As I was on my walk today, I was pondering all that is going on in the world recently, and I just saw fear as the overwhelming factor. You can see it in people’s eyes as you pass them in the grocery store or on the street. You can just feel it in the air. It clings to the fabric of everyday life, just as the scent of your perfume clings to your skin. It permeates the air around us.
Those thoughts brought me to Isaiah 8:11-13, which reads: For thus Adonai spoke to me, with a strong hand, warning me that I should not walk in the way of these people, saying: Do not say: ‘It’s a conspiracy!’ about everything that these people call a conspiracy. You must not fear or tremble at what they fear. Adonai-Tzva’ot, Him will you sanctify, and let Him be your fear, trembling at Him.”
For years, I’ve read verse 12 and thought that it was a warning not to fall into conspiracy theories, as in “going down the rabbit hole.” And, yes, while there’s something to be said about that, that we must be careful in what we believe, we also must stay alert the truth and not allow ourselves to be fooled by the many conspiracies and lies that are taking place. But, you see, there is a fine line between awareness and obsession. It is vitally important not to allow these issues to pull us in too deep. However, I just felt that there was more to this verse than originally meets the eye and decided to dig a little deeper into it.
First off, we need to be aware of what time period these verses were penned, and by who and to whom the instructions are being given. So, since this is in the book of Isaiah, we can glean that it is the prophet Isaiah speaking these words. His comments are being directed specifically to the kingdom of Judah, with King Ahaz on the throne. A man said to be one of the most evil kings this kingdom had ever experienced. Isaiah’s words were given to him straight from God Himself, since He had previously sent prophet after prophet to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways and they refused to heed any of these warnings. So now, instead of a warning, God is sending a discourse to His people. He is relaying to them, through His chosen prophet, what the recourse to their actions is going to be. Consistently throughout the Bible we see God’s mercy being offered, but when it is repeatedly refused, His judgement must be meted out. Although our God is long-suffering, we must also keep in mind that He is a just God and He cannot continue to look upon sin.
In looking on this piece of scripture in a future light, Matthew Henry reveals: “but rich provision is made of comfort for those that feared God in those dark times, referring especially to the days of the Messiah.” This here demonstrates that God always keeps a remnant of true followers unto Himself, those who refuse to follow the evil they live amongst. This was true in the time of Isaiah, then during the time of Christ, and it remains still true today.
To place the backdrop to this situation, the northern kingdom of Israel had made an alliance with Syria against Assyria, which the king of the southern kingdom of Judah refused to join, out of pure stubbornness. This lead to their attack and ultimate destruction from all sides.*
Verse 11 is self-explanatory and can and should, be applied to us in the here and now. We have been forewarned in this verse to avoid walking in the ways of the world. Upon first read, we might be tempted to focus only on the inference of avoiding the evil acts we see around us, but it can also be viewed through the lens of fear. When people are not walking with God, they only have fleeting things to put their hope in, thus they tend to fall into the spirit of fear. We, as followers of Jesus, should be aware that this can, and does, happen to us as well if we’re not staying vigilant in keeping our focus on Jesus, and not on the world.
Even the best of us are prone to being frightened of the pending storm, since we are, after all, flesh and blood. But, what sets us apart from those who give into their fears? That would be the Spirit who lives within us. It is a life-long lesson we must learn, to walk in the spirit and not in the flesh, especially when we are surrounded by a pandemic of fear. We must remember that we are not common people, we have been selected, chosen by God, and He promises to care for those He chooses. We may live amongst a common people, but we ourselves are not common. We have been set aside and thus we need not walk in the ways of other people. Only God can instruct our hearts and He knows how deep the corruption flows, even in the hearts of a good man or woman. This means He must use a strong hand with us. Although this may hurt, we know it is always for our good.
As we turn to verse 12, we see that God is warning against sinful fear. Remember that fear is a natural response in those who have no hope and cling to their own ways. And living amongst this fear, it is easy for a believer to be swayed by these feelings since fear is a disease that is highly contagious. But, as David penned in Psalm 71:5, “For you are my hope, Lord GOD; My confidence from my youth“. Since we know the God of hope, we are told, by the very same God, not to fear; for only those who do not know Him do not have hope and fittingly fall into an attitude of fear.
You see, without the light of Jesus to us, we too would easily take their own misguided actions to protect ourselves from all that appears to be coming against us. This is precisely why we see this pandemic of fear in the world, because the world refuses the only hope there truly is.
Let us strive to be Christ-like, let us strive to be different
How is fear a sin, you might ask? Well, to start, we are told what the two greatest commandments are, to: 1) love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Combine this scripture with 1 Corinthians 13:13: But now faith, hope, and love remain — these three. The greatest of these is love and we can now see the great import placed on love. If we are to be a walking, talking, living example of God, we must be exhibiting the love of God in all we do, and if we’re doing this, we are told in 1 John 4:18 that: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love.” We have just proven that fear and love cannot coexist, and if we have fear, than we are not living fully in love.
The world is watching us, as believers, and we need to be demonstrating love instead of fear. Otherwise, why would they long to know God if all they see in Christianaty is the same fear that they feel? We have to demonstrate that it is much different living as a Christian than living as a non-Christian. This is our duty, this is our commission, for we cannot win souls to Jesus without being different, just as he was. Let us be different!!
You must not fear or tremble at what they fear.
*this is merely a very short synopsis of the Syro-Ephraimite war. It was obviously a much more complicated issue than described, but for purposes of this blog, this is all that needed to be mentioned.