We all experience fears of various kinds — fears about the future, about relationships, about work and finances, about our health, or about the ones we love, perhaps even fears about falling away from Christ. Fears often emerge and linger because we don’t know how to fight them. We feel helpless and powerless before their threats.
When fears arise, how do you respond? When bills pile up, some of us let them consume our thoughts; others push them far out of our minds. When layoffs are happening at work, and our job is in jeopardy, some of us isolate ourselves; others take the stress out on our family. When health concerns emerge, some of us distract ourselves with shopping or entertainment; others fall back into an old pattern of sin. Fear often leads us everywhere but to God.
When Moses died, a whole nation was terrified. We know God’s people were afraid, because he says to Joshua three times in four verses, “Be strong and courageous. . . . Only be strong and very courageous. . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6–9). Maybe you can feel their fear in these words. That makes this passage a kind of field manual for the anxiety and fears we face.
Your Worst Fear
What is the first statement God makes to them? “Moses my servant is dead” (Joshua 1:2). He reminds them of what they feared the most: stepping out in faith, into a foreign land, against massive armies, without Moses. God doesn’t avoid reality, or try to distract his people with something else. He addresses the hard truth with honesty.
But God means for his people to hear waterfalls of comfort and confidence in those five words. He calls him, “Moses my servant.” Yes, Moses is dead, but he was only a servant sent by your God — and your God will not die. And his promises will never expire. He says, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them.” Moses may be gone, but God’s promises still live. No matter how bleak the moment, God will never forsake his word to them — or to you.
God does not bring good news that downplays or ignores harsh realities. The news he brings is good enough to confront and overcome the worst threats his children face, like death and war and whatever haunts you.
What Does God Say?
As God sent his people across the Jordan and into danger, he handed them a promise to carry them through the fires: the land is already yours. Yes, great armies await you, and hard battles remain to be won, but this land has already been taken for you. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:3).
Their nervous hands and antsy feet are flesh-and-blood manikins of our lack of faith in challenging or distressing circumstances. God has promised us more in Christ, and with more evidence — at the cross, in the empty tomb, and with the Holy Spirit — and yet we’re often still afraid to trust him and step forward. We let fear silence the clear voice of God in Christ.
When you are afraid that you might drown in the river of your finances, or be burned in the fires of affliction, remember that God has said to you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:1–2).
What are the most important words God speaks to Israel’s fears? “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. . . . The Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9). It’s a promise, but not just of land, or victory over enemies, or peace, or milk and honey. It is a promise from God of God. “I will be with you.” If we really believe the God of the universe is with us — really with us — in whatever fears we face, they will not be so fearful.
Our God does everything he promises, in every circumstance, at all times. When life gets hard, he is wooing us to lean harder on his word.
Soak in His Words
But God does not only give his people promises in their fear. He gives them marching orders. He doesn’t just tell them everything will be alright, but calls them to follow him into the fire. He calls them to ride the promises of his strength and help and provision and deliverance into faith-filled action — often, in daunting circumstances.
And his clearest instruction to them is the hardest, humanly speaking: “Be strong and courageous. . . . Only be strong and very courageous. . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6–9). Strength and courage are not tasks or chores; they are mental and emotional realities beyond the realm of our immediate control. Our hearts can’t be told to be strong and courageous.
Or can they? The Lord gives them a second command,
“Be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” (Joshua 1:7–8)
We can’t simply tell our hearts to be strong or courageous, but God can. If you want to find strength when you feel weak, or courage when you feel ashamed or afraid, meditate on what God has said — and do whatever he says. Let his promises, his commands, his works, and his ways wash over your fears and insecurities.
As you strive to know and carry out his will, strength and courage from outside of you will well up inside of you, by the power of his Spirit.
Strengthen Someone Else
The next time we find the words “be strong and courageous” in the book of Joshua is at the end of the first chapter. After Joshua had heard from the Lord, he went to deliver the message to the people. They responded to him,
“All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:16–18)
The once fearful people became God’s means of courage for someone else — in this case, for their new leader Joshua, for their new Moses.
Who in your life is facing daunting circumstances or overwhelming trials, the kind that would tempt them to doubt God’s promises and faithfulness? Who around you needs to hear you say, “Be strong and courageous”? Who needs to be reminded that God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”? Remind them what God has promised, and then call them to follow him with strength and courage and joy — and by God’s power, to be free from fear.