A Sermon about Courage

By | April 7, 2024

[April 7, 2024]  I was recently asked to give a sermon to a church congregation near my home.  This is one thing I’ve never done: give a religious sermon.  What follows is my message, and although the following is in narrative form, I only used this as a notes.  I think it is better to speak by looking at the audience than reading from notes.  You will see a common theme here from my previous writings.  Enjoy on this Sunday.

It is an honor to talk about one of my favorite Biblical stories, a story that is often overlooked from the Old Testament and one of the most important in the Bible, at least in my opinion.   I’d like to give you some background to put the story in context.

I grew up in the Deep South, in a very poor town with no traffic lights, and many roads were hard-packed dirt.  Most of the homes were without electricity, and there was no grocery store, no park to walk in, and no police department to call upon if trouble, but we did have two adult bars, one just across the street from the only diner in town.  Although I have not lived there in 60 years, I could go back today, and with my accent, I would fit right in, and nobody would be the wiser, except I still have most of my teeth.

And one church, the only church in town, a Southern Baptist church where the services and Sunday School were well attended and where Pastor John gave us the many stories from the Bible and quoted scripture.  As a little boy, I loved these stories.  I was drawn close to the stories, yet I did not know why.

These Biblical stories were just that … stories.  What I couldn’t understand was what they meant to me, my family, my friends and our town.  Their meaning was simply unknown.  Applying a story to your life is hard when you don’t know what it means.

I consider myself a man of God.  But I don’t think I’ve served him well or helped others with a calling to Faith because I never really understood the deep meaning of the Bible.  With that beginning, I hope you will bear with me as I tell you about one small story within one of the most well-known stories of the Bible, The Exodus.

I’m sure most of us recall seeing the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, and genuinely many other great actors.  It was one of my favorites.  Unfortunately, it is an Epic film that leaves out a crucial part of the Exodus story.

The story of Exodus is an existential tale that identifies patterns of human experiences ever since Adam and Eve walked the Earth.  And, The Exodus story itself is itself very compelling.

The Story begins with the Israelites in captivity as slaves to a tyrant.  We’re all the slavish children of tyrants.  Sometimes that’s the external Tyrant, sometimes our own Tyrant, so the story is true psychologically and religiously simultaneously, giving it a kind of eternal truth.

So, the Israelites are laboring under the yoke of the Egyptians, and a leader arises, Moses.  He is called by God to chastise the Tyrant, implying that there is a Divine Spirit of sovereign power whose nature is to punish the Tyrant.  It is also a call to the Israelites to free themselves from the Yoke of the Tyrant.

God is portrayed as the Spirit that inspires the enslaved, the unjustly enslaved, to free themselves, and so Moses is their unwilling leader.  He is not a gifted man verbally but nonetheless touched by God to have this inspiring capacity, and he is urged by God to stand up against the Tyrant and to tell the Pharaoh that unless his people are let go, all Hell is going to break loose, which it does in the form of a multitude of plagues.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” – the Book of Exodus 9:1

Plagues destroy both the present of the Egyptians, and their future in the last plague, the death of the firstborn.  The Israelites are then sent out into the desert by the Egyptians, who are finally terrified by God that their sorcery cannot duplicate.  And in a last-ditch attempt to establish their tyrannical sovereignty, the Egyptian Pharoah decides to kill the Israelites and his army ends up drowned in the Red Sea.

Now, the Israelites have escaped from the Tyrant.  And this is where the story becomes even more realistic.  It is so profoundly and remarkably and surprisingly realistic because it’s easy for naïve people to think that once you’ve escaped the Tyrant, you’re scot-free.  Freedom means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, but it turns out not to be true.

The Israelites are free, indeed, but where are they going, and which way is the right way?  They’re in the desert, and it’s not pleasant, and it’s not even obvious that the Desert is better than the Tyranny.  The Israelites are now out in the desert, and they’re there for 40 years.  You might think, what kind of leadership do they have?  It’s not that big of desert.  The answer is the desert after tyranny is no joke, and maybe it takes three generations to get through it.

The Israelites are wandering around in the desert.  What happens?  They’re worshipping false idols, and they’re tempted.  And it’s no wonder they’re tempted because their lives are not going so well while they’re in the desert.  No wonder they’re having a crisis of confidence.  Maybe they’re pining for the old days, and they’re not so sure that the God who informed them that being the subjects of tyranny was wrong because now here they are in the desert, and so they lack faith.  Their lack of faith is understandable. 

What does God do when he hears their complaints?  He sends poisonous snakes in there to bite them.

I think that’s pretty brutal, and that’s the sort of thing that makes the atheist types recoil about the conceptions of God in the Old Testament.  It’s not exactly what you’d expect from an all-merciful being.  Those poor Israelites, first they were in the tyranny as enslaved people, then they had to go across the Red Sea, and now they’ve been wandering around in the desert, and that’s not good.  And God’s best solution is to send a bunch of snakes in to bite them.

What happens if you lose faith or start looking for faith in the wrong direction?  The answer is Hell gets a little deeper.  Hell is a bottomless pit because no matter how bad it is, you can always do something to make it worse.  So now the Israelites have not only lost their faith, but venomous creatures are biting them.

The Israelites get tired of being bitten by the snakes, and they go to Moses and say, please have a chat with God because you seem to be reasonably tight with Him.  How about you get Him to call off the snakes and maybe we’ll behave a little better.  And Moses says, okay, I’ll see what I can do, and he goes and has a chat with God, which is no trivial matter.

