Recently I’ve been grateful for the reminder that the Lord’s Word is full of His voice telling us to “fear not.”
For most of my life when I heard this phrase I just focused on the comforting aspect of it – fear not or don’t worry because things will turn out alright. It is very comforting, but in more recent years it has struck me that this phrase “fear not” is also in the imperative tense. It is a command.
It feels like an impossible command in some ways. Fear usually feels like something I can’t control because it just happens to me. Then I think about the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet”. Part of coveting is a feeling that we need to reject. That seems impossible in a way too. Yet it’s one of the Ten Commandments and we are expected to follow it. Therefore, if we can do something about coveting, then we can also do something about fearing.
This phrase comes up in the middle of a lot of seemingly insurmountable problems in the Word.
One of the most stirring examples to me is Exodus 14 when the children of Israel have just fled from Egypt and have encamped at the Red Sea. They are trapped. Pharaoh harnesses his chariot and takes his people with six hundred chariots and pursues the children of Israel. It feels like a hopeless situation:
“And Pharaoh came near, and the sons of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, Egypt was journeying after them, and they feared exceedingly;” and in the face of this terrifying prospect it is not surprising that the sons of Israel “cried to Jehovah” and in fear and despair they say to Moses: “Are there no graves in Egypt, that thou hast taken us to die in the wilderness? What is this that thou hast done to us, to bring us out from Egypt? Is not this the word that we spoke to thee in Egypt, saying, Forbear from us, and let us serve the Egyptians? For it is good for us to serve the Egyptians, rather than we should die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12
…but what does Moses immediately reply?: “Fear ye not.”
There is another example a little further in the Israelite’s journey when they get to the borders of the Land of Canaan and men are sent to explore the land:
“And they returned from exploring the land after forty days…and said, We came to the land whither thou didst send us, and it even flows with milk and honey; and this is her fruit. Nonetheless, the people are strong dwelling in the land, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and also we saw the children of Anak there…The land, which we have passed through to explore it, is a land that eats up those dwelling in her; and all the people that we saw in the midst of it are men of measure. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” Numbers 13:25,27-28,32-33
The prospect of giants in the land and of a land that eats up its inhabitants is petrifying, but Joshua and Caleb beg the Children of Israel to “fear them not.”
There are examples in the New Testament when the Lord speaks directly to his disciples. He tells them that they will be delivered up to councils, scourged in synagogues, led before governors and kings and yet, He says, “But when they shall deliver you up, be not anxious about how or what you shall speak…And be not afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…” Matthew 10:19, 28
In all these instances there is another action that replaces the fear. It isn’t just that we should not fear evil, but that we are also commanded to actively trust the Lord. At the bank of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army gaining on them the children of Israel are told to “fear not” and then to “stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah, which He will do for you today…Jehovah shall wage war for you, and you shall be silent.” Exodus 14: 13-15…and then immediately after that they are commanded to go forward and the Red Sea is split and they journey onwards.
They have to pause to actively trust the Lord and realize that He has all power and then they have to actually move forward.
At the border of the Land of Canaan they are not merely told to not fear the people of the land but they are told to “revolt not against Jehovah” and that the people of the land “are bread for us; their shadow is removed from upon them, and Jehovah is with us.” Numbers 14:9. So they have to first cease struggling against the Lord and they need to remember that He is with them to accomplish this.
In Matthew when the Lord tells his disciples not to fear what they will say when delivered up, it is because He will help them “for it shall be given to you in that hour what you shall speak. For you are not they who speak, but the Spirit of your Father is what speaks in you.” Matthew 10: 19-20. And when He says that they should not fear those that kill the body, He finishes by saying that instead they should rather fear or trust the Lord, “be afraid of Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for an assarion, and one of them does not fall on the earth without your Father? And of you, even the hairs of the head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:28-31
Fear almost always feels overwhelming when it comes up, but I find it helpful to reflect that the Lord doesn’t instruct me to do things I cannot do. The power to resist fear (or anything) doesn’t come from me, but it is being offered to me to use, and in fact I have a responsibility to use it because He tells me to. The problems are still there, but if I can stand still long enough to remember Who is in charge it puts the feelings in the right perspective.
“Have I not commanded thee? Be firm and have courage; be not terrified, neither be thou dismayed; for Jehovah thy God is with thee, wherever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9