Get a Grip on Courage
Your hand in bravery

If ever there were a time for courage, it was in Judah in the eighth century b.c.

As far as the nation was concerned, every potential heir of David’s dynasty had been killed, and an evil usurper held the throne. The usurper was a woman named Athaliah, and to secure her grip on power, she had killed the remaining heirs—i.e., her own grandchildren.

This grisly scene, and this crisis of succession, was made even more troubling by a series of tragic events that led to this point, discussed in detail through 2 Kings 8-11 and 2 Chronicles 21-22.

Athaliah was the daughter of Israel’s King Ahab. Her brother Jehoram held Israel’s throne for 12 years, until he was killed by Jehu—a man prophesied to wipe out Ahab’s male descendants. Her husband was coincidentally also named Jehoram, and he was the King of Judah—son of the famous Jehoshaphat. His reign had also recently ended, leaving their 22-year-old son Ahaziah to rule briefly. And though Ahaziah was king of Judah, because he was Ahab’s grandson (through Athaliah), he didn’t escape a fatal end at Jehu’s hand.

This problem of succession traced back even earlier, when King Jehoram had killed his brothers (all the other sons of Jehoshaphat). Not long after, a foreign invasion took captive all his wives (except Athaliah) and all his sons, except their youngest Ahaziah. 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 indicates that Jehu then killed more of Ahaziah’s relatives—probably the same as the 42 mentioned in the parallel account (2 Kings 10:12-14).

It’s likely that Ahaziah fathered several princes by this time, but they all would have been young children. So it’s no wonder then that, at the time of his death, “none of the surviving members of Ahaziah’s family was capable of ruling the kingdom” (2 Chronicles 22:9; New Living Translation).

It’s clear that Athaliah must have held some sort of sway over him for her to react so homicidally toward her own grandchildren after his death. Her murderous actions secured her position on David’s throne for six years.

One Man Acts

The Bible reveals what no one else in Judah knew for those six years, save three people. Princess Jehosheba, one of Ahaziah’s sisters, “took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons which were slain, and they hid him, even him and his nurse, in the bedchamber from Athaliah, so that he was not slain” (2 Kings 11:2). The parallel account reveals Jehosheba to be the wife of Jehoiada the priest (2 Chronicles 22:11).

This royal couple and a nurse were the only ones who knew that Ahaziah’s son Joash had survived this massacre. The boy ended up hiding on the temple grounds with the priest for the six years Athaliah held sway over the land.

How Jehoiada installed the rightful king is dramatic, and the way 2 Chronicles 23:1 describes the launch of this action is inspiring: “And in the seventh year Jehoiada strengthened himself ….” Thus ensued his plan to unseat the wicked Athaliah.

What does this have to do with singles? The courage described in the phrase “Jehoiada strengthened himself” is relevant to all of us, and our singles can benefit from an in-depth study of this kind of courage.

Malachi’s Message states: “In the Laodicean churches, spiritual courage may be the greatest need. Without it, the other virtues are of little value! God’s people can’t cower in fear and still grow in God’s love. God says ‘the righteous are bold as a lion’ (Proverbs 28:1).”

Consider the fears that might be holding you back in your dating, in your social development, in your relationships with the opposite sex—in your expression of God’s love.

Get a Grip

The phrase in 2 Chronicles 23:1—“strengthened himself”—is fascinating. It comes from one Hebrew word: chazaq, found 290 times in 266 Old Testament verses.

It is used in 87 verses in relation to strength, being mighty, strong or strengthened. That’s the most numerous usage of that word. It is used in 12 verses related to prevailing or overpowering something. A famous example is when David “prevailed” over Goliath (1 Samuel 17:50).

The most literal definition of the word, however—and the second-most numerous usage of it in the Old Testament—has to do with grabbing or gripping something. That’s found in 58 verses. It’s the word used for gripping any kind of handheld weapon, grabbing someone in a violent way, grasping fabric till it rips, gripping the horns of the altar for safety. Specific instances include Moses catching his rod that had become a snake, and Gideon’s army holding their lanterns.

