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Viral Bible Verses – Part 1

Joshua 1:9

You know what it’s like when something goes viral—usually a video that’s funny or amazing. It goes viral when person after person shares it, tweets it, posts it, and brings it up in conversation. And before you know it, it’s widely known. It enters the cultural milieu. 

And it isn’t just videos that go viral. This series is about verses that have gone viral. Adapting a study by James White, we’re going to unpack several Bible verses that have become wildly popular. 

Each year the YouVersion Bible app releases a report showing which were the most read, most bookmarked, most highlighted, and most shared Bible verses, worldwide. With just that one Bible app being available for ten years now, with Bible translations in more than 1,250 languages, we’re learning which verses go viral. 

In this series, we’re going to look at some of them. Each week I’ll show you a verse that has gone viral. We’ll talk about why that verse has gone viral, what the surface appeal is on it. Then we’ll explore the Bible passage it comes from, to discover the richness of what it actually meant for readers then, and for us today. And along the way, you’re going to learn helpful principles for how to interpret the Bible well.

So let’s jump in! The first viral verse we begin with is Joshua 1:9. It says…

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

“Be strong and brave. Don’t be afraid. Don’t lose hope. I am the Lord your God. I will be with you everywhere you go.” 

It’s powerful just hearing it! This is one of the most shared verses from the Bible. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s bold. It’s encouraging. It goes straight after our fears and worries. 

We worry about money.

We worry about loneliness.

We worry about failure.

We worry about forgiveness.

So many of us go through times when we need an encouraging word from God, encouragement to hang in there and keep moving forward.

One time when we offered to pray for people here in the YMCA, a woman came up who had just found out that day that she had been laid off. Job gone. She was 63 years old. She came to the table sounding cheerful, but within a minute she was in tears. Not hard to understand why. She needed a word from God, and a touch from God’s people.

The time may come for you when you face an unexpected physical illness, or a mental health struggle that that leaves you weak-kneed and needing a fresh word from God. 

There are so many situations where we find ourselves anxious and needing to be strong, courageous, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

So it makes sense that this is a verse that went viral. We feel the need to be strong and courageous and remember that God is with us, and so lots and lots of people highlighted and bookmarked and shared this verse.

Many hear this verse and think…

“Whatever I’m going through, I can be strong and brave and encouraged, because God will go with me.”

“Whatever the situation, God will come through for me. I will come through it unscathed and victorious.”

“I’ll have everything I need, because God is with me.”

“I’ll succeed, because I’ve got Joshua 1:9.”

That’s what makes the verse popular. But is that correct? Is that what Joshua 1:9 is meant to say to us? Let’s find out. Let’s put the verse into its context. 

Let me give you a timeless principle for interpreting the Bible correctly. If you’re taking notes, this is worth writing down: Context determines meaning. Saying that another way, Context is king.

Context determines meaning; Context is king.

If you hear someone tell you they jumped, there’s has a whole range of what they mean, depending on the context.

If it’s a 3-year-old from our kids’ ministry excitedly telling you they jumped over a crack between the floor tiles here, you exclaim, “Wow, you’re amazing!” You understand that jump was just a few inches off the floor.

If it’s a college athlete who tells you they broke the school record for high they jumped in the high jump event, that’s a whole different meaning. Both are jumping. How do you determine the correct meaning? Context. Context determines meaning; context is king.

It’s no different when it comes to any conversation, and to anything you read or hear, including the Bible. Including Joshua 1:9. The setting is what reveals the intended meaning, and therefore how we’re meant to understand it. So let’s do that with this viral verse.

Joshua belongs to a very specific historical context—namely, the time when God was forming the nation of Israel. That in turn is connected to an even more ancient context of God promising Abraham that someday his descendants would occupy and thrive in their own land. They would become a nation in every sense of the word.

The book of Joshua begins with the events which immediately followed the death of Moses. Moses led the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt, leading them all the way to the edge of the Promised Land. 

Then Moses dies, and it is his faithful protégé Joshua who picks up the mantle and leads the Jewish people for the first time ever into the land which will become the nation of Israel. 

The context of who Joshua was is helpful background for understanding why he would need the promise given in Joshua 1:9. Joshua was born into brutal and merciless slavery. At that time, the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt. They were treated at best like farm animals whose value was strictly in what they could produce. At worst, Egyptians considered Jews a threat, given their growing numbers. 

But while Joshua was a young man, God intervened on behalf of the Jews, as he had long-ago promised that he would. Joshua and his slave peers witnessed ten miraculous plagues, each one announced ahead of time by Moses, God’s spokesman at the time. Each of the ten plagues was a direct rebuke of one of Egypt’s false gods.

An so after generations of suffering under brutal slavery, Joshua and his countrymen watched in amazement as their seemingly unconquerable masters were brought to their knees, ultimately pleading for the Jews to leave and showering them with gifts of wealth as they went. It was a mind-blowing miracle. 

And Joshua saw it all: the ten plagues, the Red Sea miraculously parting, so that the Jewish people to go through on dry ground, and then that same sea crashing down on the pursuing Egyptian Army, drowning their soldiers and charioteers. Joshua had a front row seat for all of it. 

When the Jews soon ran into their first military clash against enemies attacking them, it was Joshua who led them to victory. Moses then chose Joshua to be his second-in-command, a stunning honor for a young man. 

Joshua was so esteemed before the people, that when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, Joshua alone was allowed to accompany him. 

Then came a very dark moment in the life of the budding nation of Israel. At Moses’ direction, one man from each of Israel’s dozen tribes was sent into the Promised Land to spy it out. Joshua was one of the twelve sent to see what the land is like. See how good the land is for farming and for raising flocks of animals. See how well-defended the cities are, so they would know what they were going to face. 

