Many times in life, we find ourselves in circumstances where success seems all but impossible. In starting a new job, we are often nervous and wonder how we will accomplish all that has been given to us. In college, we see the mountain of assignments given to us at the beginning of a new semester and we convince ourselves that we will not finish them all. As new parents, we feel helpless, having been given a job that is impossible to be prepared for. When the specter of serious disease arises, we often do not know how we will make it through.
Joshua faced far more arduous circumstances. He had assisted Moses from his youth, and after Moses’ death he was tasked with leading the vastly outnumbered Israelites against the peoples of Canaan to drive them out of the land (Num. 11:28; 33:50–56; Deut. 31:23). Few men in history have needed more encouragement than Joshua. He needed to know that he could do what the Lord called him to do. And as the leader of Israel, he needed particular strength, for if he were weak, the people would certainly be weak as well.
God gave Joshua needed encouragement when he and the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, as we see in today’s passage. Having promised to be with His people (Josh. 1:1–5), God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. Indeed, what more encouragement should Joshua have needed than the Lord’s promise to be with him? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
However, while the animating power behind Joshua’s and the Israelites’ success would be the presence of God—for He pledged to go before them and fight for them (Josh. 1:9; see Deut. 1:30)—Joshua and the Israelites would not succeed if they lived contrary to the will of God. We see this in Joshua 1:7–8, where the Lord promises success only when the people of God meditate on His Word and are careful to obey it. There is a connection between blessing and obedience, at least in the short term, even though it is not a one-to-one correlation. Sometimes those who obey God’s law will suffer—as in the case of Job—and sometimes those who disobey God’s revealed will prosper, at least for a time—as in the case of the pagan nations that sometimes defeated ancient Israel. Still, in the long term, those who obey the Lord will finally win, and those who reject Him will fail for eternity. John Calvin comments, “The only way in which we can become truly invincible is by striving to yield a faithful obedience to God.”