Fear is a common human emotion, isn’t it? Who has not felt fear in a dangerous situation, a momentary terror in a nightmare, apprehension about a forthcoming test or trial? Who has not felt a foreboding sense of evil in strange or unknown surroundings? How often did the Angels of the Lord say `Fear not’ and `Be not afraid’ to the virgin Mary at the annunciation, and to the quaking shepherds at the birth of the Christ-child? Who has not seen, even fleetingly, the spectre of illness and death? The Book of Common Prayer contains a Litany, or list of entreaties to Almighty God for deliverance from lightning and tempest, fire and flood, plague, pestilence and famine, battle and murder, and sudden death. It also reminds us of the fear of the Lord, when we beseech our Father to keep us from deadly sins, the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, as well as from false doctrine, heresy, hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s Word and Commandments.
In these days of apostasy and lawlessness foretold by Paul in II Tim. 3:1-9, we have good reason to pray for strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Here is that familiar passage: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power therof; from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth; men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further; for their folly shall be manifest unto all men as theirs also was”. This manifestation or revealing of folly before all men is taking place worldwide as scandals fill newspapers and TV screens! Truly the fear of the Lord is the beginning of WISDOM.
There is another aspect of fear, however, which is God’s attitude to fear. Remember how He told Gideon to first dismiss from duty all his soldiers who were afraid? There were 22,000 of them! This type of anxiety can be caused by anticipation of peoples’ unfavorable opinion, consequences of disobedience, persecution, suspicion, uncertainty, final events or events of nature, and unexplained mysteries. These fears can cause demoralization, defeatism, even paralysis as we have witnessed on TV on the faces of captured criminals, handcuffed and helpless, and even on the faces of televangelists, like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Our forefather Abraham expressed apprehension of being slain for possession of his beautiful wife Sarah, as also Jacob displayed great distress at the threat of Esau’s attack, praying for deliverance from the hand of his brother. The word PANIC could be used to describe the Centurion and his companions in Matt. 27:54, as they realized that they had witnessed the horrifying crucifixion of God’s own Son with supernatural occurrences following. According to Rev. 21:8, the first listed of those who are to be cast into the lake of fire are the fearful and unbelieving. God rejects those `of little faith’, a rebuke which none of us wants to hear!
Godly fear, on the other hand is satisfying, clean, sanctifying, and renouncing evil, motivated by God’s majesty, holiness and forgiveness, as typified by Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. Noah’s obedience and patience for one hundred twenty years of Arkbuilding saved the line of Shem from which we spring. David’s remorse and repentance overcame his fear of touching the Ark of the Covenant, thereby obtaining God’s mercy and escaping the lethal discharge of power.
In the history of our nation Israel then, what assurances of God’s love and protection do we have? We all remember the wonderful story of Joseph’s preservation in the face of his jealous and hostile brothers. He later comforted them by saying, in Gen. 45:5-8, “Now therefore be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither, for God did send me here before you to preserve life. For these two years hath been the famine in the land; and yet there are five years, in the which there shall be no earing nor harvest, and God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither but God, and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” .
Let us hope that we of Joseph’s line display the same sweetness and magnanimity when dealing with our brethren and erstwhile enemies. I wonder if Reuben is dwelling amongst us ready to rescue us again?
The wilderness experience with God’s miraculous provision of manna should alleviate any fears of food shortages for His faithful people. Daniel’s deliverance from the ravenous lions assures us of safety despite the plots and devices of our enemies. The prospect of a nuclear holocaust can be disregarded as we read of Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego emerging from a ‘multiple seven’ fiery furnace, with nary a whiff of smoke upon them, and their Savior beside them to cool the flames! Elijah’s needs were met in a marvelous way, being fed by ravens, a widow, and also angels. His exciting translation by means of fiery horses and chariots shows us how God preserves leaders in Israel for future manifestation, as we may anticipate at this time of the end. Will we also see an Elisha to take on the mantle of Elijah with a double portion of the Holy Spirit?
The tender admonition, “Be not afraid” occurs 62 times in scripture; “Fear not” appears 96 times regarding alien nations and men. Have you heard the beautiful oratorio, ‘Elijah’ by Felix Mendelssohn? One great chorus proclaims this text, “Be not afraid, saith God the Lord. Be not afraid, thy help is near. God, the Lord thy God sayeth unto thee, be not afraid! (Isaiah 12:10) Though thousands languish and fall beside thee and tens of thousands; perish, yet it still shall not come nigh thee”. (Psalm 91:7) Also in Elijah, we hear “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps. Shouldst thou walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee”.
Did Almighty God preserve His people from the tenth plague of Egypt, the first passover which we now commemorate in our Holy Communion, only to abandon or desert us in our final struggles against Satan, the accuser of the brethren? “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God”. And hear these comfortable words from Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” From Isaiah 41:13, “For I the Lord will hold thy hand, saying unto thee, Fear not: I will help thee”. From Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them”. From Luke 12:32, “Fear not … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”. From Prov. 22:4, “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life”. From Josh. 24:14, “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and truth”. And finally, from Dan. 10:19, “Oh man, greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong”.
We have God’s covenants and promises to us, His children. We have faith and trust in His Holy Word. What a glorious inheritance, for which we give humble and hearty thanks!