We live in a fear-inducing world: terrorist attacks, life-threatening diseases, government oppression, natural disasters, economic recession, skyrocketing healthcare costs, sudden unemployment, and even death are part of our world.
The Washington Post reports that Americans fear public speaking more than anything else, followed closely by fear of heights. Other common phobias include fear of snakes, clowns, and drowning. The list goes on and on.
While many phobias seem irrational (nearly 10% of Americans fear zombies!), other things we fear seem entirely reasonable. Who doesn’t fear cancer or heart disease?
Friend, what do you fear today?
As we look at what God says about fear to Israel in the Old Testament, we’ll learn why we too should find comfort in God, even during times of great fear and apprehension.
What Did Israel Fear?
Through the prophet Isaiah, God told the Israelites that they shouldn’t be afraid.
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 NIV)
Why would God tell Israel to not be afraid?
Isaiah lived at a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. His prophetic ministry straddled what would be the single most important event in the nation’s history up until that time: the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Isaiah ministered in the southern kingdom of Israel, often referred to as Judah because this was the name of the largest tribe there. The Jews living in the southern kingdom were alarmed by what happened to their brothers in the north, and they feared the Assyrians would destroy them, too.
This was no hollow concern. Around 701 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked Judah, conquering all its cities except the capital Jerusalem. We read about this in Isaiah chapters 36-37. And while God miraculously delivered Jerusalem from Assyria’s hand, a new threat appeared from the east in the Babylonian empire (Isaiah 38). For Israel, there was plenty to fear during that time.
That is why, starting in chapter 40, Isaiah delivers words of comfort from God. He tells Israel not to fear and gives them four reasons why.
Four Reasons to Not Be Afraid
God doesn’t just say to Israel, “Do not fear.” He qualifies that command with, “For I am with you.” When someone says to you, “Don’t be afraid, I am with you,” it matters greatly who says those words. Words of comfort are only as good as the comforter.
In this section of Isaiah, God gives four descriptions of himself that prove his trustworthiness and give Israel reasons to not be afraid. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. God is powerful.
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:25-26 NIV)
God’s logic is fairly direct: if he was able to create heaven and earth, then he’s quite capable of delivering Israel from its calamity. Assyria and Babylon may be knocking at the door, but the Almighty Creator is by Israel’s side.
2. God knows the future.
Throughout these chapters in Isaiah, God consistently points out that he alone knows the future. This is powerfully contrasted with idolatry.
Tell us, you idols,
what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
so that we may consider them
and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
tell us what the future holds,
so we may know that you are gods. (Isaiah 41:22-23 NIV)
During this time in Israel’s history, the Jews were consistently tempted to follow the gods of the nations around them. This always was accompanied by idolatry, as the worship of these foreign gods was mediated through idols.
What value do idols hold in comparison to the God who created the universe? They’re the kind of deities that need to have precious metal fastened to their sides, while their feet are nailed down so they don’t topple over (Isaiah 41:7). They are blind, deaf, and dumb.
But God, who knows the future perfectly, has promised Israel deliverance. You either trust in the all-knowing God who has a plan and knows what is to come, or you trust in something else, something lesser that offers you no certainty of a hopeful future.
There’s only one true God. All others offer you nothing.
3. God has chosen Israel.
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, “You are my servant”;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you. (Isaiah 41:8-9 NIV)
Over and over again in these chapters, God reminds Israel that he has chosen them. They are special to him, a nation set apart. Israel should take comfort in knowing God has a special purpose for the nation. He will not turn his back on them. Whatever comes, their God will keep his promises and will not abandon them, so they need not fear.
4. God is a righteous Savior.
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me. (Isaiah 45:21 NIV)
When we say that God is righteous, we mean that he will judge justly; he will do what is right. In this case, because he has chosen Israel and promised to deliver them, he will do it.
From the above four points, we see that God tells Israel to not fear because of his character and his commitment to them. They must simply believe and trust in him. Twentieth-century Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers put it this way: “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” God was calling Israel to faith. Why should Israel fear an earthly king when God is the one who has promised to deliver them?
In Whom Do You Trust?
From these same chapters in Isaiah comes a promise about someone who would come in the future.
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
(Isaiah 42:5-7 NIV)
We know from the New Testament that this prophecy was fulfilled 700 years later in Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:15-21).
Today, God makes the same promises of Isaiah 41:10 to those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus echoed Isaiah 41:10. After his resurrection from the dead, and before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).
How could Jesus make such a claim?
Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), to save us not from a foreign army but from our sin. And because Jesus is God come in the flesh to us, we can also have faith in Jesus’ unchanging character (Hebrews 13:8).
God has the same wonderful character today as he did 2,700 years ago when he spoke “Fear not” to Isaiah and his people. He has proved that character by coming to us in the person of Jesus.
Despite the many things in our world that cause trepidation, we can have faith in God’s unchanging character.
What Do You Fear?
We all fear something. We all have access to the God who comforts us in our fears through his Son, Jesus.
Take your fears to God. Lay them at his feet and ask him to help you trust him with it. Why not pick up the Bible and read Isaiah 40-44? See how God encouraged Israel to trust him.
When you’re tempted to fear, remember that for everyone who has faith in Jesus, they need not be afraid because their God is the God, who is all-powerful, who knows what is to come, who has chosen you as his precious possession, and who has already proven himself a loving Savior in delivering you from your sin. That God, the God of the Bible, is on your side. Rest in him; he loves you.