Part 5 of 12
The concept is hard for me to grasp, but our youngest child is only four months away from starting his scholastic career, beginning Kindergarten in August. I am a little concerned, since he still struggles to brush his own teeth and make his own bed, let alone head off to a huge school. Everything will be so new for him: the school he will attend is still being built and will be very big and overwhelming; he will be riding a songtaeo (an open-air type of long jeep) with a bunch of much older kids, he will have to pack a lunch, at least for the first quarter until the cafeteria is finished being built, and he still sometimes needs a nap. He just seems too young to be taking this next step. When I begin to hyperventilate a little over all of the unknowns, I then try to remember that his sixteen-year-old brother will be riding the songtaeo with him and his aunt, who teaches first grade, will be at the school on the other end, waiting to receive him.
My Kindergarten years were far less complicated. My mom taught me, while sitting at a tiny little desk in the attic of our station house in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. I got one-on-one attention from a very familiar teacher. I walked up the attic stairs instead of having to ride public transportation. I never had any homework and I sat and ate my lunch with my mom after she had fixed it for me. Life, for me, was much more simple.
I do not remember much scholastic information from that year of school – letters, numbers etc – but I do have one very distinct memory: I remember learning my three basic cloud formation names. To this day, I know what stratus, cumulus and nimbus clouds are. The big, puffy clouds are cumulus. The thick ones are stratus and the thin, wispy-looking clouds are cirrus clouds. Maybe I remember this little bit of information because I was often daydreaming while looking out of the attic window at the sky. Or maybe I just missed my secret calling as a weather meteorologist.
In any case, to that tidbit of Kindergarten knowledge, I can now add seven more types of clouds. Cumulus, stratus and stratocumulus are low-level clouds that lie below 6,500 feet. Middle clouds – altocumulus, nimbostratus, and altostratus, form between 6,500 feet and 20,000 feet. The high-level clouds are called cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus, and they will form above 20,000 feet. The clouds which tower across the low, middle and upper atmosphere are known as cumulonimbus clouds (www.thoughtco.com).
Of all these types of clouds, I am most interested in one variety: the cumulonimbus. They grow out of cumulus clouds, but they rise into towers with bulging upper portions that can look a lot like cauliflower. Their tops are usually flattened into the shape of a plume, but their bottoms are often hazy and dark. These clouds are the thunderstorm clouds. If you see one of these, you can be pretty sure there is a threat of nearby severe weather: heavy rainfall, hail, or even a tornado.
Since I did miss my training in meteorology, I have found some good sources that tell me that a thunderstorm is a rain shower where there is thunder, and where there is thunder, there is lightning (I bet you did not know that – ha, ha). A thunderstorm is termed ‘severe’ if there is hail one inch or greater, winds gusting up to 57.5 mph, or a tornado. Thunderstorms are dangerous because if the conditions are right, the amount of rainfall can cause flash flooding, which kills more people than hurricanes, tornadoes or lightning. If the hail is large enough, it can damage cars and buildings and kill livestock left out in the open. Strong winds can knock down power lines, trees, and even mobile homes. Tornadoes, with winds gusting up to 300 mph, can destroy all but the best-built structures.
“Three basic ingredients are required for a thunderstorm to form: moisture, rising unstable air (air that keeps rising when given a nudge), and a lifting mechanism to provide the ‘nudge.’” When a cumulus cloud is pushed upward by a rising column of air, it begins to look like a tower. This is the developing state, or a cumulus stage, of a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm will enter the mature stage when the updraft continues to feed the storm. At this time, precipitation of some kind – hail, heavy rain, frequent lightning, strong winds and tornadoes – usually falls out of the storm, creating some sort of a downdraft. The dissipating stage of the storm begins when a large amount of precipitation is produced, the updraft is overcome, and there is a low-level downdraft. Rains may begin to slow down, although lightning may remain a danger (all formerly-unknown information and quotes are from www.thoughtco.com, www.k3jae.com and www.nssl.noaa.gov).
You may be wondering why I am spending so much time on clouds, especially clouds that indicate frightful atmospheric conditions. The reason is that Christ told us that in this world we will have trouble (Jn. 16:33b). In other words, there will be a lot of thunderstorms. As Jesus outlined this truth to His disciples, He told them in advance that they would experience terrible grief; sorrow that would be like a woman having pain when her child was born. But He also told them that their grief would turn to joy (Jn. 16:20-24).
How would they experience that joy? They could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and the Father would give it to them. When they asked and received, their joy would be complete because they knew the Father and believed in Jesus (Jn. 16:23-27). Then Jesus ended this hard and confusing teaching with these words, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace…But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33a,c).
Thunderstorms will come, but Jesus has already made that clear by telling us the truth in advance. There will be pain and sorrow. There will be bewilderment and confusion. Darkness and downpours and flashes of lightning will reign supreme for a time. But you and I can have joy even in the midst of our towering cumulonimbus clouds because of five statements of truth:
- Asking God for what we need in the storm is actually His will.
- The Father wants to answer our prayers.
- Asking and receiving from God comes about through great trust, the trust of knowing the Father and believing in the Son.
- Knowing the truth, both about the storms and God’s comforting measures, will bring us peace, even in the midst of our severe weather.
- We can take heart because Jesus has already overcome this world and all of its thunderstorms.
A Brief Review
King Hezekiah is our example of trust, by way of his integrity and decisions. Despite quite a number of storms that have come his way, Hezekiah has, for the most part, steered clear of fear. Tornados threatened his younger years in the form of an evil dad, but he remained pure. Flash floods of rain overwhelmed those closest to him, namely Israel, but Hezekiah stood strong. Hail pounded his life in the form of a death-inducing illness, but Hezekiah did not succumb to either the illness or to damaging panic. But last week we saw that the damaging winds of pride swept Hezekiah’s trust right out of his palace window. What tornadoes, flash floods and hail could not destroy, the sneaky winds of pride almost did. However, Hezekiah heeded the Lord’s words of rebuke, by way of the prophet Isaiah, and got his trust-life back on track again.
As promised by Jesus, you and I will experience a lot of severe weather on this earth. Whether we succumb to our negative conditions or not will depend on our level of trust in God. We need an Unwavering Trust to faithfully navigate the storms of life. The question is: how do we cultivate this kind of unshakeable faith? So far, Hezekiah’s life has taught us four principles of trust:
- A life of trust is built on intimacy, identity, and integrity in the calm before the storm. I sought to prove in the first week that the calm before the storm is the place in which we must build our foundation of trust.
- Trust is the security that comes from resting one’s identity on the Word and the Person of God. Hezekiah stood tall when Israel collapsed because his foundation was built on truth.
- A person who trusts will respond to suffering with worship. Trust in the middle of shattered dreams becomes a healing balm when a person learns to worship despite baffling amounts of suffering.
- Trust always humbly steers toward the focal point of God. Last week we saw that Hezekiah did not trust in the Lord with all of his heart. He did not acknowledge God in all of his ways. He chose to lean on his own understanding (Pr. 3:5-6) and as a result, fell into pride and the consequent discipline of God.
Today, we will again see Hezekiah make some poor choices. Instead of pride being his nemesis, we will see distress take over. As his thunderclouds began to pile, one on top of the other, as his unwise alliances and counter-strategies began to line up, and as his foolish decisions almost seal his destruction, we can trace all of these near-disasters to a thread of distrust in his life. That thread of distrust began to unravel when pulled by the fingers of fear.
To prepare for what we are going to scrutinize today, would you take a minute and read 2 Kings 18:13-17? Yes, you heard right…only five small verses will be our text for today. They may seem pretty inconsequential to you, inserted almost as an after-thought before the truly big storm, but I tell you that they were extremely important. This small segment of this good king’s life – a near-disaster – revealed something in Hezekiah’s character that alerted him to distrust’s potential damage. And as far as Scripture is concerned, after those hard lessons were learned, Hezekiah never struggled with succumbing to the undertow of faithlessness again.
The Fourteenth Year
Verse 13 of 2 Kings 18 begins with these words, “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign…” and with these eight words, we arrive at my point of frustration. Remember a few weeks ago I shared with you how I have struggled to place these scattered chapters in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Isaiah in some semblance of order. The reason is that the dates given – and there are a lot, which should make the job easier – do not match up.
Many of the dates clearly stated are juxtaposed with Israel’s king, Hoshea, but his reigning dates are also a bit suspect. Then there’s the question raised by many biblical students about whether Hezekiah co-reigned with his father, Ahaz, or not. That concrete knowledge would affect the timeline quite a bit. And lastly, fifteen years were added to his life by way of God’s promises when he was so ill so when the fourteenth year is mentioned, we, as students, cannot really know if this attack occurred before the fifteen years were added or much later. Hopefully you can commiserate with me; this matter of the fourteenth year is not very cut-and-dried.
There are some biblical scholars that believe that all of the Assyrian attacks mentioned in these three books are sequential scenarios of the same incident. Those that believe this way place Sennacherib’s siege of Judah at about 701 B.C., which would have been the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign after the fifteen years of his extended life began.
Other scholars postulate that there were actually two different Assyrian attacks, although when that occurred is very much up to debate. Some believe the first one occurred in 713/712 B.C., the fourteenth year of his reign before the fifteen added years, while others place it at around 701 B.C. They are of the opinion that Sennacherib attacked Judah a second time later on, either in 701 B.C or in 686 B.C. Some of this information is based on archeological digs, which have shown that some cities in Judah have rubble lying in two layers, indicating two times of destruction.
Because smart historians cannot agree on some of these details, though it kills me, I will try to be flexible. But in case you might be wondering, I agree with the conclusion that there were two attacks on Judah. Whether it happened in 713 B.C. or much later is not something about which I can be dogmatic, but after much research, digging through archaeological papers, historical documents and experts’ varying opinions, I have landed in the camp that shows Hezekiah responding to two Assyrian attacks. This is the approach I will be taking today when trying to pull apart our given text.
