Deuteronomy 31-32, Acts 4
Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give to them. I will be with you. – Deuteronomy 31:23 ESV
Imagine what it would have been like to be Joshua. This poor man was being handed the mantle of Moses, the great liberator and leader of Israel. He was going to take over for one of the greatest men who had ever lived and was expected to lead the people of Israel in their conquest of the Promised Land. Not only that, he had been made well aware of the fact that the people were going to end up breaking their covenant with God. Joshua would prove to be successful in his efforts to get them into the land, but they would quickly turn their backs on God. “For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant” (Deuteronomy 31:20 ESV). God was fully aware of all that was going to happen once the people occupied the land. He would fulfill His part in the covenant, but they would prove to be unfaithful. “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21 ESV). And yet, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. Not exactly encouraging words when you consider the circumstances and the less-than-ideal prospects facing Joshua. This was a man who was being called to lead a people who were described by God as crooked, perverse, twisted, corrupt, blemished, foolish, senseless and faithless. They were destined to disobey and, ultimately, to suffer destruction at the hands of God.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God was fully aware of all that was going to happen in the centuries to come. He had given Moses the law and instructed him to put it in writing. Moses was to give it to the priests and instruct them to read it out loud to the people when they assembled together every seventh year. They were to constantly remind the people of what the law said and were to teach it to the next generation. Moses told the Israelites that the written law had a purpose. “That it may be a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are” (Deuteronomy 31:26 ESV). Moses knew that the people were going to “act corruptly and turn aside.” God had even given Moses a song to teach to the people that would be a constant reminder of God's faithfulness and their own unfaithfulness. They had the oral and the written law. They had a song composed by God Himself. They had no excuse. God had clearly revealed to them His will and yet they would end up rejecting it.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Joshua had a job to do. He had been commissioned by God to lead the people into the land of promise. And yet he was well aware of the fact that the people he was leading were stubborn, stiff necked and rebellious. They would prove to be disobedient and all the victories and conquests would one day end up in their defeat and deportation in foreign lands. Like the prophets of God who would come after him, Joshua had been called by to do the will of God, regardless of the circumstances or eventual outcome. It was all part of God's plan. Even thought Joshua knew that the people would end up losing the very land they were about to conquer, he still needed to do his job. He needed to be faithful to God's calling. His job was the conquest. He was going to have to leave the rest up to God.
Long before His trials and crucifixion, Jesus had told His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:16-19 ESV). And those very words had to have been ringing in the ears of the Peter and John as they stood before Annas the high priest and the Jewish council. They had no idea what was going to happen to them. They had been arrested by the religious leaders for “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2 ESV). They had been obedient to do just as Jesus had commanded them to do. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). And now they were standing before the religious council and being warned “to speak no more to anyone in this name” (Acts 4:17 ESV). And yet, in spite of the threats of the religious leaders and the warning by Jesus Himself that they could end up flogged for their efforts, they refused to back down. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
When Peter and John were released, they made a beeline back to the other disciples and immediately appealed to God. Their prayer should be an encouragement to each and every one of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. We live in the midst of difficult days. We face tremendous opposition to our faith. Jesus warned the disciples, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). The same thing holds true for His disciples today. The world and the enemy hate us. Our standing in Christ marks us and sets us against the prince of this world. So like the disciples, we must face the reality of our circumstances and turn to God for help. Their prayer is insightful and instructive. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30 ESV). They appealed to God for boldness to speak His Word. They asked Him to reveal Himself through miraculous signs and irrefutable evidence of His power in their midst. Nothing builds our courage like a first-hand view of God's power in our lives. Like Joshua, they were going to need strength and courage. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV). Joshua had a job to do. So did Peter and John. In the midst of a generation marked by unfaithfulness and unbelief, they were called to be faithful, bold and strong. So are we. Paul would encourage us to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV).
Father, may I have the strength and boldness to do what You have called me to do. Teach me to find my strength in You. Constantly remind me to remain faithful to the task You have given me. Like Joshua, Peter and John, I have a job to do. Give me strength and courage to do it well. Amen