–by Nico Bougas

Fear is one of the besetting problems of mankind. Everywhere we go we find men and women fearful. They are afraid of death, the future, disease, starvation, economic collapse – nearly everything. Fear can be very disabling. That is why in the early days of WWII President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt said in a speech to the nation, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Fear is the norm
We are told that in the last days, “Men’s hearts failing them from fear.” – Luke 21:26. Today fear has become a great killer throughout the world, as is evidenced by the number of people succumbing to heart attacks, high blood pressure, nervous breakdowns, and the millions of hours modern man spends of psychiatric couches. Fear is very much a reality in our modern day society. But for the Christian it should not be a dominating emotion. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Tim 1:7. When God gave Joshua his instructions as successor to Moses, there was one instruction that He repeated 3 times within the space of one chapter. “Be strong and of a good courage.”

What does the Bible say?
Throughout the Bible, there is one message that God repeatedly gives to His people: “Fear not!”. To Isaac, “Fear not for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Gen 26:24. To Elijah, “Fear not, go and do as you have said.” – 1 King 17:13. Elisha speaking to his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” To Isaiah, Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” Matt 10:31, and again, “Fear not little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – Luke 12:32. Apparently there are 365 verses in the Bible with the words, “Fear not” or its equivalent. That is one for each day of the year.

Commission of the spies
Moses sent 12 spies into the land of Canaan with instructions to see what the land was like. Some people think that Moses made a mistake. They believe he went beyond what God had commanded him to do. God had already given the Israelites the land, and his request for intelligence information was a reliance on the arm of flesh. But that was not so. God wants us to claim His promises and trust His word, but that does not mean that we are to toss common sense out of the window. What Moses asked the spies to do was practical. It was common sense to go in and look things over and report back. God did not say that we are to neglect our understanding. We are simply not to lean on it. That is not to depend wholly on it apart from God. Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators said, “God gave you a lot of leading when He gave you a mind, so use it.” 

Good and bold leaders
The twelve spies who were chosen by Moses were not just 12 random people that Moses found. They were specially chosen as leaders. They were not volunteers or draftees. They were men who could lead and inspire others by their example. It is amazing how a little fear and uncertainty spreads like an epidemic. And conversely how confidence and courage can be transmitted. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Keep your fears to yourself, share your courage with others.” So the lesson of courage had to be learned by these leaders first. This principle is true in every phase of life. You remember how Paul wrote from his prison cell to the Philippians. “And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much bolder to speak the word without fear.” – Phil 1:14. When other Christians saw Paul’s brave and bold testimony in prison it challenged them to a more brave and courageous ministry for the Lord. Paul was a good and bold leader.

Complaint of the spies
Despite the high hopes that he had for them when they were selected for this important task, the spies came back a dejected and despondent lot. Here were these ten men, chosen for their strength and leadership, and they were quivering in their boots. They had just returned from the Promised Land. It was the land that God Himself had promised He would deliver into their hands, and they were full of fear and doubt. All that they could talk about were the problems, the giants, the walled cities. and the fierceness of the opposition and their own weakness. They were a defeated people. Their minds were surrounded by their circumstances. But they forgot one thing –it was God who had promised them the land. It didn’t really matter about the giants, the walled cities, and the fierce opposition. They were on the victory side, they couldn’t lose.

Depend wholly on God
There is no more sure recipe for defeat than to look at yourself and your weaknesses and to dwell on them. If you do then you will come to the same conclusion that they did, “We are not able”. If you look around you at your circumstances and your problems and then look at your own resources, you will take this same hopeless outlook, “We are not able.” Without God, we can do and accomplish nothing of lasting spiritual value. When it comes down to it, we are a totally dependent people who must rely on the goodness and guidance of God.

What they were forgetting is that God is able
He had given them promises, but they had lost sight of them. Christians often complain about how weak they are. The Bible teaches, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” I am not saying that the spies should have ignored the problems. True courage is not hiding your head in the sad and pretending that nothing is wrong. Courage acknowledges difficulties, but does not dwell on them. The ten spies saw the obstacles, but were blind to the power and resources of God. That is a sure path to defeat.

Let God open your eyes
Remember how the servant of the prophet Elisha saw a great host of the enemy and was terrified? “And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” – 2 Kings 6:13. Elisha first permitted the servant to see the opposition and the opposing force as it really was. Then Elisha told him, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those that are with them.” Then he prayed, “Lord I pray open his eyes, that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw the whole mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Courage is doing things you are afraid of. It is not the lack of fear. Acknowledging difficulties may make us afraid, but trusting God gives us courage to go forward.

What was the reaction of the people?
They responded in the way that human beings tend to respond. They were prepared to believe the worst. They sank into a mood of absolute dejection and despair. They looked upon their situation as hopeless and helpless. Somehow people seem to prefer to believe the worst. So they rebelled against God. They accused Him of bringing them into the wilderness to die. It doesn’t take very much for people to rebel against God. It comes naturally ever since our first parents rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden man has been rebelling and going his own way. 

The courage of Joshua and Caleb
Despite man’s rebellion, God has always persevered. Throughout the darkest periods of history, there have always been those who have remained faithful. And here, out of the 12 spies, there were 2 men who were faithful and saw things from God’s perspective. And Caleb, acting as spokesperson for himself and Joshua, gave what we might call a minority report. He stood up and called for calm and then announced defiantly, “Let us go up at once and possess the land for we are well able to overcome it.” However, the people were not impressed. In anguish they cried out, “Why did we ever leave Egypt? It would have been better for us to die there or even in the wilderness.” And they began to plot amongst themselves to choose new leaders to take them back to Egypt and to replace Moses and Aaron. Then Joshua and Caleb stepped up to the plate again. “They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we travelled through and explored is a wonderful land!  And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey.  Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”

It takes courage to stand against the crowd
It takes courage to go against the opinions of your fellow citizens It takes courage to be different. As H G Wells said, “For most people, the voice of their neighbour is louder than the voice of God.” The greatest achievements in the history of the church and of missions have been the outcome of some leader in touch with God taking courageous, carefully calculated risks. The people were too cowardly to enter the land. They had forgotten God. But Caleb and Joshua on the other hand were allowed to enter Canaan. They had remembered God and His promises, and God had not forgotten them. They displayed a God-given courage that had its moorings in faith. Today, the eyes of the Lord are scanning the earth to discover such men and women of faith and to show Himself strong on their behalf. May God grant us the courage to be the Joshua and Calebs of our generation.

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