First Moses, then the LORD God Himself and then the Israelites told Joshua not to be afraid and be strong and courageous, when he was chosen to be the new leader after Moses. He had been assistant to Moses for forty years and was witness to all that transpired during Moses’ interaction with God and the people and the miraculous deeds performed by him. Fear is the only feeling that stops us from stepping forward to answer God’s call for some specific tasks or to render us unusable/unsuitable and a failure.
Why were Adam and Eve afraid of their nakedness? After having eaten the forbidden fruit, both Adam and Eve acquired the knowledge of good and evil and for the first time, sensed their nakedness and hid from God (Genesis 3:9-10). After love fear is the next emotion expressed by the two and they try to hide from the All-knowing God. Instead of hiding, the two could have stepped forward and accepted their sin and surrendered to God, willing to suffer any punishment that was to come upon them. Would God have punished them for their sin or a loving God would then forgive and let them bear the consequences? Any sin involves an act, a reaction to that and the consequences of the two. Their sin, was it eating the fruit or not accepting responsibility for their actions and blaming others for what they did and was this the reason for their offense? The punishment was for their refusal to be responsible and each suffered according to their own actions. God’s pronouncements of their punishment is not in anger but in an informative dialogue, for they were given the consequences of their choice of sinful disobedience. We have the freedom to do what we want but God chooses the punishment as the Judge. God has clarified, ‘your own wickedness will correct you, and your own backsliding will rebuke you’ (Jeremiah 2:19).
God then discussed within the Holy Trinity, ‘the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil’ (Genesis 3:22). But God had created man in His image and likeness already and how did this knowledge of good and evil make him like God now and to put fear into his heart? (Genesis 1:26-27). Intellectually Adam and Eve knew disobedience as evil or bad and obedience as good but with disobedience they experienced evil and then realized its true nature and force. The Hebrew word used by Adam for fear is ‘yare’ which is reverential fear out of regard for God on one side and the fear of the force of evil on the other side. God knows everything and has total control over all situations and His knowledge is absolute. But for Adam and Eve it was a new state forcing them to try unsuccessfully to hide from God as well as from evil within themselves. The evil that was limited to the external sphere only as knowledge was now a force acting within them.
This fear of both of them was also about what the future holds for them for initially they could be free with each other as well as everything else. Adam and Eve were rulers of all else on the earth and there was no fear in them till then. Whole of creation was subjected to futility after their sin and they had also lost the dominion rights over all else and were now subject to hostility. Now ‘fear for their personal safety’ or ‘pachad’ was there though not yet right in front. This fear destroys relationships and peace of mind and is dreadful.
The ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ and the resultant oneness of the two to become one flesh also changed after sin (Genesis 2:23-24). Man was ‘ish’ and woman was ‘isha’ but after sin entered their lives (Genesis 3:20) Adam called her Eve ‘the mother of all living’. Adam then realized the difference in their physiology as well as nature. The relationship structure of man and woman also changed with that. From ‘ezer kenegdo’, an equal helpmeet, the woman was relegated to a lower status with man ruling over her and she desiring him and always fearing being left alone by him (Genesis 3:16).
As Marianne Williamson in her famous book ‘A return to love’ has written, ‘It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us’. Adam and Eve were filled with the knowledge and experience of good and evil and though it actually was force of darkness, yet they initially perceived it as light and were later filled with fear.
What do we learn from Joshua’s initial fearfulness? Shakespeare has said, ‘some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’. But it is not by accident or by chance that someone becomes great but through a detailed and deliberate plan of God working in that person’s life for a long time. Moses was born at a time when the Pharaoh’s orders to the Jewish midwives to kill the newborn boys at birth had failed. Finally, another command was given to throw all boys at infancy into the Nile River. Moses not only survived but was brought up in the Pharaoh’s house and learnt the ways of the palace.