It’s often used to describe holding someone by the hand—either literally in the case of angels taking Lot and his wife by the hands and leading them out of Sodom, or figuratively in the case of God taking Israel by the hand and bringing them out of Egypt.

It also used figuratively for holding fast to something—whether holding fast to righteous instruction, or stubbornly clinging to deceit. It can refer to something taking hold on us—as in birth pangs taking hold of a woman, or fear itself seizing us.

Additionally, there’s not only a connotation for grasping, but that of a kind of stoutness or stubbornness. It is used for making ones face harder than a rock, or hardening the heart, refusing correction. On the positive side, it can refer to being constant in obedience.

This multifaceted word is even used in 19 verses within the context of being encouraged or being of good courage. It is used when someone is charged to be courageous, or when someone is told to encourage another.

Therefore, to a Hebrew speaker, strength and courage are related to the idea of gripping something. And that is the Hebrew word God inspired in 2 Chronicles 23:1 for how Jehoiada strengthened himself.

Your Responsibility

The way it is phrased there also implies a sense of personality responsibility. The verse doesn’t explicitly say God strengthened him, or that God put a thought in his heart, that God showed him precisely when to act, or that God showed him an open door. We will see God’s involvement and inspiration here, but Jehoiada had to take personal responsibility to act with this gripping courage.

For further evidence of that, chazaq is also the word used in the Bible when an aging man strengthens himself to sit up in bed. It is used of carnal men making themselves strong, or being charged to be strong.

In the July/August 2008 Royal Vision, Ron Fraser differentiated between three kinds of courage—physical, moral and spiritual: “Whereas raw physical courage can be simply stimulated by the intensity of the emotion of the moment—sheer adrenaline flow that leads to one ignoring physical danger thus putting one’s self at risk of personal harm or even death to save others from harm—moral courage is calculated. It involves a deliberate decision, a well-thought-out and deeply considered course of action taken against odds that may lead to negative personal effects. It means holding to one’s innate convictions, uncompromising under any influence that might tempt one to go against deeply held personal beliefs.”

You can reconcile the above definitions with the way chazaq is used in the Bible and see that this word can refer to either a moral or spiritual courage. Jehoiada acted with both forms.

A Helping Hand

The courage defined by chazaq is also something we are capable of providing to others. About a dozen verses specifically use chazaq in just this way. Moses was told to “encourage” Joshua (Deuteronomy 1:38; 3:28). Kings Hezekiah and Josiah both did this for the priests of their day (2 Chronicles 31:4; 35:2). There’s a prophecy for our Work today that says: “Strengthen the weak hands” and to tell those of fearful hearts to “be strong” (Isaiah 35:3-4). In 2 Samuel 11:25, David told a messenger to encourage Joab.

David also received this kind of encouragement from Jonathan, who “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). Jonathan’s encouragement brought God into it.

About another two dozen verses use chazaq in the context of God strengthening, God holding, or God giving courage. In 1 Samuel 30:6, David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” Of course, God is the source of our spiritual strength and the spiritual kind of courage.

Isaiah 27:5 uses chazaq in a particularly inspiring way, where God says: “Take hold of my strength.”

This concept is peppered throughout the Psalms. Psalm 27:14 links this courage with waiting on God. Psalm 147:13 uses the word in relation with God strengthening our gates. Notice this one: “Be of good courage [chazaq], and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). God responds to our efforts to have courage. When it comes to courage, must apply effort to grip it, grasp it, take hold of it.

Let’s get specific regarding fears we might face in dating, and how we need a firmer grip on this kind of courage.

