Fear cripples people. It is a plague that can ravage the people of God and hinder us from walking confidently with our God and doing His will. When we are overwhelmed by the “giants in the land,” the only thing that can displace our fear is the powerful presence of God.
The book of Joshua begins on a dismaying note. Moses is dead. The great prophet and leader of Israel whom God used as the human agent to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt was no longer with them. Moses died outside the land of promise as a result of his sins. It would be hard to overstate how categorically perplexing that must have been to Israel: the man who had led them out would not himself enter. In addition, an entire generation of Israelites had died in the wilderness due to their unbelief. From that generation, only Joshua and Caleb were alive. That generation’s children who grew up to replace their parents would be going into the land. Fear was not simply a plague that threatened the people of Israel; it had birthed unbelief in their hearts and hindered them from obtaining the promise.
It is against this sobering backdrop that God set His redemptive promise of hope. God had given two gifts to Israel to help them overcome their fear and enter the promised land. The first gift was Joshua. God knew that the people of Israel needed a leader, a man chosen by God to provide decisive, visible leadership, one who would bring the people from where they were to where they needed to go. Joshua was the man for such a time as this, and God clearly placed the mantle of Moses on the shoulders of Joshua. Joshua would be with them, and Joshua would lead them.
The greatest comfort any of us can have—no matter how frightening or dismaying this world may be—is that Jesus, the Captain of our salvation is with us always, even to the end of the age.
Fine as that was, Joshua was still only a man, and God gave something to Israel that was of far more value than the leadership of Joshua—God gave them Himself. What God gave to Israel in Joshua 1 to displace their fear was ultimately the promise of His own abiding presence: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). Joshua was the leader who went before them, but God Himself was truly the Captain of their salvation, their Rearguard, and their abiding Comforter.
What God expected of His people was faith in His promise and presence. The opposite of being “frightened and dismayed” is to be “strong and courageous.” There was only one problem: the people were sinfully afraid. Their courage waned more than it waxed, and eventually God would have to do even more for His covenant people. And He did. Many years and episodes later, against the backdrop of an even gloomier stage, God raised up another deliverer—the Prophet more faithful than Moses and the Captain more successful than Joshua. Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to transform this stage of foreboding darkness into one of radiant hope. He came to do battle with all that threatens us, and He overcame our greatest fear—death itself—by His own life, death, and resurrection.
Is it any surprise that in the resurrection narrative in Matthew 28, God’s people were told not to fear? First, the angels told the women at the tomb not to be afraid (v. 5); next, Jesus, having risen from the dead, told the women to say the same thing to the disciples (v. 10); and finally, Jesus gave us the Great Commission with the singular promise that banishes our fear: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20).
Israel’s tendency was to be “frightened and dismayed.” So is ours. At times, fear grips the heart and boggles the mind, causing us to do the wrong thing at times and hindering us from doing what we ought to do. But we must remember that we are accompanied by One who is far stronger than anything that threatens us—and He is not afraid. There are still many giants in the land. But the One who is with us is greater. He has already defeated His and our enemies. He is victoriously subduing hearts just as He promised. He is working faith in us just as He promised. And the greatest comfort any of us can have—no matter how frightening or dismaying this world may be—is that Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, is with us always, even to the end of the age.
Dr. Eric B. Watkins is senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in St. Augustine, Fla., and author of The Drama of Preaching.