I have a friend who recently went to the doctor for a diagnosis on some symptoms she’d been experiencing. Over-emotional, mood swings, changes in weight and total lack of appetite amongst many others. After a series of tests all coming back negative, the doctors gave her their diagnosis: stress. My friend works long hours in a high-stress work environment and had recently been disappointed by an upsetting end to a long term relationship. The emotional distress of the break up combined with the big demands being made of her in other areas of her life have led her to feeling dismayed.
If you flick through a couple of dictionaries they’ll describe the word dismay like this: a sudden or complete loss of courage, utter disheartenment, sudden disillusionment, agitation of mind, a strong feeling of fear or worry, or a ‘sadness that is caused by something unpleasant and unexpected’.
The hebrew word translated as dismayed in the book of Joshua is ‘chathath’ (pronounced khaw-thath’) and it means ‘prostrate’ or to ‘break down’. In Joshua 7:6 the Israelites are taken aback by their defeat at the hands of the men of Ai who they were confident they would have victory over. The Word tells us that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water”. Joshua “fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening” and points his finger at the Lord, saying, “why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?” (Joshua 7:7).
Convinced that his calling from the Lord to lead the Israelites to the promised land meant no obstacles, Joshua faces a crisis of faith. He literally breaks down before the Lord and questions why he began his quest in the first place, if God doesn’t have his back.
How does God respond? He says to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?” And if we look back to chapter one of Joshua, we see that God saw this coming. In 1:9 God says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
God told Joshua not to be dismayed because he knew he would be. In his great foreknowledge he saw the trials Joshua would come up against and wanted him to know that even during the darkest of times, when it seems all your hope was vanity, that even there the Lord is still walking with you. And when we break down and even our bodies show the signs of our heartbreak, we can know that just like Joshua we have a God who says to us “Be not dismayed”. Take heart also that after this ordeal, Joshua and the Israelites defeat the people of Ai with the Lord’s help. Even when our plans for ourselves are lost, God’s plan for us continues.