Gripping Fears

Sometimes people are afraid of other people’s opinions. Some might say, I don’t want other’s opinions shaping whom I end up with. Ironically, they can do the “opposite” of other’s opinions, which still means they are letting other’s opinions shape their actions (just contrarily). Mr. Armstrong gives an account of this in his Autobiography when talking about his son Richard’s interactions with Lois Lemon: Both avoided the other for a while because everyone else thought their marriage was a foregone conclusion.

Another fear related to others’ opinions is being afraid the person of the opposite sex will sense there might be interest on your part. You don’t want to “give them the wrong idea,” so you back away. Flashing into your mind might be the maxim “avoid the appearance of evil”—taking that to mean appearances count for more than they actually do (and as though it’s evil to show any interest!). You may avoid that “appearance” by avoiding anything that could be misconstrued as interest in the opposite sex.

If you are of marriageable age, having interest in another eligible single is not evil of itself. And being “nice” to them is not necessarily “flirting.” In some cases, we have men who are afraid to compliment women, and women afraid to give a reasonable amount of attention to a man in fears that it may lead him on.

News flash: Our single women in God’s Church do get compliments from worldly men with whom they interact on the job, and our single men get attention from their worldly female co-workers. If the world is giving them that kind of “positive” feedback, and those in the Church are treating them like lepers, consider how the devil can pounce on that to bring someone down spiritually.

I would hope someone isn’t so afraid of others’ opinions that they’d rather stay single than be talked about. If that’s the case, what are they really afraid of? Is that what is truly holding them back from meaningful friendships and relationships with the opposite sex?

Sure, in some cases, people can stay single for godly reasons. The Apostle Paul says singledom can be a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7). But that choice is not made because someone lacked courage and stayed safely nestled in their comfort zone. It is not the result of being afraid of marriage.

“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets” (Proverbs 22:13; see also Proverbs 26:13). The excuse here is a largely a figment of the imagination—someone contriving dangers (fears) that keep them inside. Maybe at one point there was an actual danger, but this can lead to an aversion toward any kind daring, or misinterpreting discomfort as danger.

How appropriate that the word chazaq—in addition to giving the image of gripping courage—can also refer to fear gripping us. Jeremiah 49:24 uses it to describe being “seized” by fear.

These fears can keep us “inside,” to use the Proverb’s imagery. And even if we’re not slothful in our dating at the moment, those fears can foster slothfulness.

Can You Trust?

In some cases, as those of marriageable age progress in the dating process, they discover new fears. Trust issues can arise. True, we are not to put our trust in men, and human beings cannot be 100 percent trustworthy, just as you can’t be either.

Consider a same-sex “best friend.” Sure, you “trust” them, but you also know they’re human—not 100 percent trustworthy. You know their flaws and they know yours. Are you afraid of that level of vulnerability in that relationship?

More significantly, if God is bringing two people together to be married, they can trust that. That is trusting God—which supersedes all fears, anxieties and insecurities. After all, it was God who said it is not good that man be alone. God made us to need and complete one another.

Of the godly wife, Scripture states: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her …” (Proverbs 31:11).

Getting involved in a marital relationship is not putting your trust in men. We trust the God who created marriage, and the God who is guiding the process and joining two people together. How terrifying does that sound?

Acting in Spite of Danger

No imaginary lion in the streets prevented Jehoiada from restoring the crown prince to David’s throne. But there were considerable threats—legitimate dangers. Consider that!

His plan had to be enacted with wisdom and strategy. Timing played a factor. Trust was also a factor: He would have to bring other people into the know. But he also had to strengthen himself.

Reading both accounts in Kings and Chronicles, we get the sense that there came a point where Jehoiada couldn’t maintain the status quo (Athaliah reigning and the child prince hiding on the temple grounds).

What was that tipping point? 2 Chronicles 24:7 gives an indication. This verse records history that ensued much later, but briefly flashes back to show Athaliah’s power: Her agents “had broken up the house of God; and also all the dedicated things of the house of the Lord did they bestow upon Baalim.”

