Though the Heavens Fall
By Ted N.C. Wilson
One of the most encouraging promises in the Bible comes from Joshua 1:9, “. . . Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (NKJV).
This promise, given to Joshua following the death of Moses, was one of three God gave to His new leader.
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you,” the Lord assured him. “I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage . . . Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you . . . that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:5-7).
Four decades earlier Joshua had shown unflinching courage in the face of strong pressure, even possible death. Twelve Israelite leaders had been commissioned to “spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2). After 40 days, the spies returned with luscious fruit and tales to tell.
“We went to the land where you sent us,” they reported. “It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless,” they continued, “the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large . . .” (vs. 28). Thus the spies began stirring up fear and discouragement as they described the dangers of the land. But two spies did not—Joshua and Caleb. With faith in God’s promises, Caleb declared, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (vs. 30).
But the ten rebels insisted, “We are not able to go up against the people.” Exaggerating they described the Promised Land as a place “that devours its inhabitants” (vs. 32). Whipped into a fearful frenzy, the Israelites wanted to choose someone to lead them back to Egypt!
Seeing the grave situation, Caleb and Joshua ripped their clothing and courageously declared, “The land . . . is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land. . . . Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them” (Num. 14:7-9).
Rather than believing in the Lord, the people grabbed rocks to stone the courageous two for speaking the truth. Only by God’s direct intervention were their lives spared.
The courage displayed by Caleb and Joshua was not presumptuous bravado, urging some foolhardy mission. Rather, they believed God’s word, urging obedience to His commands. Thus it has always been for God’s faithful people.
Another example is David facing Goliath. The situation seemed impossible—an experienced, fully-equipped, giant warrior, versus a young shepherd boy with a sling and stones.
But David knew what even Saul and his soldiers did not: the battle did not depend on them.
“For who is this uncircumcised Philistine,” asked David, “that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). Going on faith gained from previous experience, this courageous young man boldly declared, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand . . . Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:46,47).
More than four centuries later, four Hebrew captives in Babylon stood courageously for what might be considered a “small thing.” In spite of peer pressure, they determined to eat and drink only what God approved, and He rewarded their faithfulness.
Knowing that “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much,” (Luke 16:10), God allowed these courageous young men to face more difficult trials later.
On the dusty plain of Dura, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood tall when everyone else bowed to the golden idol. Summoning them into his royal presence, Nebuchadnezzar threatened instant death in the fiery furnace if they would not worship his image. “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Dan. 3:15), he exclaimed.
Bravely they answered, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you . . . that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17,18).
And God “delivered His servants who trusted in Him” (vs. 28).
Years later, Daniel faced a decision—stop praying or be thrown to the lions. But the threat of being ripped apart by ravenous beasts did not keep him from his regular practice of praying to God “with his windows open toward Jerusalem” (Dan. 6:10).
Although the king could not save Daniel from the lions, God could, as evidenced by Daniel’s testimony the morning after: “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him” (vs. 22). Scripture explains further, “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God” (vs. 23).
New Testament and Beyond
In the New Testament, young Mary received the shocking news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, although she did not “know a man.” Realizing this unique calling would subject her to ridicule and shame, Mary humbly yet courageously responded, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Jesus Himself demonstrated courage when in Gethsemane He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Stephen, a mighty preacher, was stoned to death. All but one of the apostles died a martyr’s death. The authorities tried to kill John by placing him in a cauldron of boiling oil. When that didn’t work, they banished him to Patmos.
Saul the persecutor became Paul, who “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) courageously preached Christ crucified until Nero’s executioner’s sword took his life.
Since that time, millions have courageously followed Christ—often suffering ridicule, ostracism, beatings, torture, sometimes even death.
We may or may not be asked to lay down our lives for Jesus. God, in His wisdom, does not reveal that to us. But he calls us to courage today, and every day, of our lives. Courage in the “little” and “big” things. Courage to speak the truth when others are silent. Courage to stand alone when it is easier to blend in with the crowd. Courage to believe and follow God’s Word even if labeled foolish.
We need courage to “not be bought or sold,” courage to be true and honest in our “inmost souls,” courage that does “not fear to call sin by its right name,” courage to have a conscience that “is as true to duty as the needle to the pole,” and courage to “stand for the right though the heavens fall.” 1
Ted N.C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and on Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.Suggested Pull Quote: “The courage displayed by Caleb and Joshua was not presumptuous bravado . . . they believed God’s word, urging obedience to His commands.”
- Paraphrased from Ellen G. White, Education, p. 57.