I have a predilection for lists and repeated ideas or phrases. For example, shortly after becoming a Christ-follower in January of 1983, I began noticing a recurring phrase in my Bible, the phrase “in Christ.” Intrigued, I began keeping a list of all the places I found that phrase. (You can download this list from my web site – damonjgray.org)
Over the past few weeks, I have noted a marked increase in the number of people I have read or overheard speaking of fear. I see it in email, on Twitter and Facebook. I hear it in conversations with my coworkers, and from other believers at conferences.
Fear is a powerful emotion. This reality makes fear a frequent tool of choice for those who wish to persuade us to some action, whether that is making a purchase, or exhibiting some specific behavior.
Unquenchable fear drives us to powerlessness, paralyzes us, and causes us to curl up into the fetal position (figuratively, if not literally). It drives us into isolation. Fear may cause someone not even to try, whether it is fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule – any fear that causes us not to engage or even make an attempt to do so.
Fear in the Exodus
Two years following the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, Israel was encamped along the southern border of the Promised Land. The land was theirs. It was promised as far back as the call to Abraham, a gift wherein their descendants would reside and rule as a great nation from which all the families of the Earth would be blessed. God assured His people that He would send an angel before them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. The Israelites needed only to walk over the boundary and take possession of the land.
God instructed Moses to send some men to explore the land. (Some versions of the account say they were sent to spy out the land.) In either case, God made it clear that they were supposed to go take a good, hard look at the land, “which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.” There was no real danger. Perceived danger? Yes, but the land was theirs. Yet ten of the twelve men sent to explore the land returned from the assignment terrified by what they saw. Oh yes, the land was fruitful, flowing with milk and honey, but it was also nightmarish, devouring its inhabitants, filled with giants, and impregnable walled cities.
Their recommendation? “The men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.'” Based on what? Did they spar with them a little bit? I get the impression that the mission was relatively stealth in nature. “Just go look at the land.” In stark contrast to this, Caleb, never doubting the word of God, stated quite bluntly, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” I read once that “fear doubts the supremacy of the divine arrangement,” meaning there is a direct lack of trust that God actually means what He says.
While most of the Israelites were moaning, grumbling, tearing their clothing, and contemplating stoning Moses, Caleb, and Joshua, Caleb understood that God is trustworthy and that when He says a thing is so, it is so! Perhaps Caleb remembered the impossibility of the situation with Abram and Sari. While all this was going on, God had it in mind to strike down the entire lot of them with a plague!
Hear the energy in Caleb’s plea: “Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Powerful, inspiring words! Their protection is gone, but “the Lord is with us!” Oh, that we could learn that truth and take it to heart.
Listen to Isaiah’s thoughts along this same line: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
Paul had this same confidence: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This is followed by a list of potential candidates that try to threaten our secure position in God’s love; trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and even the sword. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Fear and David
In 1 Samuel 17, we read an account of the armies of the Philistines and the armies of Israel having drawn up battle lines, each on their own mountainside with the valley between them. One of the Philistines, a very large man named Goliath, came out of his camp and began shouting insults against the armies of Israel. The text says plainly that the Israelites were greatly afraid. It is easy for us to read this and think they were just a bunch of pansies, but this is most certainly not the case. At this point in the history of Israel, these were battle-hardened soldiers. They had fought many battles in the taking of the land, so for them to greatly fear Goliath was no small thing. Goliath was genuinely bad news!
Into this scene strolled David, the youngest son of Jesse, a sheepherder and musician. We all know the story of how David struck down Goliath with a stone launched from his sling. It is a great story, but not what interests me here. What intrigues me is the stark contrast in attitude and perspective between David and the battle-hardened men of Israel. The soldiers were saying, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to defy Israel.” This was undoubtedly true: I am confident Goliath’s intent was absolutely to defy Israel. But look at David’s take on it: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” For the men of Israel this was a personal reproach: “This guy is insulting us!” For David, it was an entirely different matter: “This guy is insulting the armies of the living God!” In other words, “This is not our issue. This is an affront to God! This is God’s issue!”
Fear and Jonathan
Shortly before this happened, King Saul’s son, Jonathan, who would later become very dear friends with David, had a similar reaction, rooted in a similar faith in God. Jonathan, accompanied only by his armor-bearer, went to the camp of the Philistines to attack them.
Now, think this through with me. Two men decide to attack an entire garrison of Philistines. We also know from the previous chapter that only Jonathan had a sword, which means his armor-bearer was either unarmed, or armed with something like a pitchfork. What I am getting at is, this was either very dumb, completely reckless behavior … or this was someone with a deep faith who understood how his God operates, and who refused to let human wisdom and human fear dictate how he trusted his God.
Look at what Jonathan said: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” It is God’s issue.
Fear and Nehemiah
Recall how the Jewish remnant rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem after their return from Babylonian exile. Those carrying materials for the work did so with one hand, while carrying their weapons in the other. They were vigilant, yet understood who actually fought the battles for God’s people. Remember what Nehemiah said when the workers struggled to balance work on the wall with the need to defend themselves. Nehemiah declared, “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” Why is this so? Why will God fight for us? It is because God is so much better at defending His own honor than we are at defending it for Him! It is not our issue. It is God’s issue.
Fear and the Furnace
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three young men from Judah who were taken into captivity during the first deportation of the Israelites to Babylon. They were made to serve in the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar commissioned a ninety-foot golden statue to be made – a statue of himself, some speculate. This certainly would not be out of character for Nebuchadnezzar. An edict was issued that whenever they heard specific music played, citizens were to fall down and worship the monstrosity of a statue. Failure to do so was punishable by death; offenders were burned alive in a blazing furnace. This was a rather serious matter, as evidenced by the fact that even people from other nations were willing to obey this decree. One day, it was brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not obey the decree, and this news infuriated him. He had the three young men brought before him, confronted them with their disobedience, and threatened to throw them into the fire, saying, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
It was an excellent question to be sure, but the three young men had an even more excellent answer:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Do not be afraid. Just believe. It is God’s issue. He will handle it. And even if God does not rescue us from the fire, we are not bowing to anyone or anything but him.
Fear and Gideon
In Judges 7, Gideon defeated the entire Midianite army with a mere 300 men who drank water like dogs, and they did so without striking a single blow. God caused the Midianites to pound one another into mulch. When the Israelites were finally ready to cross the Jordan River and take the land, God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Fear and You
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” Do not fear. Believe. Our God will fight for us.
(Adapted from Finding Faith in Slow Motion – Chapter 13)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Victoriously in Christ!
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