Nizzavim & Va-yelekh
For the week of September 11, 2004 / 25 Elul 5764
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9
First published the week of September 20, 2003 / 23 Elul 5763
Fear and Discouragement
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (Devarim / Deuteronomy 31:7,8).
When I read this week's parsha, I was struck by Moses' words to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous." It was not the meaning of the words that struck me, it was the fact they would be shortly spoken to him again. In the first chapter of the Book of Joshua these same words are spoken to him four more times.
It doesn't take a scholar to figure out why he needed to hear these words repeated again and again. Joshua was going to be facing very difficult and frightening tasks in the days and years ahead. He needed to be assured of God's help and presence. He needed to be brave. He needed to resist discouragement.
Another reason why I especially noticed these words is that they have been given to me on several occasions. From time to time people in my life have sensed that these were words that God was speaking to me. But as I read this passage a few days ago, I realized that I had not yet really received them. Whenever I would hear these words, I would quickly dismiss them as just nice words to share with someone, with no great importance to myself at that time.
But the fact is fear and discouragement are things that I struggle with on a regular basis. If anyone needs to hear words like these, it is me. Yet something has prevented me from allowing them to touch my heart.
I think my problem has been my unwillingness to accept responsibility for fear and discouragement. I have been waiting for God to miraculously take away my heart struggles. My desire for peace and contentment has been the subject of so much of my praying. Yet fear and discouragement visit me relentlessly. I have wondered why God has not seen fit to relieve me of this.
The answer is in this passage. Not being afraid or discouraged were things that Joshua had to do. God did not say to him, "Follow me, and I will take away your fear."
Therefore my not being afraid or discouraged are things that I am expected to do. I need to activate my will and be brave.
Thankfully it is not as if Joshua was given no basis for this instruction. God promised to be with him forever. He had no reason to be afraid. Still it was up to him whether he was going to live according to God's promise or to ignore it.
It is the same for all true followers of the God of Israel. Through Yeshua the Messiah, God has promised to be with us forever. Now it is up to us whether or not we will take him at his word and resist fear and discouragement, or live as if he doesn't care about us at all.
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