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Grace Notes

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WHEN TRIALS COME, WILL WE FIGHT OR FAINT?
by Philip Owen

            What to us might seem to be a devastating blow, one that knocks us off our feet, or that seems intended to knock us out, is often intended by God to be the impetus to stronger faith and greater service.  Think of Joshua:  for some forty years he had followed Moses and had been his right-hand man.  Whether on top of Mt. Sinai or in the tabernacle before the Shekinah Glory, Joshua had followed Moses steadfastly and served him faithfully.

            But Moses had left Joshua behind in the camp and had climbed alone to the top of Mt. Pisgah.  He never came back.  Then “the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses My servant is dead’” (Josh. 1:1b, 2a).  We can only imagine how overwhelming those words must have been to Joshua.  For four decades he had loved, followed, supported, served, and learned from this mighty man of God, of whom it could be said:  “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12).

            We might expect the Israelites to form a long line before Joshua (like the one my wife and I stood in yesterday all the way out the funeral home doors into the street, waiting to offer condolences to the children and widow of a co-worker who had died) to commiserate with him.  We might expect the Lord to make His Presence known in palpable consolation and comfort.  Instead we read, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (v. 2).

            The blow is not a knockout punch to the jaw but a shove on the back:  “Up, get moving!”  Three times the Lord instructs Joshua to “be strong and [very] courageous” (vv. 6, 7, 9).  There is no time for feeling sorry for himself, no opportunity for the typical signs of grief—tearing clothes, tossing dirt in the air, weeping and wailing—, no time for a formal period of mourning.  Instead, “Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, ‘Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, “Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it”’” (vv. 10, 11).  And they were off—not on a lark, not to a picnic, but to fight and defeat the Canaanites.

            God is not harsh in this.  He promised Joshua that “every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses” (v. 3).  Furthermore, He promised:  “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life.  Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (v. 5).  But He is insistent.

            Joshua must lead, must fight, must command and referee these people virtually without pause and in the face of great personal loss and sorrow.  How true are the words of J. R. Miller:  “Indeed, they are poor who have never suffered, and have none of sorrow’s marks upon them.” Only the Lord truly knows.  But He does want us to learn that He does not send us trials in order to cause us permanent debilitation but to exercise our souls, strengthen our faith, stir up our courage, and fortify our resolve.  At such times we learn that it is Christ or nothing, it is Christ Who alone is sufficient, it is Christ Who must be our all in all.  Was the trial too much for Joshua?  God answers simply that “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel” (24:31).  Will we faint or fight?

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