A legend from India tells about a mouse who was terrified of cats until a magician agreed to transform him into a cat. That resolved his fear until he met a dog and again became fearful. So the magician changed him into a dog. The mouse turned cat, turned dog, was content until he met a tiger! So once again the magician turned him into what he feared. But when the tiger came to the magician complaining that he met a hunter, the magician refused to help. “I will make you into a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse!”
I believe we all have been fearful at times when we think of certain possibilities in our future. We may attempt to position ourselves to gain various advantages in our vocation, our family, or even our church in an effort to seek security. Does this really work? Can we find security in status or finances?
Sometimes we may see a potentially damaging situation looming ahead of us. We realize we cannot go back, but must face what is before us. God has promised to be with us. But do we tremble in fear of what we are facing?
We will seek direction for facing great difficulties from the book of Joshua.
1. Facing Rivers
In the first five books of the Old Testament, God taught the origins of mankind and established principles and laws that were to be carried out in order to be successful. God promised that trusting in Him and following His principles would result in a bright future. Many times God reminded the people of His call on their lives and His power to protect, just as He does with Christians today.
God had said that His people would possess the Promised Land—a land that flowed with milk and honey. We read in Numbers 13 that Moses had sent twelve leaders to search out the land. They returned with glowing reports about the productivity of the land. Some of the leaders brought back a cluster of grapes so heavy it had to be carried on poles!
God told the people to go in and take possession of the land. The response of the people would determine success or failure for their future in this Promised Land. Would they have courage or be fearful? Forty years passed and we see in Joshua, chapter 1, that the land had not yet been conquered. Moses, the leader of Israel, had died. Why were they not able to conquer the land during those forty years?
Part of their failure to succeed was due to fear. Instead of listening to Moses, they focused on the negative reports from ten of the twelve spies. These men had said (among other things) that the inhabitants of that land were so big that “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers” (Numbers 13:31-33). The people became fearful and began to cry out against Moses: “Why did you bring us here to die?” They also began to look back to their former life, as if forgetting the slavery and hardships they had experienced in Egypt.
In short, they lacked courage. Courage is that quality of mind which enables men and women to encounter danger or difficulties with firmness, without giving in to fear or depression of spirits.
God, in His love, prepared another courageous leader to show the way after Moses’ passing. He commissioned Joshua to be their next leader (Joshua 1:1). We can learn a lot from Joshua’s calling, and the way he carried out his responsibilities, that can help us be courageous.
2. A Leader’s Commission
“Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6)
First, in preparation for leadership, Joshua spent many years being Moses’ minister. In Moses he saw a good example and received good advice. As his attendant, Joshua saw how Moses led, and he observed Moses’ pattern of life. A good mentor instills confidence in us by his words, followed by actions which exhibit faithfulness to God.
The principle and value of mentoring is seen in a number of places in the Bible. Timothy had the Apostle Paul as a mentor. Paul told Timothy, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience.” (2 Timothy 3:10) Those who learn are expected to pass on the things they learn to other men. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) They, in turn, pass it on to other faithful men.
Secondly, Joshua knew that God called him to this work (Numbers 27:16-19). The Lord provided a clear call for him. Joshua was convinced by this call that he was God’s choice, and this gave him courage. When the going gets difficult or conflicts arise, it is important to have a keen awareness that we are not acting independently, but are rather called of God.
Thirdly, Joshua was told to rest on God’s promises. “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Joshua 1:5) This was a source of comfort and security after the death of Moses. Joshua saw the grief and frustration that Moses had dealt with during his forty-year leadership. The ungodly culture in the land was an added threat that could cause the people to turn away from God. God in His providence saw to it that Joshua was strongly encouraged before these kinds of trials began. God knows that undue fear and a lack of faith will produce defeating emotions in mankind.
When faced with decisions and hardships, remembering God’s words was of extreme importance. Joshua was clearly told, “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan . . . unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you . . . only be strong and very courageous . . . do according to all the law . . . for the Lord thy God is with thee . . . I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” Read Joshua 1:1-9. God would do His part, but courage and faith would have to be exercised by Joshua. He and all the people would need to cross the Jordan River before possessing the land that God had promised. The decision to cross required willingness to then face and conquer the enemy. To cross and overcome this difficulty required extreme carefulness. Remembering and believing God’s promise would make the difference for them.
3. A Leader’s Preparation
Many of us can recall with gratitude Christian leaders who gave us courage and helped develop our faith. They were lights and mentors on our spiritual journey. We must not be shaken, though, when they are no longer living or when circumstances change. The courage of a leader is demonstrated by his willingness to face unpleasant and even devastating facts with calmness. There are many difficult rivers in life that an employer, a parent, or a church leader faces in their leadership or other service role. All believers are commanded to depend on the sure foundation of God’s Word to receive courage.
