Lessons for Life Part 2: Facing Change, not with Fear but with Faith

September 24, 2022

There are seasons in life when God clearly calls us to make a specific change in our circumstances, to move to a new location, maybe to head in an altogether new direction, and at such times we will be helped by turning to His Word. 

This second part of a 3-part series on “lessons for life” continues our exploration of the Torah portion ‘Sh’lach’ or ‘Sh’lach Lecha’, the familiar story in Numbers 13-15 of the mission of the spies sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan as a future home for the Israelite people. Big changes lay ahead!

As the familiar saying goes, constant change is here to stay-—we cannot avoid changes. And when we are faced with change we are invariably confronted with challenges. One of the particular challenges that this story presents us with is the need for us to deal personally with the fear that so often accompanies the inevitability of change. 

Fear can be a crippling thing. I am not talking about “the fear of the Lord” that is described in the Scriptures as “the beginning of wisdom.” That fear is related to the Hebrew word yirah and is usually understood to mean “awe.”

The Biblical “fear of the Lord”, this “awe”, means that we can approach God’s throne with boldness and confidence, but with a trembling awareness of the power and majesty of the One who sits upon the throne.

The fear that enveloped the Israelites in the wilderness on hearing the negative report of the 10 spies was fear of a totally different kind. This kind of fear could be defined as F.E.A.R.—False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s been described as the darkroom where the devil takes you to develop your negatives.

Writes Christian author and speaker Danni Synot: “Do you make excuses out of fear? We all make excuses when we want to get out of something we don’t want to do, and our reasons for not wanting to do something vary. Sometimes it’s a good and valid excuse, for example, we feel like we’re being asked to compromise our values, but often it’s because we have an underlying fear.” 

The Israelites were gripped by a fear that emanated from a refusal to believe in the promises of a good and strong God. They chose instead to focus on the enormity of the very real obstacles before them.

Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong, especially when you’re faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges. But what is wrong is dealing with personal fears in a self-focused way. You can’t hide from your fears and simply hope they will go away. 

In an old Charlie Chaplin film there is a scene in which he is captured in battle, and attached to his leg is a ball and chain. The heavy ball keeps him from escaping and it is too securely fastened to be pried off. So with no one looking he digs a hole and buries the ball, covering it up so that it is no longer visible. With the ball completely covered, he turns to leave, only to fall flat on his face. 

The thing that contributes the most to fear in our Christian walk is that we are inclined to measure obstacles and challenges against our own strength and resources instead of focusing on God’s power, resources and promises. 

How many people do you know who have projected a strong and confident exterior, only to tremble inside with fear? We tackle our anxieties in countless different ways. 

We accumulate and seek to build our security on money and things. We want to be popular with others and for them to think well of us. Asks American author Max Lucado—“Can money, possessions or popularity really deliver us from our fears?

“If power could, then Joseph Stalin should have been fearless. Instead, this notorious Soviet Russian leader was scared stiff to go to bed. He had seven different bedrooms. Each bedroom could be locked as tightly as a safe. In order to foil any would-be assassins, he slept in a different bedroom each night. 

“Five chauffeur-driven limousines transported him wherever he went, each with curtains closed so that no one would know which one contained Stalin. So deep were his fears that he employed a servant whose sole task was to monitor and protect his tea bags!

“If having possessions could overcome fear, the late billionaire Howard Hughes would have been totally fearless. Maybe you know his story. His distrust of people and his paranoia of germs led this sad man to Mexico, where he died a lonely death as a miserably unhappy and haggard hermit with a waist-length beard and corkscrew fingernails.

“What about popularity? Beatle John Lennon’s fame as a singer, songwriter, and music/pop idol made him a household word, but his fears brought him a pile of misery to add to his pile of money. His biographers describe him as a frightened man, unwilling to sleep with the lights off, and afraid to touch anything because of its filth.”

Very recently Ukrainian psychiatrist Roman Kechur wrote about Russian president Vladimir Putin: “He sits at a long table, afraid that he will be poisoned, lives in a bunker, his food is prepared by special chefs. Putin shows obvious signs of paranoia. A person who is scared of everyone experiences a very strong fear. He is afraid of losing control. He is afraid that he will be dominated, that he will be irradiated or poisoned. He lives in fear.”