God doesn’t do what you’d expect.  You’d think, okay, all right guys, you’ve been bit enough, no more snakes.  But that is not what happens.  It doesn’t happen because there’s no getting rid of the snakes.  You have to learn to contend with them.  Maybe it’s better to learn to contend with the snakes than it is to inhabit a world where there’s no danger.

God says something astonishing and very interesting.  He tells Moses to cast a snake in bronze and to raise it up on a staff.  The staff seems to reference the staff of Moses, which is what you put in the ground to orient yourself.  It’s like, here I stand.  It’s a center point of life.

In any case, you put the bronze snake up on staff.  That’s also the symbol of healing, the physician’s symbol of healing, the staff with the snakes, and so it’s a symbol of transformation, partly because snakes shed their skin and are reborn, and so they’re viewed as agents of transformation.  And all that is lurking in that symbol.

And then God says, get the Israelites to go look at the snake on the staff, and then the poison won’t poison them anymore.  Now, that’s interesting because one of the things we learned in schools of psychotherapy in the last 100 years is that if you get people to voluntarily confront what makes them afraid and what makes them want to avoid, they get better.  It’s curative.

That’s the message here.  It’s like if something is terrifying you, pay attention to it.  That’s actually what you teach people in psychotherapy; it’s their cardinal technique.  If people can discover what they’re avoiding and then confront it voluntarily, they’ll get better.  The reason seems to be that if people confront what they’re afraid of, they don’t get less afraid; they get braver.  And that’s different.

Now they’re braver because they’ve confronted this thing that terrifies them, and it’s so interesting in that story that God’s cure for the venomous serpent is voluntary exposure to the source of terror.   This idea is relevant to the issue of suffering.

Focus your attention on that which you would like to avoid.  Look into the abyss at what frightens you the most, because that is where you will find your courage to carry on.

Let us pray:

  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

  • I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

  • You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

  • Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (Psalm 23, Verses 4-6)


Please read my books:

  1. “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
  2. “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “A Sermon about Courage

  1. Eddie Gilliam

    What I experienced lately reading our friend Gen Douglas Satterfield blog os he stepped out of his comfort zone to share his Christian faith with us. I am so proud of this. We are God’s hands and feet to the world 🌎. We are commission to serve and go tell the hopeless there’s hope in God. He is our shelter in the time of storm.

  2. Ronny Fisher

    Truly refreshing. I wish all sermons were this good at explaining parts of the Bible.

    1. Paulette Johnson

      Ronny, yep, I agree and maybe that is what is wrong with classic Protestant religion today. They just quote the Bible and assume everyone GETS IT. Well, my friend, as we know that is not the case. Sometimes you have to take the horse to the water before they can drink. In this case, sometimes you have to take people intellectually to the important understandings of the Bible before the awaken to the deep meanings held there. This is what we call WISDOM.

    2. Eddie Gilliam

      Ronny you are so right. Gen Douglas is stepping out of his comfort zone to express his relationship with God as a child that carried into adult

  3. Emma Archambeau

    Gen. Satterfield, such a wonderful sermon and thank you for sharing. I know that it is rare that you share such words of yours, like you have once or twice in the past like with a Memorial Day speech. Thanks. Oh, and I loved your book “55 Rules for a Good Life” so much that I purchased three and gave them away to my friends at work. Now it is my turn to watch them become fans of yours.

  4. Army Captain

    There is an old saying in the military that goes something like this, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” That means something different to different people. But in the end, it means that you face reality, then you had better be ready to accept faith in something higher, more moral, and better than you. So, many adopt a sense that God will protect them in dangerous situtaions. If they are “lost” then they will die. This is an old, very ancient idea and seems to be inbuilt into people. Let us pray that we are accepted into the path that God sets before us.

  5. Pink Cloud

    Thanks, Gen. Doug Satterfield for a dose of what the Bible means to an Army Man.

  6. Rev. Michael Cain

    Never lose faith or you will be lost. Meaning that your world will become unhinged from you and you will be adrift in a sea of monsters. Getting out of that is hard, the hardest thing you will ever do.

  7. Karl J.

    WOW, “What does God do when he hears their complaints? He sends poisonous snakes in there to bite them.” Now that is powerful behavior by God that sends a strong message. Buck up, boys. You need to get your act together. Ah, to use a more modern take on it.

  8. Dead Pool Guy

    Gen. Satterfield, thank you for today’s sermon. Maybe you should consider making this a regular part of your blog and even make a separate tab that we can go to for those sermons. Just me thinking outside the box. I learned a lot from this sermon of yours. More of them being publsihed here is okay with me and I’m sure with other regulars here on your blog at https://www.theleadermaker.com.

      1. Liz at Home

        Indeed, Gen. Satterfield tells things like he sees them and that honesty is what I keep coming back for.

    1. Eddie Gilliam

      Dead pool guy. Our friend Gen Douglas have me assigned to help out with article which I really appreciate it. We are created to be a servant for God. We are his hands and feet.

  9. Pastor John 🙏

    Well written and I’m sure well delivered too. Thank you sir. 🙏

  10. Nick Lighthouse

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, Verses 4-6)
    MASSIVE THANKS to Gen. Doug Satterfield.

  11. Scotty Bush

    Gen. Satterfield, very appropriate sermon and one that I expect you might give because “courage” is part of the lesson here.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Yes, that is true. Any sermon by Gen. Satterfield would be worthwhile listening too. Pray that he gives us more sermons to contemplate.


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