The first attack that came against Judah, Hezekiah mishandled terribly. Unfortunately, this thunderstorm was an occasion where Hezekiah stumbled badly in his faith. The mistakes he made under the threat of severe weather will be the thrust of our devotional today. The latter attack, however, demonstrated a huge growth curve in his faith and he came through that storm with flying trust colors.
Before we begin studying Hezekiah’s colossal mistakes, I want to revisit earlier verses that described all the good actions that characterized Hezekiah’s reign. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He combated idolatry in his land with a vengeance. He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him. He kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And my favorite description of all follows this incredible list: and the Lord was with him (2 Kings 18:3-6).
As a result of Hezekiah’s intimacy with God, identity in him, and integrity through following His words, he was successful in whatever he undertook (v 7). Imagine that statement. Can it be said of you? Do you follow God whole-heartedly? Are you passionate about removing idols from your life? Do you keep all of God’s commands? Do you walk hand-in-hand with the Lover of your soul? And as a result, do you experience God’s favor in what He asks you to do?
I am blown away by the relationship between God and Hezekiah. It makes me pant for God, longing to live by His commands (Ps. 119:131). It incites in me a deep desire to do His will (Ps. 40:8). I long to dwell in God’s “tent” and take refuge in the shelter of His wings (Ps. 61:4). I want to find rest in Him alone, make Him my rock and my salvation, and stake my hope in Him as my fortress so that I am not shaken (Ps. 62:5-6). I want to learn to trust in Him at all times and pour out my heart to him because I know Him as my refuge (Ps. 62:8). I set my heart on earnestly seeking Him, thirsting for Him like there is no other spring of water in my life (Ps. 63:1). I aspire to be satisfied with him as with the richest of foods (Ps. 63:5). My goal is to remember Him, to think of Him through the watches of the night (Ps. 63:6). When the storms come, I literally want to sing in the shadow of His wings, to cling to Him because I am certain that His right hand upholds me (Ps. 63:7-8).
This is the kind of king we are talking about. Yes, Hezekiah blew it twice in his life, but on the whole, he and God were really tight. Because of the Lord’s obvious favor in his life, he was successful in two huge ventures. The first was that he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him (v 7). The second success was that he defeated the Philistines (v 8).
All of these areas of reform, the success he enjoyed, and the people he defeated came about because the Lord was with him. All of his military exploits were victorious because the Lord granted him success in whatever he undertook. All this intimacy and success should have set him up for a lifetime of trust. And that is what makes Hezekiah’s next actions so mind-boggling and sadly confusing.
The Developing Stage
If you will recall from the “meteorological lesson” in the introduction, there are three stages of a thunderstorm: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipating stage. The opening verses of our text today show Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacking all the fortified cities of Judah and capturing them (v 13). This dramatic scenario in Hezekiah’s life was a severe thunderstorm; severe enough that it scared him spitless and rocked his proverbial trust-boat.
However, this attack was not the beginning of the story. It was actually the mature stage of Hezekiah’s thunderstorm, the climax of all that had gone before. It was also a reaction to many of Hezekiah’s previous actions; those actions being little and big choices that exacerbated the potential of a dangerous tempest in Judah’s history. Let’s look at some of his choices to see if we can learn how to avoid the build of cumulonimbus clouds over our own trust horizons.
Hoshea, king of Israel, was made a vassal king of Assyria by Tiglath-pileser III in the year 731 B.C. He reigned for nine years, working overtime to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, although not as badly as the kings before him. However, two actions led to Hoshea’s demise. At one point, after Tiglath-pileser died in 727 B.C., Hoshea decided to rebel. His rebellion was more passive than aggressive, since he chose not to pay the tribute to Assyria that he owed and he sent envoys to the king of Egypt to receive help against Assyria. Shalmaneser, the new king, was incensed and moved quickly to attack Samaria, seizing Hoshea and throwing him into prison. He then invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. Samaria finally fell to Assyria in 721 B.C. and Shalmanesar deported the Israelites to Assyria (a general summation of 2 Kings 17:1-6).
We studied this portion of Scripture a few weeks ago, but I am bringing it back out to make a point of disparity. Remember that Judah stood tall when Israel fell. Hezekiah had followed the Lord, while Israel had rejected Him and the punishment was swift. God had been promising judgment for so long and Israel certainly deserved it, but imagine with me for a moment, what it must have been like for Hezekiah to watch Israel’s demise.
Assyria sat on Israel’s home soil for three years. Israel, you know, was a very close neighbor to Judah. People in Jerusalem might have had relatives in Samaria. Certainly, with Jerusalem being the religious capital, many Israelites had traveled into Judah at least three times a year for required festivals; that is, if they did not want to worship at the fake religion center at Bethel. Judah had to have been affected spiritually and socially by Samaria’s siege.
Then there was the matter of food. Soldiers and armies need sustenance. How much of Israel’s food was confiscated to feed the Assyrian army? And when that food ran out, were people along the borders in Judah required to give parts of their crops to the encroaching enemy army? Judah had to be affected economically by the siege of Israel’s capital.
Additionally, what about the fear factor? I think Hezekiah was paying his tribute to Assyria at this time. After all, he had only been king for a short while. Yet I am sure, with the Assyrian superpower so close, this proximity engendered some heart palpitations in Judah’s citizens at the very least. Judah had to be affected emotionally by Samaria’s long blockade and eventual exile.
The fall of Samaria was a cumulus cloud in the early part of Hezekiah’s reign. He had been as close to destruction, by way of nearness, as Hoshea. The only actions keeping him from walking the same besieged path were his steady payment of tribute into the coffers of Assyrian, his choice not to build alliances with Egypt, and his trust-filled lifestyle because he obeyed the words of the prophet Micah rather than continuing in his father’s footsteps (Jer. 26:16-19, Micah 3:12). Other than that, Hezekiah knew that but for the grace of God, there would he go also. Much later on, when Assyria was knocking at the door of his city, I believe this memory of total disbursement and exile also came knocking on the peace of his mind.
2 Kings 18:7 juxtaposed the Lord’s presence and consequent success with Hezekiah’s choice to rebel against the king of Assyria. At that time, he chose not to serve him, meaning that he did not pay the tribute. This was a big step, for his father, Ahaz, had become a vassal of Assyria years before (see 2 Kings 16:7ff) Just so you are aware, that king was Sargon II and Assyria was the dominant force in the world at that time. For a tiny nation like Judah, a vassal of the world’s largest superpower, to rebel and refuse to serve him, was no small feat. It took great courage; courage, you might say, that could have only come from God.
This rebellion against Assyria appears to have been a good thing in God’s eyes or, at least, in the eyes of the author of the Kings. Stating that the Lord was with Hezekiah enough to give him military success, and then showing the choice to refuse to pay tribute seems to indicate that God was behind Hezekiah’s decision.
Think, however, about how Assyria would have viewed this action. Samaria had just been besieged, captured and decimated for the very same reason: disloyalty to the Assyrian crown. This choice, while apparently sanctioned by God, would have been yet another cumulus cloud piling up on the skyline, the pressure building to a major thunderstorm which would eventually break over Judah.
The second incredible victory God gave Hezekiah involved some old enemies. Sometime in his early years, Hezekiah defeated this enemy, reversing the loss of territory to Ahaz, who had been raided by these enemy neighbors so many times that they had settled permanently in Judean lands (2 Chron. 28:18). Not only was this important in regaining some of Judah’s land, it was a great defeat of the Assyrian’s vassal, Philistia. Hezekiah is described as defeating them from one end to the other, from “watchtower to fortified city” (v 8). He struck them down as far as Gaza, which did still remain a strong supporter of Assyria.
If you were a mighty king and some young upstart took out one of your key players in the Israeli-Judeo region, would you be a little upset? Of course you would, and that is exactly how Sargon could have reacted. The problem was that he was busy with political affairs at home, attempting to stamp out some other insurrections as well. At the time of Hezekiah’s victory, Sargon did not have the time or energy to engage his rebellion, but there would come a time when Sargon’s daytimer would open up. This Philistine domination was another cumulus cloud in a long succession of many.
The Death of Sargon
Sargon II, king of Assyria, died in 705 B.C. and his son, Sennacherib, took over the throne immediately. With the weakness in power due to the transition of kingship, many vassal states took advantage of the lull and rebelled against Assyria. Sennacherib was kept very busy putting out fires close to home. This change in power was yet another storm cloud hanging on Judah’s horizon, for it tempted Hezekiah to follow in the footsteps of many other vassals.
As mentioned, there was a power vacuum in Assyria while Sennacherib took over the government. Sensing weakness, many subjects raised a banner of revolt. Sennacherib was kept extremely busy close to his home, trying to control insurrections on his borders. Remember Merodach-Baladin from last week? He was one of the biggest thorns in Sennacherib’s life, along with the Aramean nation (Expositor’s Commentary). In his first two war campaigns, Sennacherib eliminated the Babylonian and Aramean threat, exiling Merodach-Baladin in the process.
Meanwhile, west of Assyria, other vassal states were extremely busy jockeying for power and safety. One of those vassal states – you guessed it – was Hezekiah. For some unknown reason, Hezekiah joined a coalition of vassal states, seeking to resist Assyria. These vassal states included cities of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt (Bible Knowledge Commentary). In the words of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, “Judah had formed a league of mutual defense with Egypt” (JFB Commentary). Even the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites joined this Anti-Assyrian coalition (stage.warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/jerusalem-surviving-the-second-siege-by-assyrian-king-sennacherib/). Ekron, a Philistine town, went a step further in their audacity against Assyria. They delivered their king, Padi, who was Assyria’s vassal, into the hands of Hezekiah for confinement (Exposition Commentary).