Though Stalin, Hughes, Lennon and Putin are extreme cases, their examples make a powerful point. We cannot deal with our fears through paranoid behaviour, or by turning inward to our own invariably limited resources or to what the world so freely and seductively offers. 

For the Israelites, the fear of giants and fortified cities outweighed the blessing of the fruit that they saw. Numbers 13:32 says they began to see the land of milk and honey as “a land that devours its inhabitants.” Some turnaround! 

The Israelites saw themselves as grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants, where instead they should have seen the giants as grasshoppers in the eyes of God. The important question is not, “How big is the problem?” or “How big am I?”—but “How big is my God?”

As David was being pursued by King Saul He cried out to God in Psalm 27:1—“The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

In vv. 4-5 he longs “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… for in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.”

Paul wrote to a discouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7—“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

My friends, when fear keeps you away from God’s leading, put on that “sound mind” and remember that God is your refuge and you can do all things in Him who gives you strength.

when fear keeps you away from God’s leading, put on that “sound mind” and remember that God is your refuge

It’s all about how you see things. At one level, we need to give the ten spies credit. They told the truth. The land was wonderful, and the people were fierce and intimidating. The fortified cities were no doubt impressive. 

Caleb and Joshua didn’t discount what these men said. They were the facts! They just saw things differently; they saw things from a different perspective—they factored God into the equation!

Jeremy Kagan in ‘The Jewish Self’ has written—“A renowned genius once asked a student, ‘What are you watching when you sit on a hillside in the late afternoon as the colors turn from yellow to orange and red and finally darkness?’ 

He answered, ‘You are watching the sunset.’ The genius responded, “That is what is wrong with our age. You know full well you are not watching the sun set. You are watching the world turn.’”

Two people can look at the same yard. One sees the beautiful colours of the leaves on the tree; the other sees all the leaves on the lawn that need to be raked up. 

Two people can watch it rain. One sees the dust being settled and the ground soaking up desperately needed moisture (something we know about in Australia), the other sees clouds and mud. Two people can face the same challenge. One sees an opportunity; the other sees a roadblock. 

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner tells about a certain Rabbi Silver who visited the Displaced Persons’ camps where Holocaust survivors were taken after the war. 

He was approached by a young man who defiantly announced, “Rabbi, I will never be a religious Jew!” “What makes you say that?” asked Rabbi Silver. 

“I saw something in the camp that I will never forget”, he explained. “There was a man who called himself religious who had smuggled a siddur (prayer book) into the camp. It was the only siddur in our group and a few people wanted to borrow it in order to pray. He agreed to lend it but only on one condition—in return for half a day’s bread! 

“And what happened?” asked Rabbi Silver curiously. “Many gave their bread so that they could use the siddur!” he answered angrily. “I want nothing to do with a religion where the people use the religion to rob starving people of their bread!” 

Rabbi Silver smiled at the young man and said: “Why do you concentrate on that one individual who had the siddur and made such a demand? Why don’t you instead look at the devotion of all of those people who gave up their bread just to pray in that siddur.” 

It’s not what happens but how we view it. The sin of the spies was the worship of self—believing that they saw all there was to see, and that their version of the truth was the only version that was true. 

The ten pessimistic spies “gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out” (Numbers 13:32). Writing in OzTorah, Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, for many years one of Australia’s highest profile Orthodox rabbis and its leading rabbinic spokesman, gives this a very modern and pertinent twist. 

“What a shame it is that people are still doing the same thing these days,” he says. “There are more than enough negative and distorted reports of Israel in the world media, in the academic unions, among the general non-Jewish public. 

“Unfortunately there are also some Jews who cannot say a good word about Israel. Not just about the security dangers when bombs and missiles are constantly lobbed into Israeli homes and cities, not just when Israel is accused of denying fuel to the Gaza Strip and yet the Gazans who complain are the ones who disrupt the supplies,…

“not just when Palestinians seem to prefer hurting their own people and not creating the infrastructure for independent living, but failing to see the quality of the nation and the culture that have been built in Zion and the inspiration they represent for Jews everywhere.” 

Faced with the challenges of change, the ten spies brought back a bad report and the people listened to them and were paralysed with fear. They trusted human eyes—the eyes of the ten spies—instead of trusting God.

God did an incredible job at creating our eyes, but He never intended that we would trust our eyes more than we would trust our God. Maybe that’s why we can’t see around corners! 

You never know what may be around the corner—so (in the words of Proverbs 3:5-6), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” 



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