Moses said to the Israelites:
“You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.” (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV)
Yet being in dread of the Canaanites is exactly what the Israelites had experienced. They allowed their fear to overwhelm their faith. They had ample evidence that their fear was unfounded and ample evidence that faith in God was a logical response, but they were still plagued by fear.
We might like to think that if we were in that desert and had seen the things that God had done through Moses that we would have responded differently. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I am typical of Christendom, then I think that we would have responded the same way the Israelites responded. Two thousand years of church history seems to back me up on this.
For example, too much of the political speech within Christian circles seems driven by fear that if a certain party comes to power or a certain person gets elected, that life as we know it will end. Which party is vilified is dependent upon the philosophical underpinnings of that particular group within Christendom. But at times it seems that fear bordering on panic sets in. It is almost like we think that God is control of the world on every day other than the first Tuesday in November (election day in the United States).
We can give in to fear about the economic stability of our country. We can worry about healthcare and retirement and . . .” The list of things that can cause fear is seemingly inexhaustible. As a result of the fall, the world is indeed a dangerous place.
We have to operate with the knowledge that God remains in control at all times and he is good and he is fair.
That being said, there is one difficulty I should acknowledge. Sometimes God allows people to suffer and this scares me. I suppose that only a madman would look forward to suffering with anything other than dread. But I also have to suppose that if God calls me to suffer, he will give me the grace to suffer well. Yet just thinking about suffering can be a source of fear. Our culture is becoming less tolerant of anyone who claims allegiance to Jesus Christ. Given the current trajectory of sentiment against Christianity, it is not hard to imagine that real persecution might take place.
Like the Israelites with the Canaanites, I can be in dread of what my circumstances will bring to me. The dread can come despite the testimony of many that God is faithful and will not cease to uphold those who rely on him.
I should be comforted by Paul’s words at the end of Romans 8:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)
Jesus also promised to be with me “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Let us not forget that “you shall not be in dread of them” is a command. The command demands a choice to obey or disobey. Fear may come, but I have to choose to give in to it or to trust God.
But sometimes I choose badly and respond in fear. This always goes wrong and the only proper response is to repent and choose to trust.
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