There are a number of points here that bear fleshing out…
First, do you remember that when the Lord was with Hezekiah, he subdued all the Philistines from watchtower to fortified city (2 Kings 18:8)? This is the kind of victory God gives to those who follow him. Take David, for example…
- As a young teenager, David took on a Philistine giant with a slingshot and some stones. He taunted Goliath with these words, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). What was God’s response to David’s spirit-filled audacity? He triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone (v 50) and the men of Israel and Judah routed their enemy.
- When David was on the run from Saul, he amassed a four-hundred member army, who followed him everywhere. At one point, the Amalekites raided David’s camp and took all of the wives, children, and livestock. David inquired of the Lord, who told him to pursue and that he would succeed in the rescue (1 Sam. 30:8). David attacked and killed all but a few of the Amalekites, recovering all of their families and possessions.
- After David had been anointed king of Israel, the Philistines came to war against him. David inquired of the Lord about what to do (2 Sam. 5:19). God told him to go, for He would surely hand the Philistines over to David. David defeated them, but others regrouped and again came to attack. David inquired of the Lord and God gave him an alternate method to gain the victory. He struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer (v 25).
- Later in his kingship, he attempted to show kindness to Hanun on behalf of the friendship he had with his father. Hanun’s men shamed the Israelites and after realizing they had burned a bridge with David, they amassed an army. David sent Joab out to fight them and there was such a great victory that the vassals all gave their allegiance to David (2 Sam. 10).
David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), did not do battle half-way. He engaged in warfare with all of his heart, following after God, seeking God, inquiring specifically what to do. And in every battle where this asking, answering and doing sequence played out, David experienced incredible victory.
Yet, here was Hezekiah, with all of heaven’s arsenal at his disposal, and instead of gaining victory over the Philistines, he chose to get in bed with them, so to speak. There was no asking God about what to do. There was no answer from heaven. And there was no obedience in following God’s instructions. The asking, answering, and doing sequence was strangely absent from Hezekiah’s war manual.
I am dumbfounded, honestly, about Hezekiah’s change of tune. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in Scripture that fleshes out the ‘why’ of Hezekiah’s political choices. The only answer that I can come up with is fear. Fear overrode Hezekiah’s trust in God and drove him to make alliances with an enemy in order to feel safe. As we shall soon see, all of this conniving and re-shuffling came to nought.
The second point I want to make has to do with Egypt. If you will remember back to Samaria’s siege and exile, all of that came about because Hoshea refused to pay tribute and tried to make an alliance with Egypt. Now, here is Hezekiah following in those same foolhardy footsteps.
Isaiah was clear about God’s view of this alliance, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord…the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, he who helps will stumble, he who is helped will fall; both will perish together” (Isa. 31:1, 3).
Hezekiah joined a coalition of insurrection with two of the worst countries he could have chosen: a former enemy and a forbidden country. Isaiah is quite clear what the crux of the problem was for Hezekiah: he trusted in the amount of chariots and in the strength of the horseman, but did not seek God for any help. Fear overrode his prayer life. Fear muddled his spiritual acuity. Fear drove him to make decisions that were ungodly and fear pushed his heart into disobedience.
Because I fleshed this out quite extensively two weeks ago, I briefly want to mention this storm cloud. At some point in Hezekiah’s life – either 713 B.C. or 701, depending on which historian you follow – he became deathly ill. This illness was met head-on with trust and walked through with faith, but I am still listing this incident as a thundercloud, because of the fear that was involved in it. Hezekiah feared he would die without an heir and so he prayed. In this particular instance, Hezekiah handled his fear in a godly manner, but that same fear had not been completely routed, for in later moments, fear came back to haunt this good king.
The Babylonian Invitation
Merodoch-Baladin approached Hezekiah out of the middle of his exile. He desired to see if Hezekiah would join forces with him. We saw last week that pride opened the door for Hezekiah’s faithlessness, but I want to remind you of the promise God had given to Hezekiah. He promised that Babylon would not be an ally in Hezekiah’s future, but would aid in his country’s demise.
When Hezekiah received Merodach so gladly, Sennacherib, who had just defeated Merodach and sent him into exile, was furious. He considered Hezekiah’s entertainment of this enemy an act of war. Hezekiah’s pride took a huge tumble with the promise that Babylon would attack Jerusalem and with the sudden move of Sennacherib to take his vengeance on the vassal state of Judah. All of these actions and reactions built the pressure front that soon became the severe weather warning sounding over the country of Judah.
After Sennacherib dealt quite strongly with Merodach-Baladin, he turned his attention north among the Median tribes for a couple of years while he tamped down rebellions there. But you can imagine Sennacherib’s fury when he found out about Hezekiah’s coalition. He did not take any of the insurrection, the kidnapping of his vassal, the open invitation to his hated enemy, lying down. There was no way on earth that Sennacherib was going to allow such a thing to happen on his outlying borders. Having secured things in the south and east, Sennacherib turned his attention to his western vassal states.
Swooping down from the north, his first objective was to overcome Phoenicia, which he did, causing the king to flee to Kittim. This fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, “though you arise and cross over to Kittim, even there you shall find no rest (Isa. 23:12). Then he installed Ethba’al upon the throne and imposed tribute on them (lifeandland.org).
This defeat devastated the remaining coalition, causing incredible fear in some of the kings who had participated in the initial revolt. As Sennacherib continued to march down the Phoenician coast to Philistia, the kings from Samsimuruna, Sidon, Arvad, Byblos, Ashdod, Beh-Ammon, Moab, and Edom brought tribute to Sennacherib and paid him homage (lifeandland.org). This sudden blow caused several other members of the alliance to withdraw (Bible Knowledge Commentary)
Two kings still refused to give up, the kings of Judah and Ashkelon. So Sennacherib’s next objective was to quell Philistia. He quickly dispatched of a few of the five Philistine cities, deporting their kings to Assyria. The king of Ekron called for Egyptian help, but they arrived too late. The city fell and fell hard. There was a hard-fought battle when Egypt finally arrived but they were soundly beaten on the Plain of Eltekeh.
After Philistia was pretty much laid waste, Sennacherib turned his attention inland. He began to lay siege to Lachish with the desire to separate the Philistines and the Judeans from Egyptian help. Lachish was south of Jerusalem only about 30 miles on the way toward Egypt (Exposition Commentary and stage.warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/jerusalem-surviving-the-second-siege-by-assyrian-king-sennacherib/).
As Hezekiah watched Sennacherib draw ever closer, his fear grew greater. Not only had his coalition failed, but all of his allies had been destroyed or deported. And even Egypt, who had fueled the coalition with its fervor, was effectively cut off from any assistance. Hezekiah was alone and in grave danger of following in the exact footsteps of his “brother” country: Israel.
All of the cumulus clouds that had banked and heaped over the preceding years began to tower and glower over Judah. With the Assyrian world power inside Judean lands and only thirty miles south of the capitol city, Hezekiah must have been terrified. But unfortunately, all of these events were just the developing stage of his great thunderstorm. The severe weather could not be put off any longer; it stood ready to hail, storm, and blow dangerous winds over the trust of Hezekiah’s life.
The Mature Stage
During the mature stage of a thunderstorm, precipitation begins to fall. This is the most dangerous stage of any kind of storm with hail, heavy winds, lightning, thunder, flash floods, and even tornadoes. After all of the cumulus clouds had built up for years over Hezekiah’s life and faith, at that moment, with Sennacherib breathing down his neck, his storm took a sudden turn for the worse: “The king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Kings 18:13). Sennacherib himself boasted that he had captured forty-six of Judah’s most well-fortified cities.
The city that proved to be the most troublesome on the way to Jerusalem, was Lachish. Lachish was a fortress city with a formidable array of defenses. The city was built on a large mound, protected on three sides by natural wadis. Sennacherib took all of the city’s protective measures in stride and began to construct huge siege engines. When these engines got close enough to the city, the Assyrians began to use their battering rams. Sennacherib watched from a nearby hill, sitting on a throne, awaiting the anticipated plunder. He even had artists drawing pictures of the siege while it ensued.
It was in the middle of this siege, smack-dab in the center of the storm, that Hezekiah’s faith and trust imploded.
You see, Hezekiah really had no earthly options left open to him. His closest city was besieged and his lands were overrun. He was helpless and bereft of allies, who had either been conquered, annihilated or exiled. And so he succumbed to the overwhelming storm.
He decided to try the pleading, groveling approach. In absolute surrender, he sent a message to Sennacherib begging for mercy. “I have done wrong,” Hezekiah said. “Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me” (2 Kings 18:14). “Hezekiah humbled himself before the might of Israel, and in so doing saved his nation” (stage.warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/jerusalem-surviving-the-second-siege-by-assyrian-king-sennacherib/)
Storm clouds arose and burst into hailstones of panic, flash floods of alarm, and tornado-type winds of fear. Hezekiah forgot the Lord (Jdg. 3:7). His cumulonimbus clouds towered so high into the heavens that he could not even grasp that his God could be bigger. And in the panic that ensued, he compromised his trust once again.
The Dissipating Stage
During the dissipating stage of a thunderstorm, there is still an element of danger. Floods still rise. Lightning still flashes, but the storm’s fury does begin to abate. When Sennacherib received that missive from Hezekiah, promising him a blank check if he would just withdraw, all of Judah waited with bated breath. Would Sennacherib finish off his siege of Lachish and turn his attention on Jerusalem? Or would he listen to the lure of riches and take his money with him back to his home country? No one knew which way Sennacherib would choose to go.
Sennacherib chose to withdraw, but he made sure the peace would be a harsh one. “The King of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:14). In modern-day times, this would be about ten metric tons of silver and one metric ton of gold. Hezekiah gave the king more than he asked. Scripture tells us that he gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace (18:15). He even stripped off the gold that he personally had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord and gave it all to the king of Assyria (18:16).
This matter of tribute personifies a sense of impending doom. Look at all these kings who had to pay tribute, but won hardly anything out of their efforts; Rehoboam paid tribute to Shishak (1 Ki. 14:24-28; Joash paid tribute to Hazael (2 Ki. 12:17-18); Amaziah paid tribute to Joash (2 Ki. 14:14); and Ahaz paid tribute to Damascus (2 Ki. 16:8-9). There is something so debilitating about having to pay someone else tribute. Warren Wiersbe sums up this thought succinctly, “The action of giving tribute takes the force out of whatever positive results might have come from the reforms” (Word Biblical Commentary).
In the end, Sennacherib withdrew back home to Nineveh in great victory and a whole lot richer. Assyria had tamped down the insurrection; they had rained down their fury upon the rebels and had made them pay; some even with their lives. The price for freedom was cruel and merciless.
Hezekiah had escaped the fowler’s snare (Pr. 6:5) by the skin of his teeth. He knew that he had made some colossal mistakes that had almost cost him his life and his kingdom. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew that Sennacherib’s withdrawal was not a permanent solution; Assyria would be back. However, Hezekiah learned from his terrible mistakes. He refocused his trust. Gathering his tattered faith around him, Hezekiah began to prepare for impending war. But that is the topic of our next week’s lesson.
Nothing to Fear?
My first real memory of fear came in my fifth year of life. According to my mom, my grandma had sent our family a care package containing all kinds of goodies. I must have gone a bit overboard on the chewing gum, for in no time at all, I had five cavities. With those cavities, I had an awful amount of pain.
Where my parents served as missionaries, there was no doctor, no dentist, no hospital. Our mission station at that time boasted of a few houses and an airstrip, which was our lifeline to the rest of the world. In order for me to see a dentist, one had to be flown in to our area and since there was only one missionary dentist to service the whole island, we had to wait quite a while.
By the time an appointment could be arranged, my cavities were pretty far gone. The dentist had me sit in my mother’s lap in his chair and hold me down. He then proceeded to fill my five cavities without any novocaine. Without novocaine! (Just wanted to make sure you caught that.)
I am sure that was the absolute worst day of his life; I know, for sure, it was mine. The pain was excruciating. The smell was deplorable. The sounds of scraping and drilling were nightmarish. The torture seemed unending. I honestly thought that I was going to die.
From the first moment that dentist took a look at my mouth, I understood real fear. It did not matter that my mom kept saying, “It will be okay.” It was NOT okay. And the doctor’s impatience added to my fright. The process of that first tooth repair was bad, but the other four were increasingly worse. You see, by then, I knew what was coming. Fear added to fear until my brain was full of it. Honestly, it is a mystery to me how my mom was able to hold me down. I was completely overcome by panic.
During the Great Depression, two men duked it out to become the next president: Herbert Hooever and Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt won the election and in his first inaugural address, Roosevelt began his speech with these words, “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days” (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/).
My parents were born right at the end of the Great Depression. They are a product of those panicked times, times when a wheelbarrow of cash barely bought anything. My dad came from a family of ten people, so he remembers shoveling the food in at mealtimes instead of sitting and enjoying leisurely conversation. If you talked, you literally went hungry. He slept in the loft of the barn with his two other brothers because their trailer did not have enough bedrooms. In the winter, the three of them would heat up bricks in the fireplace, wrap them in towels and put them in the bottom of their sleeping bags so their feet would remain warm through the unheated night. He began a paper route as early as he was allowed, but all the money went into supporting the family. Living back then was grueling, but the fears were even more burdensome.
In FDR’s first speech to the American people, he encouraged them by naming their resilience, by giving them hope, and by being honest about their conditions, but he did not shy away from those burdensome fears. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he said.
Really? Is this true?
During the Great Depression, many fears came true. People died. Many went bankrupt. Others lost their homes. If you look at FDR’s statement literally, it does not ring true. There really are a plethora of things to fear more than just fear itself. When that dentist was drilling away, I was afraid, but I wasn’t just afraid of fear. I was afraid of the pain, the sounds, being held down, the dentist’s mask, the vibrations in my mouth, my aching jaws, and I could go on and on. There are so many things to fear beyond fear itself.
Nail-Biting and Star-Gazing
About a month ago, my circumstances began to spin around me rather wildly. Actions were taken that spiraled out of my control. Words were said that fed my sense of confusion. And over all of it, I could sense my panic rising to flood stage. I am not a nail-biter, but I sure felt like engaging in that unhygienic coping mechanism.
As I prepared breakfast one morning, I remember just crying out to God for help, for clarity and for courage. I do not normally do this, but that morning I turned on my phone app, which streams the music from our local radio station in Pennsylvania. The very first words I heard were these:
Oh, my soul/Oh, how you worry/Oh, how you’re weary from fearing you lost control/This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming/And no one would blame you, though/If you cried in private/If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows/No one will see, if you stop believing//Oh, my soul/You are not alone/There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know/One more day, He will make a way/Let Him show you how, you can lay this down/Cause you’re not alone/
You may recognize these words as the first verse and chorus from Casting Crown’s song, Oh, My Soul. God literally spoke into my soul from the words of this song. It left me riveted, my breakfast preparations momentarily put on hold as I drew into my soul God’s answer to my plea for help and courage. However, I was thoroughly convicted that I had not been taking my fears to face the God I know. Over the next couple of days, I spent a lot of time with the Lord laying out those fears before Him and finding His promises to overlay my fear-ridden heart with truth.
One commonality shared by all humanity is this paralyzing propensity to fear. “Fear is the single most debilitating and paralyzing emotion I’ve experienced and it’s one of the most effective weapons the enemy uses against us” (Kelly Minter, No Other Gods, p. 56). That is why the most often repeated command in the Old and New Testaments is “do not fear.”
As I prepared to write this devotional, I was immediately concerned with Hezekiah’s example because the vignette that we have studied from Hezekiah’s life today leaves out the practical ‘how to’ of dealing with fear. Hezekiah blew it during this portion of his life; he gave in to gut-wrenching, integrity-changing fear. But in his story there is an element of encouragement. If you and I were honest, we would admit to falling into this black hole of fear more times than we would ever care to portray and so Hezekiah’s story does not give us an example this time, but a comrade-in-arms, fighting the same fear-filled battle.
Solidarity is important. Camaraderie is essential. Community is indispensable, but friends cannot always alleviate our fears. To do that, we must throw ourselves upon the mighty Fear-Contender Himself. Only God can weaken the insidious drag of fear’s undertow in our faith. Only the Word of God can be the soothing balm that dampens the fire of fear’s angry infection.
And so we turn to Scripture.
One day Abram was hanging out with his family; the next he was being called by God to go to a country completely unknown. God gave him a promise that he would be made into a great nation and Abram believed God. He left Haran and traveled all throughout the land until God told him to stop (Gen. 12:1-9).
But when year after year went by and he and Sarai could not conceive, Abram began to be a bit concerned. The Lord appeared to him in a vision and said that He was Abram’s great reward. Abram countered that with a request for practical proof. As of yet, there was no son. What would God say to that (Gen. 15:1-3)?
God took him out and had him look up at the sky. Staring at all of those stars, God told him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5-6), but Abram still waited many more years, hoping in God’s original promise.
Sarai got tired of waiting and finagled the birth of Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old at the time. Imagine that wait. When he was 99 years old, God appeared to him again with a promise to greatly increase his numbers – in that next year. He changed his name to include that promise, but Abraham responded with laughter. He had walked for 99 years, trying to live by faith and all of this seemed to good to be true. He begged God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing” (Gen. 17:18)! God said that he would take care of Ishmael, but that Abraham would have another son that they were to call Isaac.
Sometimes Scripture can be so factual that is is hard to believe the characters in the Bible are real. I have listed the biographical sketch of Abraham’s journey of faith, but as you can see, there are no feelings listed here at all. However, in Romans 4:18-22, we get a glimpse as to the fear that permeated Abraham’s faith. The first words of verse 18 are “against all hope.”
Hope is a great word. It instigates joy and expectation, life and dreams. But the antonym, hopelessness – or, against all hope – engenders very different feelings: despair, dejection, downheartedness, defeat, demoralization, something appalling and frightful.
Imagine waiting for the fulfillment of God’s for eighty years or more. Imagine the struggle Abraham must have gone through to continue believing God when there was no child in sight. Imagine the despair of asking but never receiving. Imagine the fear that Abraham must have felt, the times he must have felt like biting his nails in abject misery. After all, he had completely obeyed God, left everything he knew, and chosen to wander around like a nomad and live on a land he would never own. Not only that, but in facing the facts, he was as good as dead and Sarah’s womb as well (Rom. 4:19).
But Abraham had great faith. Yes, he probably struggled many times with believing God or the author of Romans would not have included those words ‘against all hope.’ Abraham felt those feelings of hopelessness, discouragement and even fear, but look at how he channeled those fears into faith, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18). Instead of giving in to fear, he knew the place where fear had to face the God he knew. That place was called Hope. Abraham went to the source of hope and God met him. He infused his heart with faith. He encouraged his faith with promises and he eradicated his fears with a bit of star-gazing.
Abraham both faced the facts of his reality and he felt the feelings of hopelessness and fear. But he took both the facts and feelings to Hope personified and in the process, exemplified great faith, overcame his fears, gazed at some magnificent star-engendering dreams, and banked up a credit of righteousness.
What Do We Fear?
