Joshua 1

A Thin Line

Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 Four times in Chapter 1 the phrase “be strong and courageous” comes up. Three times God told Joshua to be strong and courageous.  The fourth time Joshua is commanding the people to be strong and courageous.

 I know I have talked about this before but I want to point out again the Hebrew word translated “strong” here is the same word translated “hardened” back in Exodus when God was talking about the condition of Pharaoh’s heart.  Apparently there is a thin line between being strong and being hard.

 I have worked with steel all my life.  Steel fresh from the mill, for the most part, is considered soft.  Soft means that it can be worked easily like bending and forming or drilling and performing other machine work.  Soft steel, however, can be work hardened.  Steel has what is called a modulus of elasticity.  This means it can be bent to a point and return to its original position without changing its shape.  However, if it is bent beyond that point it will tend to remain in that new shape.  So, if soft steel is formed into a shape beyond its modulus of elasticity, it will remain in that shape making it useful for stove tops, car fenders, and so on. Work hardening happens when the steel is bent beyond its modulus of elasticity and then forced back to its original shape.  At the point of the bend the steel becomes hard each time it is bent and then bent back.  As this process is repeated the hard area will become harder and larger and eventually crack and break. The process of work hardening is the result of something in the outside environment coming against it repeatedly.

 Steel can be made hard yet very elastic as in the case of a spring.  The steel used for springs is alloyed with other minerals, such as carbon, which gives steel strength and flexibility after the steel has been properly heat treated. In heat treating, the steel is brought to a temperature of 1500-1800 degrees F and then cooled very quickly in water or oil. The heat causes the molecules of the minerals to move quickly and mix together and the cooling “freezes” them in place.  At this point the steel is hard and can break easily so the spring must be “tempered” to change the chemical structure so that the spring is hard enough to not break when bent but also be very flexible and thus useful. Tempering is a process of reheating the metal and controlling the cooling rate. The reheating temperature is much lower perhaps 500 -700 degrees or so. When done properly a spring has much more flexibility than soft steel and can be bent repeatedly and much further without work hardening and breaking. The spring is harder than soft steel but the hardness makes it much stronger rather than brittle.  It is the strength that makes the spring useful.

 So how do we become stronger and useful and avoid becoming hard to the point of breaking when the things of the world and the challenges of life come against us? Like the steel in this illustration we must go through a heat treating and a tempering process.

 Israel spent forty years in the desert.  That was their heat treatment.  All the experiences they went through in their wandering had the potential to make them both strong and hard.  In the Promised Land they will need added strength, read “strong,” and added hardness to resist the things that they are going to face, read “courageous”. If they are not strong and hard like our spring they will break and fail. 

 It has been said that the thing we are going through and dealing with today is preparation for what we might be going through tomorrow.  Like work hardening, heat treatment is environmental. Whether we become strong or hard depends on whether or not we have been “alloyed” with God. It is a relationship with God that gives us the strength to deal with the issues of life that we face.  To face the issues in life without God and in our own strength, like Pharaoh did, results in a hardness that will eventually break.

 In order to be strong and courageous we need to also be tempered.  Tempering comes when we filter the issues of life that we face through God and His Word.  God told Joshua,

 “Only be strong and courageous, be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My Servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7&8 NASB

 I see in these verses several things regarding the tempering process.

The first is to remember where we have come from, who we have committed our life to, and where do we look for wisdom.  Let the word of God guide you when things get hard.  This is the time to put the word of God into practice but this is also the time when we are tempted to abandon the word of God and try something else.  Those temptations come in many forms.  Grumbling and complaining, or wanting to go back to the old ways that didn’t work.  There is always someone that is ready to offer help and advice but is the thing they are suggesting from God’s word or from somewhere else?  The way to establish the work of God in our lives is to put it into practice.

 That leads us to the next thing I see. Meditate on the word of God.  I believe if we will study the scriptures and seek God’s wisdom He will show us how the scriptures apply to any given situation we might face.  Meditation on the scriptures is to actively seek that application.  Prayer is also a part of the process.  We are told that if we ask for wisdom, wisdom will be given. God’s word will separate truth from fiction and deception, and the right way to address any and all of the things that arise.  But note that along with being strong we are to be courageous.  To take the right action and trust God’s word takes faith.  All too often we are motivated by fear. God’s word calls us to live by faith rather than fear. Fear calls us to react. Often that reaction is fight or flight. Faith shows us how to take the initiative and act showing us the way of success.

 Finally, remember that God is with us wherever we go.  He will never leave us nor forsake us. Two more dangers arise when we face a difficult situation. One is that we forget that God is with us and we feel isolated.  Feeling like we are overwhelmed and all alone is often the result of thinking we are isolated. The second is overconfidence. Thinking we can handle things ourselves so there is no need to bother God by asking what we should do is a sure recipe for failure.  This will be clearly illustrated in the chapters that follow.

 God’s desire is that his people would be prosperous and have success in the Promised Land. In order for them to be prosperous and successful He tells them to be strong and courageous not hardened and fearful.  Towards the end of the book, Joshua will tell the people to choose today whom they will serve.  Choosing God and committing to His way is the first step that we need to take. Have you taken this step?

 Be strong and courageous!

Pastor Dave