“Be strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
At the start of a new year or at turning points in our life, it is a good time to look back on our past year and to look ahead. How did we start this year? And how do we live now, today? How do we look at tomorrow? Reflecting on these questions, we are helped and encouraged by an expression of encouragement that occurs several times in the Hebrew Bible at important decision or transition moments in the lives of people who belong to and serve the Lord God. It is a statement containing the Hebrew verb אמץ “amats”, which means: to be strong, to take courage, to be courageous, to strengthen oneself. In summary, the core meaning of “amats” is to be strengthened and to be courageous. It is striking that in many cases this verb “amats” is accompanied by the verb “chazaq”: to be strong (will be discussed in a different article).
Courage for a new stage in life
We find both verbs used in the account of an important transitional episode in the life of the people of Israel, of Moses and his servant Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:1-8). When the time had come for the people to go into the Promised Land, Moses prepared them for it: “The Lord your God Himself will go over before you …” (Deuteronomy 31:3) “Be strong and “amats” / courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Moses had to pass on his leadership task to Joshua and also prepared him for this with the same words: “Be strong and “amats” / courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8). It is striking that Moses uses the same expression of encouragement for both the people he had led for so long and for his successor to whom he passed his leadership role on.
Moses knew better than anyone how hard this task was and how much he needed God’s encouragement and strength for it every day. He now prays that for the sake of the people and the future leader. They must be strong and take courage for the new stage of life ahead. It is important that Moses, led by God’s Spirit, makes it clear that the strength and courage of God’s people and their leader does not lie in themselves, but in the Lord God. Moses himself had learned to take courage from God’s assured promise, “But I will be with you …” (Exodus 3:12). He now links the command to be strong and courageous to the same promise: “The Lord… will be with you”. God’s presence is their source of power! In this alone man finds strength and courage.
Joshua is encouraged
After the drastic event of the transfer of the task of leadership, Joshua is at the beginning of his new, great responsibility. What must have been his feeling? Did he dread the time ahead and all the work that awaited? They remain unanswered questions. What we do know is that the Lord God spoke to him with the same encouragement that Moses had expressed: “Only be strong and very “amats” / courageous … This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth …. Be strong and “amats” / courageous … for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-9). God Himself now expresses the same phrase of encouragement that Joshua heard earlier from Moses’ mouth. He can be strong and courageous because the Lord is with him! The power to serve as a leader is completely outside of himself, and in the Lord alone!
David and Solomon
After many preparations for the temple construction, David and Solomon face a decisive transitional stage and arduous task, as this son will have to carry out the great construction project (1 Chronicles 22:11-13). “Now, my son, the Lord be with you…” (1 Chronicles 22:11). Then again comes the same call that Joshua once heard: “Be strong and “amats” / courageous. Fear not …” (1 Chronicles 22:13). David also states that the presence of the Lord is the only source of strength and courage.
The Bible teaches us that we can pass from one period to another with God’s power and can look ahead each day guided by Him, because He gives us strong courage. He will “amats” / strengthen with courage the hearts of all who trustfully wait for Him (Psalm 31:25). The firm promise of His presence applies to every day: “Be strong and “amats” / courageous … for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
© Copyright dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk