“It was the toughest year of my life,” Diane King, an archaeology professor and MSPC missionary, said recently of her year in the Middle East. What gave her the courage to continue her witness in the war-ravaged Middle East where she often faced danger? She said it came from “reading [her] Bible in the region down the road from where King David and Jesus walked,” and from understanding the culture behind those words more deeply.
How can words on a page of Scripture give this kind of courage to people who face such difficult times?
To find the answer, let’s excavate the true meaning of the word courage. Webster’s definition is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear” and “to act in accordance with one’s beliefs.” We usually associate courage with bravery, the ability to act with conviction when facing danger or the unknown. In our use of the word, courage is a character trait – more of an adjective than an action. God’s definition of courage is slightly different. In the book of Joshua, God tells Joshua that He will give Israel “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads” (Joshua 1:3). Looking behind him at his army of thousands who’d spent their lives getting nowhere in a desert, Joshua was justifiably afraid. How do we know? Because three times in this conversation the Lord says “Be strong and very courageous!” (see verses 6,7 and 9).
Was that just God saying “buck up kiddo”? Not quite. The word “courageous” in this passage suggests a different idea than Webster’s. In Hebrew, the word is “amats.” It can mean “to be strong, alert, brave, solid,” just like the English version. But it also means “to strengthen, to make firm, to assure.” This second meaning is our key to the power of scripture. God’s words do not work like ours. We can say to a friend “be strong and courageous” and our words are like a pat on the back – comforting for the moment, but probably not life-changing. God’s words of encouragement do much more. They actually command our spirits and bodies to be strong, brave, and secure.
That moment recorded between the Lord and Joshua is an intimate portrait of God’s ongoing act of creation – God actually spoke into Joshua a quality that did not exist before. He spoke courage into Joshua’s life that empowered victory matched by very few in the rest of Israel’s history. And He can do the same for us today. His word is still “living and active… piercing as far as the division between soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). So let’s open the Word of God and invite Him to speak to us. May He create in us the ability to be strong and courageous in the promised lands He wants to give us today.
“Be strong and very courageous!”