Moments before the people of Israel crossed into the promise land Joshua told them this, “When you see the ark…do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not been this way before.” (Joshua 3:3-4)
Israel was going into a land that they had never traveled before. This probably caused much fear in them as well as joy. Joy because they were finally going into the land of promise, and fear because ahead of them was utterly unknown. For years, an entire generation, the Israelites wandered around the same desert, traveling in roughly the same paths. Some of them didn’t know any different. Now in a glorious God-driven change of trajectory they move toward the promise land and they feel the weight of the words – “…you have not been this way before.”
Do you feel the weight?
How could Joshua and Israel be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6-9) while going into the unknown? Moses’ words were still fresh on their minds from his last word to them (Deuteronomy). In Deut. 31:6,8 Moses encouraged them “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you…The Lord is the One who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Moses knew that the unknown was coming for the people he had led, and encouraged them that God is their real leader and the One who goes ahead of them to prepare the way.
How great was this for Israel and how great is this for us today! Many times in life we find ourselves in a similar position as these scared Israelites. Just before the Jordan, looking out into the vast unknown, wondering what lies before us, what is waiting for us, what joys and failures we’ll walk through. Times like this can steal the hearts strength, they can bring a quiet fear upon a congregation who’s entering into a new season of ministry. So much unknown, so much could happen. Will God care for us? Will He be there with us? Yes, the answer is always yes.
Be encouraged, do not fear or tremble, the LORD is the One who goes before you, He will not fail you nor forsake you. Jesus said something similar after His decisive defeat of death by His resurrection from the dead , “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Take heart, the Lord is with you always, and the Lord has already gone before you. Where else can we go but where our Shepherd leads?