At one level, fear is healthy. ‘Fear’ is an emotion induced by a perceived threat. It is a natural human emotion. It is God-given. It is a basic survival mechanism. It keeps us alive. It protects us from danger.
However, there is also such a thing as unhealthy fear. The Greek word commonly used in the New Testament is phobos – from which we get the word ‘phobia’. This is unhealthy fear. It is disproportionate to the danger posed. It is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. It is when I catastrophise – overestimating the danger and underestimating my ability to cope.
Common phobias include fears in relation to health, finances, failure, growing old, death, loneliness, rejection, messing up, public speaking, flying, heights, snakes and spiders. They also include things such as, what is now called, FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out, the fear of not being special.
In my own life, I have experienced many fears – from a fear of heights to panic attacks and other irrational fears, fears about preaching and a fear of doing anything that might bring dishonour to the name of Jesus.
Whereas the Spirit of God does not produce negative fear, there is a kind of healthy fear – the fear of God. This does not mean being frightened of God. In fact, it means the opposite. It is an understanding of who God is in relation to us. It means respect, reverence, awe, honour, adoration and worship; it could even be translated as love for God. It recognises the power, majesty and holiness of God Almighty. It leads to a healthy respect of God and is the antidote to all other fears and phobias we experience in life. Fear God and you need not fear anything else or anyone else.
It is no coincidence that as the fear of God has decreased in our society, all the other fears have increased. We need to return to a right relationship with God.
The expression ‘do not be afraid’ is one of the most frequent commands in the Bible. Four of the occurrences are in our passages for today.
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you —
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
No fear of harm
This passage gives you the key to avoiding ‘terror and panic’ (v.26, AMP) and living ‘without fear or dread of evil’ (v.33, AMP).
The idea of the ‘Fear of the Lord’ is one of the key themes of Proverbs and appears twenty-one times throughout the book. It is a choice that you make. If you are wise, you will ‘choose to fear the Lord’ (v.29) and ‘listen’ to him. He promises that you ‘will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm’ (v.33).
Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs (v.20). As we read it through the lens of the New Testament, we know that it is Jesus who is ‘the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24)
This passage (Proverbs 1:20–32) is a warning against ignoring the Lord’s voice and following a path of ‘waywardness’ and ‘complacency’ (v.32).
Instead, choose to fear God, listen to him and repent when he corrects you. If you do, God will reveal to you more than you could ever imagine. ‘I [Wisdom] will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make my words known to you’ (v.23a, AMP). He will reveal to you the hidden treasures of wisdom in his words. Choose this fear of God and you will be ‘in good hands’ (v.33, MSG) and can be free from the fear of harm.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
No fear of people
Three times in this passage Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid’ (vv.26,28,31).
The context is Jesus sending out his disciples to preach the gospel and heal the sick. The moment Jesus calls his twelve disciples, he sends them out on mission (theological training should be intensely practical!).
He sends them (and us) to follow his example:
- To proclaim: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near (v.7)
- To demonstrate: ‘Heal the sick’ (v.8)
As Jesus sends us out, he warns us that we will face a lot of opposition: ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves’ (10:16a). We will need pure wisdom (‘be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’, v.16b).
We may be opposed by ‘local councils’ (v.17), face hatred (v.22), be persecuted (v.23) and be called demonic (v.25). It is in this context that Jesus says three times, ‘Do not be afraid’ (vv.26,28,31).
Do not be afraid about what to say
Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid of them’ (v.26). You do not need to be afraid of other people, however powerful they may be (for example local councils, governors and kings, vv.17–18): ‘Without knowing it, they’ve done you – and me – a favour, giving you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words’ (vv.17–18, MSG).
Do not be afraid of what others will do to you
Jesus says that rather than fearing those who can ‘kill the body but cannot kill the soul’, you should fear God, ‘who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (v.28). Have a healthy respect for an all-powerful, as well as all-loving God. ‘Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hands’ (v.28, MSG).
Do not be afraid of what will happen to you
Jesus says that if you fear God, you need fear no one and nothing else. God is in ultimate control: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father’ (v.29). Not only is he in control but he also loves you deeply: ‘Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, then; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (vv.30–31, AMP). Jesus cares about what happens to you even more than you do (v.30, MSG).
The Death of Abraham
25 Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. 3 Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
5 Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.
12 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham.
13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.
Jacob and Esau
19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
23 The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger. ”
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright. ”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Isaac and Abimelek
26 Now there was a famine in the land —besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions. ” 6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar.
7 When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister, ” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”
8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? ”
Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”
10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”
11 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
12 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. 13 The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.
16 Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us. ”
17 So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”
23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.
26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away? ”
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”
30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.
32 That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” 33 He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.
Jacob Takes Esau’s Blessing
34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
No fear of death
Life is never easy. It was not easy for Isaac. Among other difficulties, he waited twenty years for the birth of a child (25:20–26). Then there was sibling rivalry when the twins were born. He lived amongst hostile Philistines and one of his sons became a ‘source of grief’ (26:35), ‘thorns in the side of Isaac and Rebekah’ (v.35, MSG).
Isaac committed the very same sin as his father – trying to pass off his wife as his sister (vv.7–11). However, it seems that Isaac did learn from some of his father’s mistakes. When Rebekah was unable to have a baby – unlike Abraham’s disastrous attempt to solve things himself through his relationship with Hagar – Isaac’s response was to pray to God for a miracle (25:21).
The Lord had appeared to Isaac and promised, ‘I will be with you and will bless you... Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed’ (26:3–4).
Nevertheless, Isaac was afraid. He feared that he might die: ‘The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful… I thought I might lose my life on account of her’ (vv.7,9b).
God said to Isaac, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ (v.24). Isaac feared people more than he feared God, and yet he is reminded that he need not fear others because God is with him. Remember the same truth when you are tempted to fear: God is with you. If God is with you, you need not be afraid of anyone or anything.
In spite of Isaac’s fear of others, God blessed him. God says, ‘I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants…’ (v.24). God’s blessing meant growth, reaping many times over. This is what he wants for your life too.
‘Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up’ (v.18). (Perhaps the equivalent for us is to reopen churches that have been closed to be a source of living water!) When Isaac met opposition and was stopped, he moved on until he found another well he could reopen. In this way, the Lord gave him room to flourish (v.22).
None of this is easy, but remember what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ (v.24).
There does seem to be a huge difference between how Isaac and Esau chose a wife. For Isaac, so many prayers and guiding signs went into finding this woman of faith, whereas Esau seems to have chosen unwisely. And it was ‘a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah’.
It is so important to choose the right husband or wife and to pray for ourselves, for our children, for the children yet to be born, for our friends, colleagues... that God would lead them to the right person and that they would make great marriages of faith.
Verse of the Day
‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you.’
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Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.