I am a simple woman. I have no theology degree to invigorate the minds of our future pastors. I am not a psychologist, who plumbs the depths of the human mind. I am no counselor that can understand the emotions and how to make them behave. I am simply a woman who loves the Word of God and seeks to follow its precepts. So when I have a problem, I turn to the Word as quickly as possible to find answers in my time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Fear is a universal problem and if you were to study this topic in Scripture alone, you would find a dizzying amount of answers in the Word. My problem in researching for this devotional was not too little information, but a deluge of advice and encouragement. You need to know that God understands this human problem and He has provided an unbelievable amount of material to combat this menace we call fear.
Like Abraham, I believe we must attack fear in our lives by facing the facts and feeling the emotions first. So as I meditated on a host of verses dealing with fear, I asked this question of myself, “What do I fear?” I started jotting down a list and saw some commonalities between many of the fears. I began to group them into four basic categories and then took my theory to Scripture. Sure enough, the causes of fear all throughout the Bible fall generally into these four categories as well.
The next part of this devotional will be packed with Scripture. Do not be put off by this; I have simply done a lot of your homework for you. Read through these lists with a number of questions in mind. What do I fear? How can I engage these fears? How do I move from fear to faith? And the ultimate question: How will I implement these verses into my fear-to-faith process? In other words, what will I do with these truths?
So, what do we fear?
F – Falter in the event of natural disasters and chaotic elements.
I once read a story about a man who barely survived hurricane Katrina. He lost his home and business, barely escaping with his life and family. Vowing that he would never experience such a trauma again, he feverishly researched the safest places to live in all the world. He found a remote island in the Pacific that boasted a clean record: no storms, no earthquakes, no floods, nothing. Picking up his family and dreams, he moved to this little island. However, in the first year of settling into their new dream home, the volcano that had never been active before, decided to erupt. It devastated the island, killing most of the people on it.
Life in this broken world has no guarantees, except for the guarantee of trouble. Storms come. Earthquakes shatter. Volcanoes devastate. Floods inundate. Natural disasters decimate our lives. And somehow, in the midst of all this chaos, you and I are not to give way to fear.
Many people in Scripture struggled by faltering in the face of natural disasters. One time the disciples were in a boat heading for Capernaum. There was quite a strong wind blowing and the waters grew really rough. Pretty soon, they saw Jesus. Between the natural elements and the ghost-like figure walking on the water, they were terrified (Jn. 6:16-19).
Another time, after a hard ministry day, the disciples and Jesus were crossing the lake. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat, nearly swamping it. The disciples woke him and cried out, “Lord, save us! Don’t you care if we drown” (Mk. 4:36-38). The unexpected storm with huge waves coupled with Jesus’ lack of attention caused those disciples to fear.
Even earlier, in the Old Testament, God told His people that He was going to come down to meet with them. As He approached, there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it with fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently and trumpet sound grew louder and louder (Ex. 19:16-19). The Lord gave the Ten Commandments to His people, but they were a bit disengaged. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and asked Moses to relay what God wanted to say” (Ex. 2018-19). The natural elements felt like natural disasters to them, so much so that they shunned the presence of God in light of the power that went before Him.
When Eliphaz gave his discourse, he brought up destruction and famine and the fear that can come from the beasts of the earth (Job 5:20). One of the sons of Korah wrote a song about the earth that gives way, about the mountains that fall into the heart of the sea, about the waters that roar and foam and about the mountains that quake with their surging (Ps. 46:2-3). Jeremiah talked about the fear that can come from heat (Jer. 17:8). All of these natural disasters and the world’s elements that sometimes run amuk can cause terror in our hearts. We can falter in our trust for God as a result. Or we can face the facts, feel the feelings, and choose to move into trust.
E – Enable people to have power over us.
By far, the greatest majority of verses in the Bible that deal with fear have to do with people. Yes, we do fear natural disasters and chaotic elements, but often times, there are warnings for earthquakes or hurricanes; we often know in advance what is impending. When attacks come from the people around us, there is often no warning. And the closer the person is to us, the deeper the pain of betrayal.
Out of fear of Esau, Jacob went through elaborate measures to both appease him and protect his family (Gen. 32:7). Samuel’s words caused Saul great fear (1 Sam. 28:20). Adonijah was so scared of Solomon’s repercussions that he ran to the temple and took hold of the horns of the altar (1 Kings 1:50). The Jews that were left in Israel fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:26). Rehoboam had assembled in Jerusalem, along with all of the leaders, out of fear of Shishak (2 Chron. 12:5). A Korahite wrote a song about the fear of wicked deceivers surrounding him (Ps. 49:5). David, in fleeing from his son, Absalom, wrote a song about not fearing the tens of thousands drawn up against him on every side (Ps. 3:6). Some leaders in Jesus’ day believed in Him, but would not confess their faith for fear of the Pharisees putting them out of the synagogue. They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (Jn. 12:42-43).
Jesus seems pretty clear that we are not to fear people or what they can do to us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” (Mt. 10:28). David echoes this thought by asking the question, “I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me” (Ps. 56:4)? These thoughts are truth, but many times you and I enable people, and the threat of what they can do, to have power over us.
A – Abhor pain and suffering.
There are many kinds of pain. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, suffering is no respecter of persons, and for that reason, we fear its power. We fear harm that may befall us (Ps. 91:9-10). We fear suffering and its consequences (1 Pet. 3:13). We fear punishment, especially the kind that seems to come down from heaven (1 Jn. 4:18). We fear that we may drown in our circumstances (Mk. 4:38). We fear ostracization and loneliness (Jn. 12:42). We fear the hurt that comes from people’s words (1 Sam. 28:20). We fear the fall-out of evil (Ps. 23:4). We fear the suffering caused by shame, disgrace, and humiliation (Isa 54:4). We fear the reproach of men and are terrified by their insults (Isa. 51:7).
Suffering can be physical and we do fear those who can hurt our bodies. But suffering is much more. It is emotional distress and psychological manipulation. Waiting can also be a time of suffering. You and I abhor suffering. We do everything we can to avoid it, yet God often uses suffering to discipline us or refine us. When we fear pain and suffering more than we fear God, we lose out on the lessons He is trying to teach us.
R – Run from the unknown.
We will spend more time on this thought next week, but for now, let me introduce the “what-ifs” in our trust life. Some people are termed worrywarts, because they cannot release the future to God. They must try and control it at all cost, even if the cost is their personal sanity and the peace of all who surround them.
Some people are anxious about impending disaster and ruin (Pr. 7:25). They see an accident waiting to happen at any given time. They desperately fear bad news (Ps. 112:6) and become rather pessimistic to ward off the ‘maybes’ that may come down the pike. Like the Israelites, who could not see God for all the smoke and thunder, we often miss the work of God because we do not understand His ways (Ex. 20:18). His actions toward us seem negative because we do not really know His heart. We are always waiting for the divine axe to fall; heavenly unknowns are sometimes the most disheartening.
As you have read through some of these verses and stories, do you notice that most of your fears fall into one of these four categories? What do you fear? Name it. Face the facts and feel the feelings so that you can engage God honestly in true faith. This exercise calling out the hopelessness actually positions you to meet the Author of hope. From the naming of the fears, we now move to the actions we can take to deal with those fears.
What Do We Do?
O – Open up your mouth.
Two years ago, I was asked to speak at our mission conference, bringing the Sunday morning message from 2 Corinthians 4. The thrust of my entire message revolved around verses 13 and 14, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”
As I prepared for that message, I was blown away by the power of speaking out. Over and over, the psalmists talked out loud to God. I found over ten different words for ‘crying out’ and for your personal information, even the word ‘meditate’ (like from Joshua 1:9) is an out-loud word, meaning to growl or mutter. Clearly, God commends the person who prays to Him, but there is a power inherent in a heard word over the action of a thought word.
I believed, therefore I have spoken.
In studying verses on fear, I noticed this out-loud phenomenon again. Obviously, one of the ways you and I can combat fear in our lives is to open up our mouths and speak…cry…yell…praise, you name it; just do it!
Psalm 91 is an incredible psalm about fear. I will be referencing it a number of times today, but before all the fears were laid out in the psalmist’s mind, he declared this truth, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (v 2). Notice the act of the will, “I will,” in activating faith. It is a choice to engage. But how does he engage? Through the open use of his mouth, “I will say.” What he says then is a power-packed list of truth: He is my refuge; He is my fortress; He is my God, in whom I trust.
At one point, while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. He had endured opposition by preaching to the Jews so he had gone to the Gentiles. There must have been some fear in Paul’s heart; maybe he was enabling the people to have power over him. We know about the fear because God addressed it in his vision, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent…” (Acts 18:9). “Keep on speaking,” God said. “Do not let them stop up your mouth.” Dear one, there is a lesson here for you and me as well.
On the heels of an exhortation about suffering, Paul says these words, “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” (1 Pet. 3:14-15). Even in the midst of suffering, instead of abhorring its refining work, Paul urged his church to be ready to open their mouth. Speaking out loud about the hope that is within is not only a witness to those who hear; it is also an act of faith.
It is not a coincidence, that in the incident where Jesus was sleeping and the disciples were panicking, God addressed the waves before He addressed their faith. This was partly due to the object lesson he wanted to show them about the power of opening their own mouths. When He awoke and took stock of the situation, Mark tells us that He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk. 4:39). He then spoke to the disciples and chided them in regard to their fear and lack of faith (v 40).
Jesus took the time to show the disciples that admonishing or charging the waves in their lives was a part of their right as followers of Jesus. Exhorting the sea, commanding it to be still, directing it verbally to peace – these all are actions of faith; they are a sign of a person who has learned the godly art of opening her mouth.
