The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Deuteronomy 31:8 | NIV | Other Versions | Context
Deuteronomy 31 contains a passage in the Bible that belongs to the select group of ‘heartwarming’ verses, as we see Moses nearing the end of his life, knowing his time is up, and speaking to the Israelites and Joshua not of the great deeds that he had achieved with them, not for all the things that he had done for his people, not for the 40 years he had spent in glory and tirelessly with them, but for the sake of encouraging them in their future – cruelly and crucially, a future in the promised land which he, Moses, is not meant to be part of. If we look at the greatest leaders in the history of the Israelites, surely Moses must be amongst the top of the list. As all great leaders do, his encouragement and affirmation to Joshua was great, reminding him of the ever present almighty God, and empowered him to fill his big shoes without fear. In this study, we will examine the last words of Moses to Joshua and how it is so important for us to remember this in our daily lives as well.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you – Not goes behind you, not goes side-by-side with you, but goes before you. I once heard a story of how Israeli generals tend to charge in front, leading their troops, unlike some other generals who stay at the backlines. Not sure how true that is, but it’s a similar idea, no? As much as the pressure and the responsibility of being a leader to the people rests on the shoulder of Joshua now, he is not alone, and he is not carrying that weight alone – he is not the highest authority to these people. God is. Joshua may be the general leading the Israelis out, but God is the Supreme Commander riding ahead of him. Moses assures Joshua of God’s constant presence – and while this is probably not new knowledge, it was meant to encourage and affirm Joshua. Imagine your leader of 40 years gone all of a sudden. While Joshua was a man whose wisdom and courage was long known to the people as he had been an aide to Moses for a long time – the loss of Moses would certainly have dealt a greater blow had it not been for his parting assurances about the greatest leader of Israel – God. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing [Zeph 3:17|Article].
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged – I should perhaps have noted this earlier, but Deuteronomy 31:8 is almost a repetition of Deuteronomy 31:6 – two verses before it. Basically, the situation as far as I see it goes this way: Moses addresses the people as he knows his time is up, and he reminds them of God’s almightiness and constant presence, encouraging them not to be afraid of what is to come. He then speaks to Joshua, his successor, in front of the people, reminding him personally of God’s almightiness and constant presence, encouraging him not to be afraid of what is to come. Compare the two verses:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you [Deu 31:6].
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged [Deu 31:8].
By and large these two verses are similar – they serve the same purposes to a different audience – to remind them of God’s greatness, to assure them that God will always be with them, to encourage them and empower them for the future that is without him – Moses. Of course, there are small differences here and there – most notably, Moses urged Joshua not to be discouraged.
As Moses said that I would like to think that he was speaking from experience as the leader of such a difficult people – the Israelites. Surely Moses was often discouraged, and he had often doubted that he had what it took to deliver the people. Numerous times the people had complained, whined and blamed their plight on Moses. Numerous times Moses came before God in tears, in anger, in desperation. But despite all that he had been through, Moses fulfilled his role as the leader of the Israelites, and led them to the brink of the promised land. Despite all the difficulties, Moses had survived, and at the end of his life, he now sees that God had indeed been with him through it all, and it is with such emotions that he advised Joshua – do not be discouraged.
Leadership positions can be very discouraging at times. Moses had his fair share of struggles – numerous time he was frustrated with the people, and often he complained to God about them. Numbers 11:11-15 holds an amazing prayer from Moses in his frustration, and quoting Numbers 11:15 – If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin. The role of a leader is a heavy responsibility and comes with a lot of pressure and expectations. It is not difficult to get discouraged and disillusioned. It is easy to lose confidence and hope. Moses was somebody who didn’t want to be a leader right from the very beginning, when he came up with all kinds of excuses to try and wriggle his way out of having to lead God’s people out of Egypt. But eventually, despite his own fears and shortcomings, he chose to submit to God’s will.
In life, we often find ourselves in leadership positions. Even just a mandane life routine can see you acting like a leader and making decisions. Especially when it comes to God’s people – it is certainly no easier to lead a group of Christians than it is to lead a group of people outside the walls of a church. But no matter what we’re doing, whether we’re officially called a leader or whether we’re just following instructions – let us be comforted that God is before us, God is with us, and God will never leave us nor forsake us. We are in good hands.