As you read through the Hebrew (Old) Testament and stories of the Exodus, patriarchs and other biblical heroes, you run into a common phrase that is used by God, and the people in response. The phrase that I am referring to is, “Be Strong and Courageous!” In Hebrew, the word for that phrase is “Hazaq“. Several Bible stories emphasize this exhortation (see scriptures above), but one story really stands out in this respect and makes a great faith lesson.
The story that wonderfully emphasizes the use of this Hebrew phrase is found in Joshua Chapter 1, but really starts back in Deuteronomy 9. The Israelites are camped on the east side of the Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. Their leader for the past forty years, Moses, is dead and they have an unproven leader, Joshua, at the helm. Joshua is in charge of a huge congregation that has lots of problems and issues. The Israelites are about to go to a place that they have never been before. Also, they know from the spies report, that the land is inhabited by fierce tribes with giants in them that will be waiting for them as soon as they cross the Jordan (Deut 9:1-3). All this adds up to a very tense and apprehensive situation for the Israelites.
In Joshua 1:1-9, God speaks directly to Joshua and tells him “Hazaq!” “Be Strong and Courageous! Do not be discouraged!” God tells this to Joshua three times and then tells him not to worry, that He will go with them as they start this next stage of the journey.
Then, in the next verses, Joshua goes to the people and tells them,”Hazaq!” You need to be Strong and Courageous!” Don’t be afraid of the enemies we will be facing! God is going to go with us and we will possess this land that He has promised us!
If you read farther, at the end of chapter 1, you find the Israelites encouraging Joshua with the same words that he has just spoken to them. They say, “Whatever you tell us, we will do; wherever you tell us to go, we’ll go! Only, Joshua, be Strong and Courageous, Hazaq!
Isn’t it fascinating how the message of encouragement was spread down the line from God to the leaders, to the people and back! Everyone was encouraged by this command, Hazaq!
There are some real lessons of community to be learned here. One is that God has already been to that place that we are worried about going to! He is not afraid and He promised that He would go with us, wherever or whatever that challenge might be.
We need to Hazaq and believe that God will do what He says!
Another lesson to be learned from this story is that we, as a community, need to be helping others as they are going down a path for the first time that we might have already walked. From child raising, marriage problems, health issues and others, we need to helping and encouraging each other. That is the whole purpose of community; the older, more mature Christians, helping the younger, less experienced along life’s bumpy road. We need to be telling them, “Hazaq! You can do it, I made it and I know you can, also!”
Lastly, we need to be encouraging our leaders as they face the tough job of handling our challenging flock! We need to tell them that we are behind them and we support them and appreciate all the sacrifices they make on our behalf. “Hazaq! Be strong and courageous! You are doing great, blessings on you and your family! Thanks for your strong leadership!”
From the story in Joshua we learn that this “Hazaq” thing is contagious! Everyone drew strength from God and each other. The combination of trusting in God and in their leadership won them many battles and entrance into the Promised Land.
An interesting foot note to this encouraging dialogue in Joshua comes from how the Jews have used the lessons learned in this Exodus story in their Synagogue worship. Marvin Wilson’s book, “Our Father Abraham” (pg 190) describes how, in both the ancient and modern day synagogue services, when the congregation completed the reading of the Torah passages on Shabbat, the entire congregation would turn and shout loudly to each other,”Hazaq! Hazaq! Venith Hazeq! Be Strong, Be Strong, Let us strengthen each other!” They would say this three times in a row, in response to the three times that God told Joshua that in Joshua chapter 1! We must stand together as a church community and help each other down the difficult paths of life. Like our ancient Jewish forefathers, this should become our watchword to each other as we face the high climbs, the rocky paths and the dark places that make up our journey together in life. Hazaq! Hazaq! Venith Hazeq! Be Strong and Courageous! Give each other strength!