Her tyranny had come awfully close to where they were keeping the rightful heir. Her Baal worship was costing things of God’s house. Crossing this “red line” for Jehoiada, plus the fact that the rightful heir was now seven years old, meant it was time to act.

“Moreover Jehoiada the priest delivered to the captains of hundreds spears, and bucklers, and shields, that had been king David’s, which were in the house of God” (2 Chronicles 23:9). Perhaps there was a moment when he knew he had to act. He looked at those weapons that David himself had grasped, and perhaps that inspired him to “get a grip” on the personal courage he needed.

Probably the scariest part of Jehoiada’s plan was revealing the truth about the rightful heir to a specific segment of officials. “And the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the rulers over hundreds, with the captains and the guard, and brought them to him into the house of the Lord, and made a covenant with them, and took an oath of them in the house of the Lord, and shewed them the king’s son” (2 Kings 11:4).

The “captains” here are described as “Cherethites” earlier in the Bible—referring to some order of guards who protected David’s throne. It appears their loyalty was solely to the occupant of the throne, rather than the nation. To overthrow someone sitting on David’s throne meant you needed to convince them that another held the rightful claim, meaning these captains needed to protect that person instead.

That “reveal” would have made Jehoiada extremely vulnerable to execution. Once he rang that bell, he couldn’t un-ring it.

Not as much is on the line in your dating, but similar fears, hang-ups, timing issues, questions on how much to share, can paralyze some. It is good to ask ourselves what aspects of our lives are being influenced or motivated by fear. Not just asking, what am I afraid of?, but How might my fears be shaping my everyday decisions and actions?

Punishing Fear

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). The word for torment means penalty or punishment. If we live in fear, we are living under its punishments. In contrast, perfect love pays off—by casting out that fear.

This love governs all human relationships—between us and God, and between us and our fellow man. We know intellectually that if we’re influenced or gripped by fear, we are not properly exercising that godly outgoing concern.

Our booklet Single-Minded for God addresses this topic: “Most fears involve a feeling of a lack of ‘self-worth’ or ‘self-achievement.’” It defines some fears as “fear of people, fear of rejection, fear that people won’t like you, fear that you will expose your ignorance, or fear of inadequacy.”

The booklet states, “Many fears come from being self-centered, being worried of how you come across, and whether others will like you.” And it offers solutions based on the principle here in 1 John 4:18: “Let love and service be the motivation. And, the very things you desire most you will begin to attain—confidence, acceptance, usefulness and the ability to edify.”

Remember that chazaq—meaning to grip, strengthen, encourage, etc.—can apply to something we do for ourselves or something we inspire in others. We can encourage, strengthen, or give someone else a stronger grip on courage. And that can certainly encourage or strengthen us.

The booklet continues: “Begin thinking in terms of others, helping them, serving them, encouraging them to achieve their best—and you’ll find that this effort will help erase self-consciousness from your life. Forget self, and give to others. The key to overcoming fears, then, is to think in terms of truly helping others. Ask yourself: How can I help and edify them? That is what love is—active, genuine service. Using these principles will change your outlook, your thought processes—your very life! They will help you ‘perfect’ your love and erase fear.”

The Courage to Repair

Several years after Jehoiada installed Joash to the throne, the Bible uses the word chazaq to show how this king “was minded to repair the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:4). This word is also translated “mend” (verse 14).

There are definitely things in our lives that need repairing or mending. Those things require a gripping courage.

Getting closer to marriage might bring some of those things to mind. Marriage might require we tackle certain “repairs,” since we know marriage isn’t an automatic fix to all our issues. But we also might put off marriage because we’re waiting on things to be perfect, which, of course, no two people ever are. Rather, a new husband and wife start out as novices, ready to tackle marital challenges together as best friends.

Another inspiring use of this word can be found in Nehemiah. In fact, when translated “repair,” the most uses of chazaqare found in Nehemiah 3, which details the repairs—i.e., the strengthening—of Jerusalem’s wall.

