideals and religion.
Before his death Joshua saw this great danger. He realized that his task of conquest was not complete. Israel had come into Canaan for one reason only, that they might cherish and develop the religion of their fathers. Why conquer the Canaanites at all, if they fell into their ways? Joshua saw that it was easier to destroy the enemies of Israel, than to keep Israel itself clean; easier to win battles with the sword, than to fight sin day by day.
We have all noticed this. Men do some great thing and are acclaimed as heroes. They thrill the world by their bravery – the doing of some heroic “deed that mocks at fear.” Then, before the echo of their praises dies, they yield to a petty temptation, and lose all they have gained. Many World War heroes whose daring exploits on the battlefield gripped the hearts of humanity, are behind prison bars today because they could not successfully fight the daily temptation to do wrong. It is not the big thing, the spectacular feat, that determines character, but the successful effort day by day to keep the heart pure. Israel could wield the sword and destroy cities and kingdoms, but they could not be loyal to the God who delivered them from bondage.
Joshua saw this. He felt more and more how great was the work that he was leaving unfinished. Canaan had been given to Israel. Jehovah had fulfilled his promise, but Israel had not kept the covenant which they made with him at Sinai. So the old soldier returns from his retirement to battle once more, not for lands or cities, but for the allegiance of the people to the God who led them out of Egypt and gave them the land of promise. His sword is sheathed, but his voice is raised in pleading for loyalty to Jehovah. He promises that God will expel from the land all the Canaanites who still remain, and Israel shall possess it forever. But they must not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left from the Law of Moses: “That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the Lord your God.” And then he warns them that if they fail to do this: “God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.” What a promise, and what a warning! Well had it been for Israel, had they heeded his words!
And now we are back to Shechem, back to the place where Abraham built his first altar in Canaan, back to the mountain from which he first viewed the land which God promised to give to him and his seed forever. Joshua has summoned the leaders of all the tribes of Israel to expound to them the words of the law once more before he dies. The priests tell of the blessings that will come to Israel by observing the Law, from Mount Gerizim; and the cursings, if they forget to obey it, from Mount Ebal. Then Joshua recapitulates the mighty things which the Lord has done for them from the days of Abraham until the present. After this comes his trumpet call for a decision: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve * * * but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” They were given perfect liberty to choose whom they would serve, whether they would be God’s servants or the servants of Satan; but they must bear the responsibility of their choice.
It must have been an impressive occasion. There stood their great leader, more than a hundred years old, who had heard the call of Moses, while toiling as a slave in Egypt, whose feet had followed the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night through all the wanderings in the wilderness from the day when they crossed the Red Sea, until they entered Canaan; whose sword had always been wielded in their defense until their inheritance was secure, pleading with them to remain true and loyal to God. He stood among them a representative of an age that was past. He had been with Moses on Sinai when the Law was given, and he would forever bind the nation to that Law and to God with cords that could not be broken. He would make the very stones that heard his words be a witness against them, if they should deny their God. This was his final message to Israel.
His words were effective, for the people pledged themselves that they would serve the Lord. and Joshua said to them: “Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.” Once more he asked them to put away their strange gods and incline their hearts to the God of Israel. And they replied: “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”
So there comes to each of us a solemn hour when we must come to a decision. Down the centuries, forever ringing in the ears of men are the words of Joshua: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” Those words were not alone for Israel. They are for us also. now, today, this very hour is the appointed time to make our choice. With Israel let us say; “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”
Give thanks for heroes that have stirred
Earth with the wonder of a word;
They, when the face of God grew dim,
Held through the dark and trusted Him –
Brave souls that fought the mortal way
And felt that faith could not betray.
But all thanksgiving for the breed
Who have bent destiny with deed –
Souls of the high heroic birth,
Souls sent to poise the shaken earth,
And then called to God again
to make heaven possible to men.
– H.W. Mabie.
Questions and Problems
1. Give incidents showing the military genius of Joshua. (See chapters 10 and 11)
2. How was Ai captured?
3. What was done to the inhabitants of the cities which Israel conquered?
4. Which portions of the land were conquered? Which remained unconquered?
5. What new danger threatened Israel? How do you account for this?
6. What two meetings did Joshua hold with the leaders? What warning did he give them?
7. What effect did his words have on the people? What came of it?
8. How can we answer the critics who condemn Joshua for putting to death the men he captured?
9. Can you justify the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites? How?
10. Discuss Joshua 10:12-13. Of you think the sun really stood still? Find out all you can about the book of Jasher.
11. What application can we make of this lesson?
12. Discuss the Memory Gem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Kind and loving Father, help us to realize that the days of our youth are days of fate, days when we must make the great decision of our lives, and choose whom we will serve, to whom we will give our time, our strength, our allegiance, our all. They are our days of dedication, days upon which will depend our future destiny. Vain pleasures entice us; ambition, wealth, fame, the kingdoms of this world and all their glory are calling us to bow down and serve them. Amidst this confusion of conflicting inducements, may we hear clear and strong the words of Joshua, and have courage to say with him: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”