It is a fact of life that new moments often start with old doubts and lingering anxieties. And so it is, for the People of Israel. In the opening of the Book of Joshua, when God brings them out of the wilderness, to the entrance of the Promised Land, they are full of fear. Behind them beckons the wilderness, with its barren years – yet with its comfortable known existence; ahead of them stretches out the land they have longed to enter – full of plenty, yet full of peril. The land is so daunting that years before most of their recon rangers voted to stay in the wilderness rather than enter the place of promise.
Now, they face the same struggle: Enter the challenging new life, or retreat to the comfortable, old known? Nagging doubt lingers in the back of their collective psyche. On one hand, they are relieved to finally be out of the desert. But on the other hand, they now face even larger tests in the land. Daunting difficulties lie ahead: walled cities, entrenched military fortifications, fierce armies of pagan and warlike peoples – giants, even. They are ringed by adversaries and adversities. At every turn is enmity and lurking danger. To make matters worse, Moses, their trusted leader has died. It is in this uncertainty, that the word of the LORD comes: “You have not been this way before.” But “be strong and of good courage. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
In the power of that divine promise, God’s people cross over the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. But it isn’t easy. The details take enacted faith: stepping out into raging river waters, all night marches into enemy territory, silent tramping around solid fortress-city walls – mysterious, supra-rational obedience, following the divine call. No, it is not easy! But it is destined. And filled with purpose.
It must have come as a shock to them, being told all their lives of the land of promise, and yet finding that once they got there, the new land took fighting – active obedience in Word and Spirit. And, to make matters worse, the daily provision of manna no longer followed them, and their shoes and clothing wore out – daily items no longer divinely protected. Now, they must not only conquer outside enemies, but also the inside enemies of hunger, food, and provision! And this is the new land of promise?
I imagine that the dark accuser of human souls had a field day with that. “How can this be the will of God, when it takes such a struggle to enter and maintain?” “Wouldn’t you be better off in the old wilderness, with the freedom of the open spaces, free lunches, no-iron clothing, no-wear shoes, and no constant threats?” “Leave this so-called land of promise and be free of the anxieties it brings!”
In such a situation the Word of the LORD comes: “You have not been this way before, but I AM.” “Fear not!” “Be of good courage. I AM with you.” And then, the instruction of God: “Obey my commands. And meditate on my Word.” And it will be well with you: the new land will be yours, not in your own resources or rights, but in divine strength, and divine relation.
Friends, this ancient promise is our hope, as we face this New Year. For there is One who has said to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And in that promise, our Lord says, therefore, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have!” (Heb. 13:5). In other words, through faith in Him, in following His call, we need not be bound by the old ways of thinking in the new land before us. It is His divine promise, His presence, that causes the new land to surge with new life.
Fear not, dear believers! It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We’ve not been this way before, but He IS. Let us walk in this New Year as children of light. Amen.