Fear is a terrible sin in the Lord’s eyes for at least two reasons. First, it is blasphemous: to fear is to avow that God is not or cannot be faithful to His manifold promises to us. In other words, to fear is to call God a liar. Second, fear drives men to desperate acts that prove to be foolish and fatal.
King Saul offers a clear example of the consequences of sinful fear. The Philistines had gathered to do battle against Israel. Saul and his army waited for Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, to arrive to offer a burnt offering to the Lord, and consecrate the army for battle. When Samuel had not arrived by the appointed time, Saul grew worried and took upon himself the role belonging solely to the prophet. No sooner had Saul completed the sacrifice than Samuel arrived. “But Samuel said, ‘What have you done?’ And Saul said, ‘Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash . . . I forced myself and offered the burnt offering’” (I Sam. 13:11, 12b). Saul allowed fear to coerce him into acting in a manner that brought God’s judgment on him. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure’” (vv. 13, 14a). One fear-induced blasphemous act cost Saul his kingdom, his blessing, and finally, his life. Fear had taken hold of him so that he could not regard Samuel’s words from just two years earlier when he had reminded Israel of “all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did” for Israel and their fathers (12:7), and of how, time after time, the Lord had delivered them from their enemies. “Do not fear,” Samuel assured, “For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name” (12:20a, 22a). But Saul feared, behaved foolishly, and fell.
There is good fear, however. In contrast with King Saul, King Jehoshaphat of Judah faced a foreign invasion, and though he first feared the enemy, he feared the Lord more. Faced with the frightening prospect of annihilation, Jehoshaphat placed his reverential trust in the One who could save: “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the Lord ((II Chron. 20:3, 4a). Saul had feared circumstances, and the people were scattered from him; Jehoshaphat, though initially afraid, placed his trust in the Lord, feared to go against God’s blessed will, and the people “gathered together” (v. 4) with him to seek the Lord. Saul said: “I saw . . . I forced myself.” But Jehoshaphat said: “O Lord, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? we are powerless . . . nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (II Chron. 20:6a, 7). Let no one think that the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Fear prompted Saul to help himself—right out of the will and approbation of God. Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, admitting no ability, refused to “help himself” and fled to the Lord. Do you think the Lord disdained this man? Listen to His response: “Listen . . . Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (v. 15). And the next day when Judah went out to face their foes, they discovered that the Moabites and Ammonites had attacked and killed each other. Judah’s only task was to pick up the spoils for three days.
There is a fear that leads inevitably to foolishness and failure. But there is also a fear that leads to freedom and feasting. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Pro. 1:7a). Here is wisdom: fear anything but the revealed will of God in your life. To have His will is to know His blessing. And to know His blessing is to love Him. And to love Him is to be fearless, for “There is no fear in love; because perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:8a). Who, knowing God’s love for us, could fear? Could He who loved us and gave Himself for us, could He who only does wonderful things, could He who makes everything work together for our good, could He who said that even our trials are more precious than gold, could He who is able to keep us from falling and to present us before the throne of His glory—could He bring anything or permit anything to come into our lives that we should fear? No! Amen.
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