Ten of the twelve men return petrified. Even though the same God who miraculously delivered them from Egypt is with them, they don’t trust that God is strong enough. Only Joshua and Caleb believe that God who went with them before, will go with them again, bringing them victory. 

The ten win the crowd against Moses and Joshua and Caleb, and as a consequence, God sentences that generation of adults to 40 years of wandering that desert wilderness. He miraculously provides for them, but not one of those who rejected God’s leading is allowed to enter the promised land. One at a time, they die of old age, even as their young children grow to adulthood, sustained by manna God provides every day. 

As the book of Joshua opens, those now-grown children are finally about to enter the Promised Land. Joshua is their new leader. If you have a Bible, open it with me to Joshua chapter one. 

Joshua 1:1-6 reads… 

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.’”

Joshua 1:1-6

Two things are happening here:

  • First, God is giving one man, Joshua, a very specific task to carry out. It’s a specific mission, given to a specific man, at a very specific time in the history of God’s saving plan for the world. 
  • The second thing happening here is that God is giving this man a series of special promises for his mission. If you noticed, God even gives Joshua a verbal map with the Promised Land’s boundaries: “From this point east to this point west, this far north to this far south, here is the land I’m giving you.”

“This is my mission for you, Joshua,” God says, “and I will be with you in it. I’ll see to it that you succeed.”

This is about God giving one man amazing promises concerning the specific task God had called him to.

Three times in this chapter, God tells Joshua to “Be strong and courageous.” Here’s why Joshua needed to hear this: because he was about to do something that the nation failed at 40 years earlier. It was time for Joshua and the people of Israel to be strong and courageous and get going in their God-given calling. 

It was time for Joshua and the people of Israel to be strong and courageous & get going in their God-given calling.

Let’s keep piecing the picture together. Verses 7 & 8 take us right up to the viral verse:

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Joshua 1:7-8

What’s the emphasis here? It takes strength and courage to obey the Scriptures, to faithfully do what God calls us to. God essentially tells Joshua, “Let this book—here meaning the book of Deuteronomy, which included the Ten Commandments—let this book be your spiritual GPS, your field guide, your Waze for leading God’s people in this mission of taking the Promised Land.”

It takes strength and courage to obey the Scriptures, to faithfully do what God calls us to.

All of that context brings us to today’s viral verse:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

So here’s what this week’s viral verse is about. It’s about Joshua being very careful to obey God’s Word each step of the way as he carries out his God-given mission to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. “If you’ll do this,” God promises, “This time it will work. You will succeed in the mission I’ve given you.”

So does Joshua 1:9 apply your situation today? Is it meant to be applied the way it’s often tweeted and hashtagged and bookmarked? 

We have to be careful here. You can’t read yourself and your situation into every passage in the Bible. You can’t take a personal challenge and call it your “promised land” and claim this verse applies to you, therefore God has to back up your plan. That’s not what this is saying. 

But there is a sense in which Joshua 1:9 is meant for you and me today. God does promise success when we carry out the mission he has given us today. 

Follow the sequence with me. The name given to Joshua by his parents was originally Hoshea, which means “salvation.” Cool name.

Moses gives this courageous and faithful young man a new name: Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” His name changed to emphasize who saves. 

It gets better. The name Joshua in Hebrew is the same name given by God to the child born to Mary: in English, Jesus. What Joshua’s name hinted at, “the Lord saves,” Jesus fulfills. Jesus is the Lord who saves! 

Again: In the Old Testament’s Joshua, we see the beginning of God’s great plan to save people from every nation, by forming a nation, from which would come the ultimate Yeshua, the Lord who saves—Jesus.

It gets better still: Jesus repeated almost the same call, with the same promise, to you and me as we follow him, the new Joshua, in the mission he has given us, today. 

Look with me at Matthew chapter 28. Here’s the mission given to everyone who follows the Joshua of the New Testament. Here’s the scene, the setting, the context: Jesus has risen from the dead. His followers have headed to a mountaintop up north in Galilee, where he told them he would meet with them again. They show up, and so does the risen Jesus. He has defeated that which most makes us fearful, death. Matthew 28:18-20 tells us what happens next:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Matthew 28:18-20

What the new Joshua says here is so much bigger than the charge God gave the first Joshua. Our mission isn’t to take God’s people into one country; it’s to take God’s message to the whole world. This mission requires us to be strong and courageous. It requires us to be careful to obey—and teach—everything the new Joshua has commanded. As we do this, Jesus promises to be with us. 

So in reality, you can’t really understand Matthew chapter 28 until you understand Joshua chapter one. Same God, same fears, but a far greater mission, and one that involves all of us, every follower of Jesus.

Our mission isn’t to take God’s people into one country; 

it’s to take God’s message to the whole world. 

As we do this, Jesus promises to be with us.

What started with one man being given a mission in an earlier stage of God extending his Kingdom, has expanded to all of us participating in the mission of proclaiming the coming King and his Kingdom. As we do this, Jesus promises to be with us, just as God promised Joshua he would be with him. 

Scholar Michael Green, in his study of the early church, concluded that the reason the early church grew was not because of the apostles, but because everyday Christians went viral with the good news of Jesus they had received.

That’s how people still get reached today, by one Christian sharing Christ’s message with one other person. One at a time.

I wonder, who did that for you? Maybe it was a children’s ministry volunteer. For me it was a coworker who talked with me about Jesus and invited me to church. 

Who introduced the new Joshua—Jesus—to you?

And who will you introduce to Jesus?

This is the mission entrusted to us, and this is the promise Jesus gives to us: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In this mission, be strong and courageous, friends. Don’t yield to fear. Don’t give in to discouragement. Because when you share the good news of Jesus with someone—this week or this month or this year, Christ will be with you. That’s his personal promise. And this promise you can personally claim. 

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