fear

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Today’s Bible reading passages are Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, Psalm 86

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, and Psalm 86.

This devotional is about Proverbs 14:2, 16, 26, 27.

Fear is feeling that motivates people to act in ways that other things do not. You may love America, for example, but I’ll bet you pay your taxes more because you fear being prosecuted than because you love America. These verses are linked by the concept of the “fear of the Lord.” The first two of them describes about how the fear of the Lord motivates people to do what is right:

14:2: “Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly....” 14:16: “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil....”

We often hear that “fearing the Lord” doesn’t mean being afraid of God but rather having a sense of “reverential awe” toward him. Reverential awe is good but there is more to fearing God than just being in awe of him. Someone who fears God is reverent because of who God is personally but a God-fearing person also respects his role as Lord and judge. Fearing God does not mean serving him because he’s angry and we’re terrified of being annihilated at any moment for doing or saying the wrong thing. It does mean, however, that we submit to his authority to make the rules and we obey the rules because we believe in him and all that he is, including that he is just. Verses 2 and 16 tell us that this kind of proper fear of the Lord causes someone to do right (“walks uprightly”) and avoid doing wrong (“shun evil”). These are the consequences when someone fears God.

Verses 26 and 27 show us, however, that fearing God is not negative at all; it is positive. Verse 26 says that fearing the Lord provides a person with “a secure fortress” and verse 27 says that it “is a fountain of life.” When you believe in God as the Bible presents him, it brings security (v. 26) and blessings such as joy and purpose to your life (v. 27). Why is that true? Because sin is dangerous! Verse 27 says that the fear of the Lord turns “a person from the snares of death.” Sin kills but fearing God will help you avoid it.

We need God’s grace to fear him and to live obediently because we fear him. That means extending grace, of course, to others who truly fear God but still give into the desires of the sinful nature within. But, please understand, we do ourselves and our loved ones no favors at all when we act like sin is no big deal because God’s grace in Christ covers it all anyway. Sin is a big deal! The wages of it “is death” (Rom 6:23). When we rebuke someone who is sinning because we fear God, we are not trying to cut them down personally; we’re trying to save them from the destructive effects of sin. If you’ve ever had a loving friend step in and help you avoid or extricate yourself from sin, you know what a blessing that is. Until we are fully redeemed by God (at death or Christ’s return), we are vulnerable to the deceptive lives of our sin nature, the world, and the devil. But if we fear God and his discipline in our lives, it will help us avoid sin and find the fountain of life Solomon described in v. 27.

Genesis 32, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today we’re reading Genesis 32, Esther 8, Psalm 31.

This devotional is about Psalm 31.

During the Gulf War (the one in the early 1990s), U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf held a famous press conference that made him into a celebrity. In that press conference, he showed a video of a car in Iraq crossing a bridge. Shortly after the car crossed the bridge, the bridge exploded from a bomb that U.S. forces dropped on it. Schwarzkopf referred to the driver of this car as “The luckiest man in Iraq” because he narrowly escaped a death he had no idea was coming.

If luck were real, David was one of the luckiest men who has ever lived. He escaped death time and again--both in general when he went to battle and specifically when he was targeted by Saul and others. Here in Psalm 31 (as in other Psalms), we see past the brave warrior into the heart of this king. The dangers he faced were as stressful to him as they would be to any one of us (vv. 9-10). He dealt with these stresses by turning to God in prayer, pouring his heart out honestly to the almighty about his fears and pleading with God to be his “rock of refuge” his “strong fortress” (v. 2) and to deliver him (v. 1).

Because of the covenant God had made with David, God did deliver him over and over again. Although he was a skilled, prepared warrior, David’s success in battle and his longevity in life were more a matter of God’s protection and God’s will than anything else. David knew this, too. When he asked for God’s help and protection “for the sake of your name” (v. 3b) he was referencing the promises God had made to Israel and to him personally for Israel.

Even as he called on God for help, David knew that his days were determined by the sovereign will of God. When he wrote, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15a), he was humbly submitting to what God had determined for him. If God were to let him die in battle, that is his right as Lord. Yet David was not deterministic about it. Recognizing that God had already decreed when and how he would die did not prevent David from asking God to “... deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (v. 15b-c). He was bold in asking for God’s help and giving God reasons why he should help; yet he was humble and submitted to whatever the Lord had willed.

Until Christ returns, death is a reality for each of us. People we love will die and someday, so will we. Fearing death (and other things in life) is natural. Crying out to God and looking to him for help and deliverance honors him in those moments. So does recognizing that your time and mine will come when God wills. These are all expressions of faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith asking God for help when we are afraid as well as trusting his will when the time comes for us to go. We don’t need luck to protect us. Faith in our God is a much better defense.

VIDEO: The Luckiest Man in Iraq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AjCAuYkrgA

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Psalm 19

Today, read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, and Psalm 19.

This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here. But this was equally stupid both times. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.... say you are my sister.” If they were merely brother and sister, then this beautiful woman would be single and available for anyone who wanted her. Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this--knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men? The answer--in both cases--was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11). So he just lied and made Sarah available. This was unloving to her and unbelievable in that Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his men were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises. We make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises to Abraham that he would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow the consequences of Abraham’s foolish actions to happen.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Psalms 57-59

Happy Mother’s Day! Today we’re scheduled to read Psalms 57-59.

In today’s Psalms we see clearly that David suffered from fear. Although he was a mighty warrior who bravely faced Israel’s enemies, he continually cried out to God for mercy and protection from them (for example, 57:1-2).

We don’t face physical enemies and armies as David did, but there are many times in life when we struggle with fear. Let these Psalms give you comfort when you are afraid; pray these words aloud to the Lord, telling him how much you need him and how you are trusting him through the trials and problems he allows into your life.

Also remember that David prayed and fought. He did not see his fighting as a contradiction to his praying. Instead, he trusted that God would use him as he fought the battles he faced and that his answers to prayer would come through his own sword and Israel’s armies. The lesson here is that wise human action is not incompatible with faith or with trusting God in prayer. So as you pray for God’s comfort and help with the problems in your life, be diligent about addressing those problems in how you act because you believe that the Lord will help you through them.