Two Types of Courage


Joshua Davis on Flickr

Courage is a valuable trait in a leader.

Merriam-Webster defines courage as the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. Real leadership deals in the currency of courage on a daily basis. Yet there are different kinds of courage. Some forms are more valuable than others.

One of the most epic stories in the Bible is the narration of Israel, not only becoming a people, but becoming a nation by inheriting the promised land. In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham to become the progenitor of a people who would become Israel. After some 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God led over a million Israelites out of bondage by the hand of Moses. It was time for Israel to have a land of its own. But by the end of the book of Deuteronomy, there was a necessary leadership succession. Joshua, the ever present lieutenant to Moses, was to be installed as the next leader of the people of Israel. It would be Joshua who would move to the front in taking this rag-tag group of people across the Jordan River and dispossess those who resided there. Moses had been God’s chosen instrument to fulfill the promise of redemption from slavery. Joshua would be God’s chosen instrument to fulfill the promise of possession of the land.

Joshua 1:1-9 provides us with God’s charge to this new head of state. Moses was dead and it was time for Joshua to lead. Three times in nine verses God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” Verses 2-6 define the first type of courage that Joshua would require. Verses 7 and 8 define the second type of courage that Joshua would need. Verse 9 provides the foundation for the two types of courage that God called Joshua to exhibit.

Strategic Courage

Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. (v.2)

Throughout the Bible God chooses different individual leaders to move his salvation history forward. Joshua was to be God’s leader to take the people of Israel into this great land. The borders were predefined. The promise of victory was already given. The reality of God’s presence was assured.

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (v.6)

To possess the land would require great strength and courage. To settle 12 tribes of people in a land that was already settled by others would require planning, insight, and right steps. Strategic courage was necessary. It was what the people of Israel, led by Joshua, were to do.

Moral Courage

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. (v.7)

The law that was given to Moses was God’s moral code for the people of Israel. It would mark the Israelites as God’s people and make them distinct from all the other people on earth. Strength and courage would be required again. The people who Israel would dispossess worshiped false gods–idols. There was the opportunity for Israel to turn away from the one true God and fall into pagan ways that were incredibly destructive. The word “success” in verse 7 refers to the idea of wise living. If Israel followed God’s moral code they would have real success, not just material prosperity based on superstition. It was what the people of Israel, led by Joshua, were to be.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (v.9)

There would be many opportunities to be afraid or to be discouraged. Strategic courage and moral courage, leading by “doing” and leading by “being,” brings on many challenges. That is why leadership is difficult and dangerous. The final charge to be courageous is anchored in the sure knowledge that God’s “withness” is real and always present.

May I suggest that “being” always precedes “doing.” Moral courage is in short supply today. There is no lack of perceived strategic courage. But if one wants to lead others into circumspect thinking and wise living, one must be wise and display true character. Moral courage and strategic courage, based on God’s principles and his strong presence, will display God’s goodness and wisdom to a world in desperate need.

Don’t miss that this is covenant stuff. The Law and the Land were critical aspects to the Old Covenant. But in v.9 there is also the foreshadowing of another who would not only be “with you” but “among you” and “in you.” The New Covenant inaugurated in Jesus was coming–and is here!