Fear was the natural response for Jesus’ disciples, also. They shut the doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). But as Jesus comforted them after His resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit, they later received boldness to witness for Jesus (see Acts 4:13-21). Unbelievers could say nothing against them. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
We have been given the responsibility of building our convictions through meditation on God’s Word (see Psalm 1:2; 119:97-99). Captivated by His Word, we can discern God’s wishes when financial cliffs threaten, or temptations entice, or sickness and death confront us. We can see that Joshua’s belief in God began in his youth and was sustained by spending time with God (see Exodus 33:1-11). This is always a secret to any person’s later success. A leader’s courage will continue to be nourished by God’s Word until the task is finished.
When faced with opposition, Joshua was able to courageously contradict the unbelief and fear-promoting reports of the ten others who had spied out the land. He counseled the fainthearted and rebellious people that if they would not disobey God, they would surely be given the land (see Numbers 14:6-9).
There will be times when followers will stray from a leader’s instructions. A leader can face times of discouragement. Joshua faced discouragement when Achan took of the accursed thing and the Israelites were defeated by the small city of Ai (Joshua 7). People may deceive, but in the end they cannot prevail against the truth. Others may undermine the Lord’s work, as the Gibeonites did in chapter 9. God was always there to provide encouragement and discernment so His people could persevere. Succeeding generations may neglect to prepare for the battles of life and fail during times of crisis, giving their mentors a sense of disappointment and loss. Though there may be periods of sorrow, in the end God always rewards those who humbly pray and remain faithful.
We admire Joshua’s conviction to follow God’s commands. After seeing the presence of the Lord so often during his life, he declares, “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Giving guidance with courage carries with it a weight of toil and responsibility. Jesus did not say that life for His followers would always go smoothly. In Matthew 10, He warns of the river of persecution some would face. Jesus prepares and encourages us with these words: “I am with you alway” (Matthew 28:20); “fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26). Every secret will one day be revealed. His promise in Matthew 10:32, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven,” has given courage to many who are facing decisions while carrying out the demands of their work.
4. Help to the Courageous
As we obey God’s ordinances and rest upon His promises, we often are given unexpected insight to accomplish a task. This was the case with Joshua. He chose to enlist the help of Moses’ most loyal men and sent out two spies to the city of Jericho. Though he had God’s promise and His protection, Joshua still used diligence in finding the best plan for possessing the land. God may choose to use extraordinary means, but we need to give forethought even when we have great courage.
Worry and anxiety are not to be part of our thoughts, but the Bible does not forbid thinking about tomorrow’s plans. Thinking ahead prepares us even for simple tasks. When I worked on the farm, I tried to think ahead while I did the chores, so as not to duplicate a task unnecessarily. A lack in forethought can be a disadvantage in our normal responsibilities. By paying careful attention spiritually we can also be forewarned of a pending danger and, if God wills, can avoid the resulting trouble. I have experienced this, and likely you can testify even of a life-saving thought from the Holy Spirit.
Joshua’s two spies trekked possibly ten miles and approached the only house they could enter without suspicion. That was the house of Rahab, the harlot. Under normal conditions, entering this house was forbidden to them. Would we exhibit the kind of faithfulness these young scouts displayed? A follower of Christ must be not only physically strong and willing to endure danger, but must have spiritual fortitude and give forethought in order to withstand temptation.
God’s grace may be found in what sometimes appears to us to be the most unlikely conditions. God had opened Rahab’s heart to a new faith in His mighty power. She had heard of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, and the deliverance given to His people at the Red Sea forty years prior. Many had repeated these stories and a glimmer of faith was arising in her heart.
Rahab recounted the rumors going around her city and the people’s fear of invasion to the two men. Rahab believed her city and people would be conquered. We must remember that the Canaanites had knowledge of the greatness and mercy of God. For generations, opportunities for deliverance were available if they would have come to God in repentance (Genesis 15:16). Most chose not to avail themselves of God’s mercy. Rahab’s words showed a different attitude toward God. In spite of her reproachful past, Rahab’s actions showed that her heart was turning toward God. She accepted God’s justice against her country’s unbelief. Could anything other than the hand of the Lord accomplish the miracles that she had heard about? She deeply desired her family to be partakers of the deliverance God could give. She courageously provided protection to the two young men, risking her own life at the hands of the king’s officials. In return she asked that her and her family’s lives would be spared when Israel entered the land.
Rahab found grace and courage from God, and He commended her for her faith, rather than upbraid her for her past wrongdoing. “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” (Hebrews 11:31) Rahab’s choice to align herself with God’s people opened up a whole new life for her, and a future part in the genealogy of Christ. It renewed the courage of the leaders, who soon needed to cross the flooded Jordan River. Leaders need to be a point of stability for those to whom they are ministering, and God had moved upon the mind and emotions of Rahab to encourage the leaders of His people.
When the waves of fear approach, memorize the promises of Isaiah 41:10. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Fear and anxiety must submit to the truths of the Bible.
If you have not trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation, seek God’s Word and know He desires you to repent and be saved. Hear His words of encouragement that you can lean upon in difficult times. As we act on these words, we may possess what God has promised. This will be a bridge to pass through any rivers that we may encounter. There is not a nation or a position that can secure our eternal future. Only God can provide and protect our eternal destiny.