In the middle of Paul’s discourse on the believer’s inheritance in Christ, there is a powerful truth. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back in fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). You are an heir of Christ, but if you struggle in putting to death the misdeeds of the body – fear being a prominent misdeed – you will struggle to accept your inheritance. Paul says that we solidify our position as heirs of Christ when we cry out to God.
That word ‘cry’ means “to croak as a raven or scream, to call aloud, shriek, exclaim, intreat, cry out” (ESV Strong’s). Screaming, shrieking and croaking imply a bit of panic to me. The heir is struggling to believe that she is free from slavery so she speaks out loud to God, “You are my Father.” In that spoken moment, however panicked the yeller is, she can know the peace of God because she accessed her inheritance by opening up her mouth.
Fear will come and sometimes, in a deluge. The first step you must train yourself to take is to learn to open up your mouth and speak the truths of God out loud over your life. They will reverberate in the heavenly realms and cause a shakedown of enemy forces. And, my dear friend, they will reinforce your sagging faith.
F – Foster a deep relationship with God.
If I ever get any books or studies written, one of the first will be a set of devotionals that flesh out what it means to have a relationship with God. This topic is integral to learning how to walk a journey with God; a journey of intimacy, identity and integrity. I mention this because if I could write an entire study on this point, I will have to be very brief here. There is so much in Scripture about how to foster a sweet one-on-one relationship with the Creator of this universe, so today I will try to limit my thoughts to just a few that revolve around this topic of fear.
Jeremiah contrasted the man who trusts in others and the man who trusts in God. The one who looks to man for help will become like a bush in the wastelands. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives (Jer. 17:6). Wasteland. Parched place. Desert. Salt. Lonely. Trusting in man obviously does not lead to a sweet relationship with God.
The contrast, however, is sweet. The man who trusts in God and places his confidence in Him is like a tree that is planted by water and sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes. Its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (Jer. 17:7-8).
What is the action step here that begins to foster depth with God? When the tree that is planted by the water sends out its roots by the stream, all the other good things begin to happen. Friend, God is your stream. He has planted you by the waters of His eternal life. But unless you send out your roots in His direction, you will become parched. You are responsible for your relationship with God. If your intimacy with God is suffering, you need to figure out why. Ask a teacher. Talk to a mentor, but do not let your roots become dry. The parched, dried twig in the desert does not demonstrate godly faith.
One of the ways I send my roots toward the Stream is by emoting my feelings every morning in my journal. Whatever has me over a barrel, I write about. If there are fears blocking my intimacy with my Lover, I hash it out with Him. If I am struggling in my walk somehow, I complain to God. When I encounter injustice, I tell on that person to God. God often brings Scripture to my mind and I will run there as fast as I can because relational equilibrium with my divine Husband is my top priority. I want to feel loved by God and love God without barriers every day of my life. So I never move on in my sequential devotional reading time with the Lord until I have gotten my soul to a place of rest with Him. Then, and only then, am I ready to move on into His Word and prayer.
This sending-out-root process is my attempt to comply with 1 Jn. 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” The way I see it, anytime there is even a hint of fear, it messes with the love between me and God. I have to eradicate that build-up so I talk it through until the channel of love runs clear and strong again. God’s perfect love drives out the fear in my heart, but I have to take the steps of facing the facts of ‘punishment’ and feeling the emotions of fear. When I process all of that thoroughly in the presence of God, I am able to once again love and be loved.
When the love connection has been re-forged, I know that I am then taking the step that occurs in the first verse of Psalm 91. I am dwelling in the shelter of the Most High and resting in the shadow of the Almighty. When I live in love, I dwell in God. I know this because John states it quite clearly, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). Dwelling and resting. I cannot think of a more beautiful way to describe my longings for relationship with God. No turmoil. No panic. No loneliness. I am encased in God’s presence and leaning back upon His breast.
After the facts have been stated, after the feelings have been expressed, after the connection of love has been established, then comes the loved one’s heartfelt response: praise. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise…” (Ps. 56:3-4a). Fear, when dealt with properly, leads to trust in God and in His Word. And trust moves quickly into worship.
How about some of these amazing words from God to begin a worship session? “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Ps. 91:14-16). Engage the God who makes these incredible statements of truth and you will foster the deepest of relationships possible with God.
T – Take godly action.
In a charge to wives, Peter called them to submissive living. Even a husband who is a non-believer can be won over, Peter said, by the purity and reverence of a godly wife. He held up the holy women of the past as examples of hoping in God, with Sarah, being the chief illustration. Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her master and wives of this day are her daughters if they do what is right and do not give way to fear (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
The retort can be made that Abraham was a godly man. Why would Peter talk about ungodly husbands and Abraham in the same paragraph, comparing a wives’ behavior with Sarah’s? Do you recall that there was a famine in Canaan at one point and Abram and Sarai went to Egypt to survive? Before they entered the country, Abram told his wife to say that she was Abram’s sister, so “that (he would) be treated well for (her) sake and (his) life (would) be spared because of (her)” (Gen. 12:13).
She obeyed Abram and as a result, ended up in Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh treated Abram really well, giving him sheep, cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels (v 16). Because I do not know Egyptian culture really well, I can assume Sarai was safe, but verse 18 clearly states that Pharaoh had taken her as his wife. All of those gifts were probably a bride price.
She obeyed her husband and almost lost her chastity. Abram did not care for his wife as he should have. He practically got her raped and yet, Peter states that she did the right thing by calling him master. How is this true? If I were Sarai, I would not trust my husband to make any good decisions, because in fact, he acted out the same scenario, not once, but twice (See Gen. 20).
Yes, Sarai obeyed her husband and called him master, but what Peter is really saying here, is that by being submissive to her husband, she actually was submitting to God. She was trusting God to take care of her and in fact, God did. He inflicted serious diseases upon Pharaoh and all of his household. Pharoah put two and two together (Gen. 12:17) and confronted Abram with the truth. Sarai trusted God to take care of her. Her godly action was to activate faith, not in her husband and his decisions, but in her personal God.
You may encounter a situation like this, where you are backed into a corner and do not know how to act in a godly manner. Peter’s advice, first of all, is to do what is right and that right action is to throw yourself on God’s grace and mercy. Above all, trust in the Lord with all of your heart and then do not allow yourself to give way to fear (1 Pet. 3:6).
At around 538 B.C. God moved in mysterious ways in the heart of King Cyrus, prompting him to allow the exiles to return to their homeland. They did, with the goal of rebuilding the temple. After they had settled in the land, Jeshua the priest and Zerubbabel called all the people together to begin the work. Ezra’s memoirs say that “despite their fear of the peoples around them, they build the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord” (Ezra 3:3).
Did you catch their emotions? They were fearful, and why? Because in their flesh, they could easily enable the people to have power over them. But despite that fear, despite the opposition they faced, they chose to do the right thing; they chose to trust in God and do the work He had called them to.
They followed Isaiah’s warning not to follow the way of the people. They did not fear what other people feared; they did not dread what could happen. They feared the Lord instead and regarded Him as holy, because they knew that He was the ultimate sanctuary for them and the stumbling block for their enemies (Isa. 8:11-13).
In times of fear, it is easy to give in, but don’t. Scripture is replete with examples of those who persevered in spite of their fear, in spite of opposition, and in spite of the apparent absence of God’s working on their behalf. They did the right thing and did not give way to fear. They trusted that God would work everything out for good. When you do not know what to do, just take godly action: learn to trust God more and more and do whatever He tells you to do next.
H – Hold onto your faith.
Two stories are intertwined in Mark 5; two stories that seem completely dissimilar, and they are in some ways. One story is about a man and his daughter; the other story is about a woman. One asked Jesus to lay His hands on the daughter; the other laid her hand on Jesus. One story seemed urgent; the other was not, except to the woman involved. One person was important in the world’s eyes; the other not so much. In the first story, a man advocated for his daughter; in the second story, a woman advocated for herself.
Yet with all these differences, there are also a few very important similarities. Both the girl and the woman were desperate for help. Both instances required faith. Both met Jesus and both experienced healing. And the fact that Jesus interrupted His ministry to one to help the other declares Jesus’ desire to answer and move on behalf of those who believe.
In the middle of fear’s strangle-hold, it is difficult to live a posture of full-on belief. Many Christians think that faith requires huge steps, supernatural abilities, and a stance that is both confident and powerful. As I have lived my life so far and grown in my knowledge of God, I submit to you that faith is often weak. It leaks out of tear-filled eyes and exhales from parched throats. But Jesus did say that answers, healing, and being heard require only a mustard-seed-size faith. As long as eyes are focused on Jesus, as long as ears are attuned to His call, and as long as feet keep moving toward His will, faith will continue to move mountains. But, my friend, faith often looks different that you and I might think.
How do we hold on to our faith when the storm clouds roll in? What actions can we take that count as faith-filled ones? The story of Jarius’ daughter and the woman with an issue of blood reveal some actions that God honors as faith.
Faith came to Jesus (v 22, 27). It did not pine away alone, waiting for God to do something. Both Jarius and the woman got themselves out of their fear-filled paralysis and got themselves to Jesus. You need to know that while Jesus does come to you, He wants to know if you will come to Him. Do not make Him your last choice. Come to Him now.
Faith saw Jesus (v 22, 27). Out of all the people that could have helped at that present time, Jarius and the woman knew that only One would do. For a girl that was dying, a doctor was useless. For a woman who had visited all the doctors, over all the years, she had no other recourse. Both of them saw Jesus in a light that others did not. They came to Him because they knew He was able to heal. How do you see Jesus – as a good man, or as the omniscient, Almighty God of Angel Armies? Seeing is believing and what is seen with spiritual eyes will open spiritual doors.
