Fear distorts reality.
Fear produces irrational responses.
Fear instigates mutiny.
Fear is a statement about God.
This is the ground we've covered so far. Let's start hitting at some solutions. How do we deal with fear?
In our Numbers 13-14 passage, God sent 12 leaders to scout the land. Ten of them succumbed to fear. But two did not: Caleb and Joshua. Why is Joshua and Caleb’s response so different from the other 10? Purportedly, all twelve of these individuals have had the same experience thus far from the time they exited Egypt to the time they arrived at the southern border of the Promised Land. Why are Joshua and Caleb in such a difference place than the other 10? The answer is simple: they know, remember, and trust what God had said about their mission.
Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… - Exodus 3:7-8
God said and promised to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua and Caleb know what God had said, remembered what God had said, and trusted what God had said.
Fear flourishes with ignorance, forgetfulness, and distrust. Just a few years later, God comes to Joshua, who is now leading the people of Israel and this is what he says…
Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only 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. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 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.” – Joshua 1:5-9
Notice within the same train of thought, God connects the command to be strong and courageous with meditating on the Scriptures. Here in Joshua 1, God is commanding the opposite of what took place in Number 13-14. And the command to be strong and courageous doesn’t stand alone as if it is produced through rugged determination. There’s a connection between strength and courage and meditating on God’s Word.
If you do not have a robust, disciplined, consistent, deep, thoughtful devotional life, you are making yourself vulnerable to fear. Overcoming fear is not a matter of willpower. Fear flourishes in the vacuum of an anemic devotional life.
What is it about a robust, disciplined, consistent, deep, thoughtful devotional life that expels fears? Well, I think this kind of devotional life possesses a reorienting power. The ten scouts who succumbed to fear were comparing themselves to the giants in the land. Joshua and Caleb were comparing the giants to God. Do you see in the story how the ten who succumbed to fear were self-concentrating? They were preoccupied with comparing themselves to the task in front of them. Where is God in their picture? He’s missing. They are functional atheists. Fear is functional atheism. Meanwhile, Joshua and Caleb were leaving themselves out of the equation. Instead of self-concentrating by comparing themselves to the giants they were God-concentrating. They were comparing the giants to God. They were comparing the mission in front of them to God. That’s what led them to say, “Let’s go! Let’s go get it!”
Eighty years ago, as Notre Dame was preparing to play the USC Trojans in college football, Fighting Irish coach Knute Rockne was aware that his opponent had a far better team. So he devised a plan to intimidate the opposing players.
Rockne scoured the city of South Bend, Indiana (Notre Dame's hometown), and hand-picked 100 of the largest men he could find—each at least six-foot-five and 300 pounds. He put the men in Fighting Irish uniforms and, at game time, marched them onto the field ahead of the real team. (Obviously, this was before the days of limited rosters and eligibility restrictions.)
As USC watched those giants line up on the sidelines, they forgot about their talent and their undefeated record, and they began mentally preparing themselves for a beating. Though none of the specially recruited men played during the game, their presence on the sidelines was enough to knock Southern Cal's concentration off balance. Knute Rockne's trick had worked; he had intimidated the Trojan players into giving up before the game even started.
This is how fear flourishes – when all our concentration is spent comparing ourselves to the giants; comparing ourselves to the challenges in front of us. Joshua and Caleb didn’t do that. They compared the giants to God; the mission to God; the challenge to God and said, “Let’s go.”
Fear distorts reality.
Fear produces irrational responses.
Fear instigates mutiny.
These are the three effects of fear we've noticed so far from the teaching of Numbers 13-14. A posture of fear distorts reality by exaggerating the challenges. Because we no longer see reality as it is, our decision-making becomes questionable. If forced to press into the things that cause our fear, we often will go kicking and screaming - or not at all. Leaders who press into the things that cause fear may find their followers jumping ship. This is why making decisions that confront our fears is both courageous and costly.
There's one more effect of fear we see in this text: fear is a statement about God. God interprets our fear as a statement about him.
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? – Numbers 14:11
God interprets our fear as a statement about him. You can say it’s the situation. You can say it’s the people you’re with. We can say all sorts of things to try to justify our fear, but God won’t let us isolate our fear. God interprets our fear as a statement of contempt against him. The taproot that feeds and nourishes fear is distrust of the Lord.
Do you see why this story is a treatise on the destructive nature of fear? It’s no wonder why the most frequent command in Scripture is: do not be afraid.
So what do we do about it? Stay tuned...
Numbers 13-14 is a treatise on fear. We’ve started considering the four effects of fear the text teaches. Last time we looked at the first effect: fear distorts reality. We’ll look at the next two in fear’s progression.
1) Fear produces irrational responses
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:1-3
Fear distorts our ability to see reality. It causes us to exaggerate the negative which leads next to addressing this distorted view of reality with a solution that is irrational. “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or that we had died in this wilderness!” Really? “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Now the plan of action, triggered by fear is nonsense. Remember what their experience was like in Egypt? Have they forgotten so quickly? They were brutalized in Egypt.
Do you see the impact fear has on making a good decision? It’s very difficult, if not impossible to make a good decision from a posture of fear.
2) Fear instigates mutiny
And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua want to press on in spite of the fear the Israelites are experiencing. But notice what reaction that creates in the Israelites: they wanted to stone their leaders for this.
This is a good lesson on leadership. If you are a leader and your followers are operating from a posture of fear, if you press forward, they will mutiny in some way or another.
In daily life we may not attempt to murder someone in our anger, but our fear, which graduates to anger can cause us to mutiny. We go looking for another leader just like Israel did. Or the people you’re leading may leave you and go somewhere else. Or they may try to rally the troops to oust you.
This is why making decisions that force us to press into the things that cause our fear is both courageous and costly.
Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. - Deuteronomy 7:21