Joshua was assistant to Moses for forty years till Moses finally died and had received firsthand information about all that took place in the meetings with God and the people. When the ‘LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ and after Moses would return to the camp, ‘Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the Tent’ (Exodus 33:11). He would stay put there to be readily available and to meditate on all that had transpired during the meeting and without being aware of the LORD’s future plans for him, he was being trained. When the LORD God commanded him to ‘be strong and courageous, do not be afraid’, the Hebrew word used is ‘arats’ which means ‘tremble, dread, terror’ (Joshua 1:9).
What was Joshua’s reason to feel such great fear to tremble? Was he afraid of the opposition that he would face while conquering the Promised Land? Joshua and Caleb were the only two persons out of the twelve sent to spy out the land, forty years ago by Moses, who advocated immediate move to capture the land (Numbers 13:30). Joshua did not fear the opponents but the power that would be vested in him by the LORD as leader of the people and as representative of the LORD. God and Moses were well aware of this but the Israelites felt his fear to be about opposition from within the camp. They assured him of their complete obedience, with promise to kill the one who disobeys (Joshua 1:17-18).
After the encouraging words from the LORD, Joshua commanded the people to prepare to cross the Jordan River, which was flooded, after three days (Joshua 1:10). His courage also affected the priests and bearing the Ark of the Covenant, they entered the river, for the depth of a flooded river even at the banks is difficult to gauge (Joshua 3:15). After crossing, Joshua circumcised all males, virtually the entire army of Israel, while they were close to and in the area of their enemies (Joshua 5:3).
But how did he change from trembling to fearless commander? It started with Moses who renamed him Joshua (The LORD saves) from Hoshea (salvation) thus turning his focus on God for salvation (Numbers 13:16). Second, Moses provided Joshua opportunities to be in the presence of the LORD God and learn. Third, Moses invested in Joshua by praying for him publicly, laying his hands on Joshua and anointing him with some of his own authority (Numbers 27:19-20). Fourth, Joshua surrendered to God and while exhorting the Israelites to serve God diligently, declared, ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ (Joshua 24:18).
Like Moses each one of us is responsible to seek guidance from the Lord to select a suitable person(s) to train and pass on what we have learnt. God has commanded us to store up His words in our hearts and our souls and also to teach them to our children, ‘speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up’ (Deuteronomy 11:18-19). God’s words would thus become a way of life for us to be emulated by our children. Joshua was trained by Moses as a father would his children. Also, Joshua remembered and never forgot that his assignment was from God Himself to lead His people into the Promised Land. And though there was danger and challenges, he could stand firm in faith that God does not task us as per our ability but our availability. The promise to him was ‘I will give you every place where you set your foot’ and he lived as such.
Courage does not mean being fearless but to overcome fear and it applies to all the three realms, physical, moral and spiritual. God assured Joshua ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Joshua 1:5). Joshua had the key to success, to follow God’s word completely ‘according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success’ (Joshua 1:8).
Joshua had the example to emulate. Joshua had witnessed all that Moses as a leader did and how he was blessed by God. He could then walk by faith and ‘Commander of the LORD’S Army), Lord Jesus, could then lead him into victory by providing him detailed plans to conquer Jericho and other places (Joshua 6:1-5).
Joshua believed God and then in His power could command the sun to stop over Gibeon and the moon to stop over the valley of Aijalon and God let it be till the Israelites had defeated the enemy (Joshua 10:12). In any situation there will always be certain probabilities to surprise us but like Joshua we should have the courage and faith to seek answers from the Lord. The more we seek Him the more He is willing to lead us out of fear and into victory. Gideon was chosen by God to lead the Israelites to victory over the Midianites but God realized his fears to move with only three hundred men. God commanded Gideon to go into the enemy camp at night for ‘I have delivered it into your hands. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you will hear what they say; and afterwards your hands will be strengthened’ (Judges 7:9-11).
God understands our weaknesses and is ever ready to create a way for us to overcome our fears, if we are willing to seek His help.