Faith falls at Jesus’ feet and pleads earnestly with Him, asking specifically (vv 22-23). Jarius threw caution and reputation to the wind. He was desperate and his stance demonstrated his heart’s desire. Humility and sincerity go a long way in bridging fear and faith. Try it! Get down before God in abject humility and plead earnestly for your needs to be met. Faith gets low sometimes in order to be raised up high (Jms. 4:10).
Faith touches Jesus (v 27). The woman could not even come to Jesus face-on. She was bleeding and was considered to be unclean. She should not even have been around people, let alone brushing against them or grasping hems of garments. Her touch would have defiled Jesus, by religious standards, but faith approaches God even when it is dirty and messy. You will always be accepted by Jesus. He is so holy that, instead of becoming messed-up by your impurity, He washes away your dirtiness in a deluge of mercy. So bring your disorder, your stains, to Jesus and He will make you whiter than snow (Isa. 1:18).
Faith thinks the improbable (v 28). The woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus because of a truly audacious thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Do you have that kind of perception about Jesus’ power? Would you be content just to nudge the hem of His garment, knowing the reputation of your God? Faith does not weigh the pros and cons when it comes to desperation; it just thinks out its dreams and then acts on them.
Faith tells the truth, despite the fear (v 33). Jesus kept asking people in the crowd, “Who touched me?” and even though the disciples tried to dissuade his pointed question, Jesus refused to give up. He knew there was someone who needed to tell her story. The woman finally fell at Jesus’ feet and though trembling the whole while, told him the truth. Her act of honesty freed her from her suffering, for after she spoke out in faith, the Lord told her that her faith had healed her (v 34). So many people never engage their pain because they are trembling in fear. But healing comes by telling the truth about the suffering, by framing the woundedness in common language, and by being heard by the Great Healer. Dear one, listen to me carefully. Cowards hide the truth. They do not engage their issues of blood, but people of faith wade into the muck and mire. Who eventually finds freedom? The one who comes trembling to God in great fear and chooses to tell Him the whole truth.
Faith ignores nay-sayers (v 36). While Jesus was talking to the woman, men came from the house of Jarius and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more” (v 35)? The next words in our text are so important for you to hear, “ignoring what they said…” (v 36). Jesus made a point of blocking out what was perceived as truth in the earthly realm because He knew the truths that stood tall in the spiritual realm. Yes, the daughter appeared dead, but Jesus was bigger than death. Jesus was bigger than unbelief. Jesus was oh, so much bigger than their dashed expectations and crushed hopes. You need to know that your God is bigger than your fear, your circumstances, and even your faltering faith. He sees the end from the beginning and knows how to pull all the pieces together to create a masterpiece. Ignore the nay-sayers and concentrate solely on Jesus’ voice.
Faith exercises power over the will (v 36). Jesus spoke these words to Jarius, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” It seems too simple, right? Don’t get angry. Don’t be bitter. Don’t react out of hurt. Don’t get revenge. Don’t whine and complain. And don’t fear. Can telling the will not to do something really work? As I was looking up verses, I found a number of these negative commands. Jesus told His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (Jn. 14:27). Do not give way to fear (1 Pet. 3:16). And the words, “Don’t be afraid,” are used many times (Mk. 5:35, Jn. 16:20 and for your curiosity, 57 more times in the Old Testament and 19 more times in the New). There is a lot of evidence that this action of the mind over the will helps us hold onto our faith. So, do not allow your emotions to flow unhindered. Do not let your thinking run amuk. Use your will to activate your trust. Sweet faith-walker, just believe.
Faith gets up (v 42). Jesus kicked all of the mourners out of the house and went into where the daughter lay dead. He took her by the hand and spoke to her, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” Immediately that girl stood up and walked around and all who saw were completely astonished. There are times when you have been dealt a death-blow. You may feel you have no strength; it is not true. You may feel that your influence is finished; it is not true. You may even feel like your life is worth nothing to this world; it is most definitely not true. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. With that kind of faith, you can stand up in your circumstances. As you rise up out of your death-bed, and walk around in your life, people will see and be astonished. They will know that a great miracle has occurred: you have held on to your faith.
E – Encourage single-mindedness.
James addressed his people who were undergoing great suffering. He told them to be joyful. He told them to be mindful of the process of testing, that it develops perseverance, maturity and completeness. He told them to ask God for wisdom, but there is a caveat in the asking: that person must believe and not doubt, for a doubter is like the waves of the sea, tossed and blown by the wind. “That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (Jms. 1:2-8).
If double-mindedness exempts us from receiving answers from the Lord, what are we to do? For everyone knows that fear divides the mind. Does this mean God will not hear us when we cry out from our fear-induced duality? No, my friend, that is not what this verse means. The warning is there to motivate us to pursue a whole-hearted devotion toward God. If that is the case, what do you and I have to do to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk. 12:30)?
A couple of thoughts come to my mind in random order. A person who is single-minded is not easily shaken. He does not fear bad news. His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure and he will have no fear (Ps. 112:6-8). That word ‘steadfast’ means to prop, to lean upon or take hold of, to rest, or lean against” (ESV Strong’s). It also can describe a heart that is supported and sustained (CWSB Dictionary).
Even in suffering, which can divide the mind with terror, Peter tells us not to fear what others fear; “do not be frightened” (1 Pet. 3:14). What is the alternative to fear? “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (v 15a). Someone once told me, “If Christ is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” When fear begins to beat at the inside of your chest, begin to list the things you are afraid of. Look over that list and ask yourself this question, “Is God truly the Lord of this situation, of all these fears?” Of course, you will not be able to say “yes,” until you declare Him to be the Lord of each of those fears. Walk through them and say, “God, I set you apart as Lord of _______________, I set you apart as Lord of ____________” (fill in the blank.) When you speak out loud about the lordship of Christ, you prepare a throne for Him in the swirling dirt of your circumstances.
A single-minded person does not fall down when the rains beat against his faith. He is steadfast, meaning that he is propped up and sustained by the God of the storm. How does this happen practically? The first answer we can glean comes from a psalmist, “I stand in awe of your laws” (Ps. 129:20). You can become single-minded when you focus on Scripture. God props you up through His Word. The more you live out of the sustaining, life-giving power of the Word, the more you will conquer fear in your life. Find the lies (Eph. 4:22). Change the attitude of your mind (Eph. 4:23) and put on the truth of Scripture (Eph. 4:24). A single-minded person does not have two opinions that waffle due to compromising influences; he lives by the only opinion that counts: the opinion of the One who calms the storms.
You can be single-minded by declaring the lordship of Christ over all of your life, fears included, and by living on the prop of God’s Word. There are many other ways to become a single-minded faith-walker, but these two will support and sustain you despite the fears that may come to call.
When storms blow against your life and ignite your fear, you can run and hide or you can take small steps of faith. We’ve talked about five of these small steps that give your faith forward-moving impetus. Open up your mouth and speak God’s Word out loud over your fears. Foster a deep relationship with God. Take godly action. Hold onto your faith, even if that faith is small. And encourage a single-mindedness that rests on the breast of Jesus. These five steps will give you something on which to focus when the going gets tough. And you all know what happens when the going gets tough, right? The tough, who are meek and humble, desperate and dependant, just hopeless enough to take God at His Word – these people, they just up and get going.
Antidotes To Fear
In President Roosevelt’s speech, I picked apart his “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” statement a while ago. I mentioned that literally-speaking, fear is not the only thing we fear and I hope I’ve proved that by these last few pages have been filled with fears that overwhelm us when the storm clouds gather. But, in essence, Roosevelt makes a good point metaphorically-speaking, because he ends that same fear sentence with these words, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
When the storms rise above us and we are caught in a deluge of hail or ice or rain, we panic. We don’t know why, but we just panic. Our legs want to run away. Our heart wants to jump out of our chests. Our mouths go cotton-dry and our hands begin to sweat. This, my friend, is fear, the kind of fear that is nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror and it paralyzes our efforts to move forward into hope.
To move from fear to faith, we must name those fears (face the facts) and we must order our emotions to line up with faith (feel the feelings). When we name our fears, they are reduced to a smaller size. When we wade through our murky feelings and discover why they encroach on our throats, we whittle them down. Laying all of these “whys” and “wherefores” before God is an act of incredible faith. That is how paralysis turns into forward advance.
So we have named some fears and we have discovered some actions that we can take in the middle of our paralysis (see the ‘What do we fear?’ and ‘What do we do? sections). But there is one more piece to this important puzzle. We must know the cure-all that God gives to relieve our fears. Relief – true, restorative relief – will only come from one direction, so we turn once more to the Word of God which is filled with God’s antidotes to our fears.
Why, then, should we not fear? How do you and I really combat fear in our lives?
After meditating on so many verses relating to fear, I simplified things in my mind by condensing them into four categories. These groups of antidotes are given by God Himself, spoken out over our fear-filled storms. You and I can effectively combat fear in our lives by breathing these truths into our nostrils and exhaling them out loud with spoken faith. I suggest many of these verses should go on three-by-five cards that you can carry around with you wherever you go. Speak them over your life until you begin to believe them. You will find that fears will run and hide when they face the God you will come to know.
L – Look for His provision.
Your God is a good God. He is loving and merciful and gracious. Satan works overtime to trick you into thinking God is out to punish you. He undermines your faith by causing you to doubt God’s provision. One way you can fight back is to begin looking for how God provides for you – even in the midst of your storm.
I will list just a few of His provisions and let you begin to fill in a lot more. God provides His Word for you (Ps. 56:3). If you live in its truths, you will be less afraid and will come to be more trusting of His goodness. Praise that Word, for you life should be staked upon it.