Notice this use of the word in chapter 2, where Nehemiah brings his concerns to some of the rulers of the area: “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (verse 18). This is also the same word for how the crew held their weapons while they worked (see Nehemiah 4:16-21).

So chapters 2-4 use this word for strengthening the hands, repairing the wall and holding weapons while they worked.

Metaphorically, walls can be bad if we use them to obstruct things that should be in our lives. These are barriers based on fears, insecurities, perhaps past trauma—making us unable to be vulnerable.

But walls can also be good. We need boundaries in our lives and appropriate boundaries within relationships. Proper walls also have gates. We can still let people in, using this analogy.

Just like Nehemiah’s project, our walls and gates might need repair from time to time. That may take courage, strengthand possibly a bit more honesty.

But in dating, one of our fears might be honesty itself. We cloak that fear under the guise of tact or discretion. But our “tact” may simply be a fear of being properly upfront with people. We can “spare someone’s feelings” to their detriment. If we care for them, then there’s a time to be upfront. God wants us “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Do not cower from honesty. Think back to some of your relationship heartaches, where someone wasn’t as upfront with you. Could some of that pain have been avoided had they had a more firm (yet tactful) courage with you?

Get a Grip on God

Again, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility in all this: Grasp your heart and take courage. Then we must also seek that courage which comes from above. As Mr. Fraser termed it, we need both that “moral courage” and that divine “spiritual courage.”

None of this is meant to advocate doing anything reckless, or acting rashly without counsel. There was a great deal of deliberate planning in what Jehoiada did. But it is in those moments that God sees our character and what actions WE will take.

Part of our personal responsibility includes encouraging (i.e., giving courage and strength) to others—helping them with their grip.

God will do the same for us. This is illustrated in Isaiah 41—the chapter with the most uses of chazaq in a single passage of scripture. The predominant image here is of God holding our hand.

Verse 6 says: “They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage. Verse 7 uses chazaq for the phrase “he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.”

Notice this beautiful use of it: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken [chazaq] from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” (verses 8-9).

After all these rich affirmations, God says: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (verse 10).

If a situation might incite all our fears, insecurities and anxieties—if it is pushing our panic buttons—but we know God is involved, can we not be strengthened in that? If God’s way is to confront an issue, can that not override any human fear of open and honest discussion?

God says “be not dismayed,” which means to be constantly looking around. It’s easy to wonder what other people are thinking, or to be anxious about a variety of opinions apart from God’s. But He says, “I will strengthen thee … I will help thee … I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Notice chazaq in verse 13: “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”

Put those images together: If it’s His right hand holding your right hand, that visual is not one of Him beside you, but His body being turned toward you, like a handshake, or grabbing your hand and pulling you up. How meaningful!

God strengthens us—gripping us and strengthening us. And what He’s gripping is the hand we
would use to gripsomething. (See Isaiah 42:6 for the same wording and imagery.) Getting a “grip on courage”—when it comes to that spiritual courage—is grasping God’s right hand, so to speak.

Yes, Jehoiada’s action is worded more like he took personal responsibility. It doesn’t explicitly credit God’s intervention. But there is a detail in Chronicles that shows Jehoiada was basing all this on an incredible promise from God.

The harrowing day of Joash’s coronation, Jehoiada said to the people present: “Behold, the king’s son shall reign, as the Lord hath said of the sons of David” (2 Chronicles 23:3).

He knew God’s promise to David. That was like grabbing God’s right hand! If it’s the godly thing to do, if it’s based on God’s Word or God’s promises or God’s will, then we can be gripped with His right hand and gripped with His courage. Then there truly is nothing to fear.

That doesn’t mean fears won’t come to mind, or be swirling around us, but fear will not grip or seize us. It will not be able to punish us. That is because we have our grip on something 100 percent trustworthy: The mighty hand of God.