How did the disciples bravely face the Romans and all other opposition? The disciples while facing the storm, saw Lord Jesus walking on water towards them and it was only Apostle Peter who sought Him to say, ‘Lord if it is You, bid me to come to You on the water’ (Matthew 14:28). Setting aside his fears, he stepped out of the boat and walked towards the Lord but when he looked at and feared the storm, he went under water to be rescued by the Lord. Fear will always sink you for it takes us out of God’s power into the devil’s hands.
Lord Jesus assured the disciples of another Helper, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever, for He had promised them of His blessings (John 14:16-17 & 12). The disciples are blessed with His assurance that ‘he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do’. Like Joshua and other servants of God, the disciples also believed in His words and could do many miraculous works and face all challenges with courage and faith. In Apostle Peter’s walk on water and the disciple’s life we find that peace is not in the absence of the storm but in Lord Jesus’ presence. Lord Jesus did not promise us a trouble-free life but an assurance that He has overcome the world and we can also in His name and authority, for He is the Lord of every situation (John 16:33).
Fear wants us to be prisoners of fate but faith leads us out of the storm to take the risk and step forward. We can be sure that God is always ready to reach out and rescue us when fear tries to overpower. When the Jewish elders tried to browbeat the disciples to stop preaching the Resurrected Christ, they could boldly answer, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge’ (Acts 4:19). Their fear of the storms was gone. Retaining the focus on Lord Jesus is the key to overcoming fear, for we are surrounded by the kingdom of darkness all around us. ‘The god of this age (the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers’ and the moment we turn away from our Lord the darkness is ready to overwhelm us and we cede control to the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Life is full of storms that are big and will destroy us when we try to face them in our own power. The disciples had been fighting the storm the whole night but when Lord Jesus entered the boat, all was quiet and they immediately reached the other side (Matthew 14:29-32). He must be ahead and I must follow for only then can He be my ‘strength and shield’ to protect me. Worship of the Lord should be our response in every situation for He is with us always and through worship we enter into His presence and then He uses our situation to do mighty things for us and through us. When we reach out to Him we find Him right there with us and then like David we are equipped by Him to face the giants in our life and destroy them.
For this we must, first, know the person of God intimately for ‘God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7). We tend to fight the challenges with our own strength whereas His presence within us is ready to help if we seek and that happens through closeness to Him. Second, follow your calling, for God’s plan for each person is a link in His overall work on the earth. David was anointed as king as a young teenager, 15-17 years old, and he faced all sorts of life-threatening odds, including Goliath, and emerged victorious through retaining his focus on his destiny. Apostle Paul faced very difficult situations but he could still say, ‘none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:24). Third, keep in mind God’s promises, for He is true and will follow through on His word. Believers are equipped with authority ‘over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by means hurt you’ (Luke 10:19). We exercise this authority in His name and for His kingdom and glory. Four, bank on His resources for where God leads and guides, He also provides. Apostle Paul assured, ‘my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus’. And we receive from Him in faith. Five, bank on His power. God is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient and if He is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31). Six, remember and remain in His presence for He has promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). Also, He has been given all authority ‘in heaven and on earth’ and He readily intervenes in our difficult times when we seek Him (Matthew 28:18). Seven, remain behind Him in His protection. God promises, ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron’ (Isaiah 45:2). Satan always wants us to move ahead of the Lord and suffer while the Lord wants to be our shield and protect when we walk in His shelter, behind Him and under His hand.
We must choose our ways as God leads us rather than moving in a tangent away from His presence and protection. We have the choice to grab fear or courage and the Almighty God will help us to fulfill our choice. Fear leads to discouragement, to hopelessness and destruction whereas courage forces the enemy to retreat and gives victory. What we want to be is our decision!
Fear chokes and drowns us in various negative thoughts that force us to retreat and not follow the right way. And many times this happens when we are just on the verge of being victorious over our situation and we surrender to what is visible. Fear not only makes us unsuccessful but also causes friction in relationships, both in the spiritual as well as social realms. But those who overcome fear rejoice like Gideon, Joshua, Apostle Paul and others and glorify God in their lives. Whichever category we want to join depends on us!