By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice May 2006)
Josh. 1:1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying,
2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of
3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.
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.
6 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.
7 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 withersoever thou goest.
8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
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.
Eph. 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. ...
These two readings (the Ephesians reading carried on to verse 20) were read at the service in St George's Chapel, Windsor on St George's Day, Sunday 23rd April 2006, two days after the 80th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.
George himself has many legends woven about his life, not the least being that of the defence of a young girl and the slaying of a dragon. It is popular today to sneer about such stories. The fact is, you do not get people inventing stories about your heroic exploits if you are a coward. George was a man who had guts, of that there can be little doubt. The story of George and the dragon speaks of doing right and facing up to danger to deliver the helpless, and in that way carrying out the very purpose of God. It speaks of enormous and, shall we say, supernatural courage in the face of evil and danger, here embodied in the form of a dragon, a symbol of Satan himself.
The novelist Neville Shute wrote, he said, about 'ordinary men doing extraordinary things'. He believed that a man could and would always find the courage necessary to do what was required of him. When the newspapers run the story of a man who has saved a child from drowning, the hero normally says, 'I only did what anyone would do.' Big John in the Country and Western song is a bad man who nevertheless holds up the roof of the mine so the other miners can escape and then dies as the mine collapses on him. Obviously there is Biblical imagery there, but John would have said he did what anyone would do.
We read stories today of great valour from the last war in the constant obituaries of soldiers, sailors and airmen in the broadsheets, men like the broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson's father-in-law, an infantry major who held up a German Panzer advance standing alone in the middle of a town square firing a mortar at the tanks from his hip.
It may well be that 'anyone would have done it', but there are some, frankly, who would not. That is why we take the self-effacing comment with a smile, and then give the man a medal anyway. At the same time, we recognise that ordinary men - and women - do indeed do extraordinary things in the heat of the moment, finding the courage to carry out feats of heroism which surprise even them, the strength to lift high a weight which in ordinary circumstances would not so much as shift off the ground, or the endurance to hold on to the last.
There is also another kind of courage, a dark, cold-blooded kind which exists after the heat of the moment has passed. It is the kind a warrior takes out with him, rather than that he finds on the battlefield. It may not even be the physical sort of courage. It may be grit in the face of another kind of adversity. But it has to endure when all seems to be going wrong, or the temptation is to listen to the worldly arguments and back down. I believe it is this kind of courage which Paul urged on the early church, which the martyrs had in abundance, which John Bunyan and John Wesley possessed, and which Joshua needed.
What strikes me about the passage in Judges is that we do not normally associate Joshua with a lack of courage. He was one of only two out of twelve spies who brought back a good report about the
. Only he and Caleb said the Israelites could take the land. Giants? Not a problem. Well, not a problem when God is with you. What a man of faith.
And yet, clearly even a man of faith needs to be reminded to have courage. All
was commanded to have courage by Moses:
Deut. 31:6 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.
Moses went on immediately to tell Joshua to have courage:
Deut. 31:7 And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.
8 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.
Of course, in Joshua 1:1-9, it is the Lord Himself who is speaking to Joshua, and Joshua is reminded three times to be strong and courageous. When God says something once it is important. When He says it three times either someone is hard of spiritual hearing or they really need it drummed into them. Joshua took the message to heart, and later repeated it to
Josh. 10:25 And 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.
It should not be offensive to women to observe that courage is associated with masculinity by the warriors of the Bible. Here is David's general Joab remembering that one of the functions of a man is to defend his family and the weak in general:
2 Sam. 10:12 Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good.
It is necessary to repeat that courage is not only to be found on the battlefield. All leaders need it when the going gets tough. Here is David speaking to Solomon:
1 Chr. 22:11 Now, my son, the LORD be with thee; and prosper thou, and build the house of the LORD thy God, as he hath said of thee.
12 Only the LORD give thee wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning
, that thou mayest keep the law of the LORD thy God.
13 Then shalt thou prosper, if thou takest heed to fulfil the statutes and judgments which the LORD charged Moses with concerning
: be strong, and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed.
Courage for these men is not something which a man is either born with or not. It is a command of God and something which God can provide. I described Joshua above as a man of faith. Faith and courage are strongly linked in the Bible. There is great virtue in courage which springs of faith, and one way to measure faith is to observe the courage which is its fruit. When the woman with a flow of blood found the faith to touch the tassel of Jesus's garment, it took courage as well. And we see from the
Chapel readings that courage is not exclusively an Old Testament virtue. There is a wonderful word of encouragement to Paul from the Lord: Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, 'Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city'. (Acts 18:9-10)
Just like the word to Joshua, here is the Lord Himself speaking to the Apostle Paul. We can all take that word to encourage ourselves if God is truly with us. To have courage is part of having faith. To be bold, to speak and not hold our peace, knowing God is with us is the Christian's lot. To hold our faith with courage to the last is the martyr's way. Nor is the association of courage with masculinity exclusively Old Testament. Here is Paul writing to the church in
1 Cor. 16:13 Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
He told them that courage and faith do not arise on their own:
1 Cor. 2:5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
We will all have to pray for that faith and courage which stands in the power of God in the days ahead. The Christian faith is under attack. It will be tempting for Christians in local government, in the police and public services, in the voluntary sector, at work and on the street, to go with the humanist flow. But I believe that God calls to us just as He called to Joshua and to the church at
to look to Him and His strength and take hold on courage and faith, not in the heat of the moment, but as a cold-blooded prayerful and hopeful decision to trust Him and His arm alone. He will not fail us. Let the Psalmist, David in this case, have the last word:
Ps. 31:23 O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
24 Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.