Sunday, January 8, 2012

When Fear Consumes

Fear can be destructive, distracting, or (worse) debilitating. For those in Christ, faith is the antidote to a life of fear. Yet, as with many things in Scripture, the concept of fear isn't easy to pigeonhole as being all bad.

Before the holidays and the Advent series here, I was well-mired in Ezra and Nehemiah, two prophets God called to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem's wall after the Jews returned home from Babylonian exile.

Even though he was in the center of God's will, the prophet Nehemiah did not have an easy road to walk when overseeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall. As the project progressed, the enemies against this wall rebuilding project were changing their tactics. What began as mere mocking and accusations had escalated to a conspiracy to organize and "fight against Jerusalem" and then turned to threats of murder: "They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work" (Neh. 4:8, 11). Nehemiah could easily have allowed his fear to overcome his faith in God, decide the risk wasn't worth it. But, he didn't. He continued to pray.

When all their plans failed, the enemy then decided to go after Nehemiah directly, four times sending a request for a face-to-face meeting, a certain trap to harm him. With the threats continuing, one man encouraged Nehemiah to hide: "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night" (Neh. 6:10).

Yet, even with this certain threat to his life, Nehemiah "perceived that...He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin" (Neh. 6:12-13).

Elsewhere, the term "perceived" is translated as "knew" or "discerned." Discernment. Spiritual discernment is something Nehemiah cultivated so that even in the face of fear, he could walk by faith in God that allowed him to not just act out of gut fear.

Nehemiah discerned the truth because He knew something the enemy did not--who is really worth fearing. He instructed his workers, "After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes" (Neh. 4:14, my italics).

Here, the word "afraid" is the Hebrew yare. Do not yare the enemy. In this same verse, the word yare is used a second time, yet is interpreted as awesome, an adjective to describe the Lord. In essence, Nehemiah was saying "Do not fear man; have faith in a Lord who is to be feared above man in that He must be honored, respected, and the subject of our awe.

We who love and serve God Almighty need not fear what man can do to us, nor do we need fear God's wrath, either. Yet, even in this, we must remember Yahweh remains a yare God--one who is holy, worthy of our fear and reverence.

Image: Michel D’Anastasio. Hebrew Calligraphy Psalm 23.4 "I will fear no evil..."

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