God provides salvation, His feathers to cover you, His wings that give you refuge and His faithfulness that will be your shield and rampart (Ps. 91:3-4). He provides rescue, protection, answers, deliverance, and honor (Ps. 91:14-16). He provides confidence that will keep your feet from being snared (Pr. 7:25-26). He provides refuge and strength; He is a present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1, 62:8). And He provides His Holy Spirit as your counselor, teacher and reminder (Jn. 14:25-27).
Look, sweet one, to the hills, for that is where your help will come from (Ps. 121:1) and wouldn’t you know it, He even provides those same hills.
O – Overlay your circumstances with the knowledge of His power.
Mortal men cannot harm you (Ps. 51:12, 56:4). Your God will come to you; He will save you (Isa. 35:4). He even promises to come with a vengeance to act on your behalf (Nah. 1:2) Just like Job found out, this God who works on your behalf is a powerful God. He laid the earth’s foundations. He shut up the sea behind its doors. He gave orders to the morning and sees the gates of the shadow of death. He enters the storehouses of the snow and disperses the lightning. He binds the cords of Orion and leads out the Bear with its cubs. He has wisdom to count the clouds and tip over the water jars of heaven. He satisfies the hunger of lions and provides food for the ravens. He orders the mightiest of beasts, pulling in the leviathan with a fishhook (portions of Job 38, 39, 41).
God is truly exalted in His power (Job 36:22) and that power is levied on your behalf. When you begin to fear, overlay your circumstance with the knowledge of His incredible power. Nothing is bigger than your God.
R – Remember His promises.
God’s promises are too numerous to count, but a lifetime of seeking them out will develop a great faith in you if you take the time to search. His promises come from His Word, so search boldly. Search persistently and ask God to help you remember all that He has promised to do for you.
Are you anxious, waiting for God to act? He will fight for you; you need only be still (Ex. 14:14). Are you tired and weak? He will give strength to you when you are weary and increase your power when you are weak (Isa. 40:29). Are you full of fear and dismay? He is with you. He’s your God. He will strengthen, help and uphold you (Isa 41:10). Are you lonely in your fear? He is the God who takes you by the hand and helps you conquer your fear (Isa. 41:13). Are the storm clouds gathering over your head? This is His promise, “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isa 43:2). Are you afraid of Satan and his power? Submit to God and Satan will flee from you (Jms. 4:7). Are you afraid you have sinned too badly for God to act on your behalf? If you confess, He is faithful and just and will forgive your sin, cleansing you from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).
God’s promises are based on His character, and His character is perfect. My friend, get that three-by-five card loaded. Write out some of these verses or others that have encouraged you. Read them often and fill your mind with the promises of God…for you.
D – Dwell in His presence.
The biggest, most all-encompassing antidote of all is God Himself. More than any other promise in Scripture, God declares His presence to be the biggest cure-all to fear. So that these are very clear, I thought I would just list a bunch of these incredible promises of God’s abiding presence.
- “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you keep you from sinning” (Ex. 20:20).
- “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).
- “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Ps. 46:1-3).
- “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you’” (Isa. 35:3-4).
- “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
- “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you” (Isa 41:13).
- “It is I; don’t be afraid” (Jn. 6:20).
- “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts. 18:9-10).
- “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
- “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:15, 16, 18)
So to recap, what are the antidotes to fear? God’s provision, power, promises and presence. If you ever feel afraid, latch onto some of these truths. Our God is greater. He is certainly stronger. God is higher than any other. He is healer, awesome in power. Our God..our God (chorus from Our God, Chris Tomlin).
One Good Fear
Fear stands in the way of our intimacy with God, our identity in God, and certainly, our integrity with God. It builds walls between us and others and chokes out our faith. Fear is something we must deal with in order to experience unwavering trust. We cannot navigate the storms in our lives if we continually succumb to fear.
Hezekiah saw the storm clouds gather over many years, and when the Assyrians finally encroached on his lands, he folded. The nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror he felt paralyzed the efforts that were needed to convert retreat into advance. He wrote a quick message to the king, who was enjoying the demise of Lachish, begging for mercy and promising to give the king anything he desired if he would just leave him alone.
Hezekiah did not come to Jesus or even see the potentiality of Jesus’ power. He did not fall at Jesus’ feet, pleading earnestly with Him. He did not touch Him through prayer. He did not think the improbable, that God could easily cause Assyria to withdraw. He did not tell the truth, though trembling in fear; the truth that God was greater than the impending doom he felt. He did not ignore the nay-sayers, but gave in to popular opinion. He did not exercise power over his will and he did not get up from his circumstances in faith. Instead, he gave over, gave up and gave in.
You do not want to follow Hezekiah’s example in this instance. Instead of succumbing to paralysis, you must figure out why you…
F – Falter in light of natural disasters and chaotic elements.
E – Enable people to have power over you.
A – Abhor pain and suffering
R – Run from the unknown
You must also take action in the middle of your fear…
O – Open up your mouth.
F – Foster a deep relationship with God
T – Take godly action
H – Hold onto your faith
E – Encourage single mindedness
And lastly, you need to remember the godly antidotes to fear…
L – Look for His provision
O – Overlay your circumstances with the knowledge of His power
R – Remember His promises
D – Dwell in His presence.
You may have noticed, if you were following carefully along, that these three sets of acronyms spell out a phrase…F.E.A.R. O.F. T.H.E. L.O.R.D. While we are not to fear natural disasters, people, suffering, and the unknown, we are to fear the Lord. This fear, if cultivated intentionally, will ultimately help you to begin a lifetime of unwavering trust. The fear of the Lord routes earthly fear and shores up the foundations of a solid faith.
The author of Ecclesiastes has said, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13). If the fear of the Lord and obedience to His Word is our whole duty, we had best know pretty exhaustively what it means to fear God, for God says rather candidly that the wicked person has no fear of Him at all (Ps. 36:1).
The psalmist prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Ps. 86:11). Here we see that the fear of the Lord is something God must teach us. We are not going to muster up this fear on our own; it is a gift of God. And do you see that phrase about the undivided heart? As you and I cultivate that single mindedness that I talked about a while ago, we automatically begin to fear God more and more.
At Mount Sinai, God wanted to meet with His people. He came down on the mountain with thunder and lightning and smoke. The people trembled in fear and stayed at a distance from the mountain. The word for fear here is a word meaning “to quiver, totter, shake, reel, stagger, wander, move, sift, tremble” (ESV Strong’s). This is the kind of fear that Roosevelt was talking about, the kind that paralyzes a person and works against their forward movement.
As a result of the terror they felt at the power of God, they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Ex. 20:19). This reaction, by the way, was not what God intended at all. His desire was to connect with them, but they stood as far away as they could. Moses told them, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Ex. 20:20).
When Moses spoke this sentence over them, he used a different word for fear, meaning “morally, to revere…reverence, be afraid, to stand in awe of, be awed, honor, respect, to cause astonishment and awe, to inspire reverence or godly fear” (ESV Strong’s). Here we see the difference in the types of fear. One paralyzes with shuddering and trembling and causes greater distance from God. The other culminates in awe and wonder and draws people to God.
Notice what happened: “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Ex. 20:21). Moses had the proper attitude toward God and received the relationship that he wanted. The Israelites gave in to fleshly fear and missed out on the greatest relationship in the world.
What kind of fear do you have before God? Are you like the wicked that do not fear Him at all? Do you run from God because you just do not understand Him and His ways? Or do you walk into the thick darkness of God’s presence, joyful and expectant like Moses? I guarantee you that this last kind of relationship is the one that God desires with you.
Fearing God is a prerequisite to fulfilling our duty, but this is not a duty that is forced. God gently woos us into His presence, but we had better know this God we profess to reverence. “Do you not fear me? Declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me?” (Jer. 5:22). God goes on to tell about the great things He does like control the sea and give rain for the harvest. The people who do not acknowledge that He is sovereign in all the rulings of the earth or that He provides rain for crops, are the people who do not fear God. So clearly, fear involves praise and thanksgiving, a humble submission to this God we call our Lord. Standing in awe of his deeds and in awe of His laws demonstrates the honor God deserves (Ps. 119:120).
What does the fear of the Lord lead to? God’s blessing (Ps. 128:1) and praise (Ps. 135:20). Knowledge and wisdom (Pr. 1:7; 9:10). A longer life (Pr. 10:27). A gradual moving away from death (Pr. 14:27). The avoidance of evil (Pr. 16:6). Life and resting content untouched by trouble (Pr. 19:23) and the lack of envying sinners (Pr. 23:17). All of these are the natural by-product of learning to fear God.
But there’s more. Look at what God promises to do for those who fear Him:
- The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love (Ps. 33:18).
- The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them (Ps. 34:7).
- Fear the Lord…for those who fear him lack nothing (Ps. 34:9).
- “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him (Ps. 103:11).
- “He provides food for those who fear him (Ps. 111:5).
- “You who fear him, trust in the Lord- he is their help and shield (Ps. 115:11).
- “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them (Ps. 145:19).
- “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (Ps. 147:11).
Hezekiah was a king who trusted in God, except for the last two sections of his life. For the most part, he was a very godly king who did what was right. I think much of the reason for God’s glowing report of this man has to do with a very obscure reference to Hezekiah smack-dab in the middle of the book of Jeremiah, “Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them (Jer. 26:19).
Hezekiah feared the Lord. Yes, there were times that he got off course, but in the end, he always came back to this plumbline of truth. And my friend, as you continue to name your fears, take actions to remove fear from your life, and apply God’s antidotes to fear, you will be like Hezekiah: learning to walk in the fear of the Lord. So we close with principle #5: A trusting person fears the Lord rather than giving way to fleshly fear.
I cannot imagine a better kind of living, a more sure way of trusting, a more faithful way of walking, when the storm clouds begin to gather. Learn to fear the Lord, my friend; learn the fear of the Lord.