In Scripture, fear is more than feeling terrified. The fear of man certainly includes that, but it also means revering people, needing them, or valuing their opinion so much that our decisions end up being controlled by them. We obey what we fear.
They were trapped. On one side a massive Egyptian army coming after them, on the other side the Red Sea. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, had just left Egypt, but now it seemed their doom was sure.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly…They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”” (Exod. 14:10–12).
It’s not hard to relate to the Israelites here. As I write this, millions of people around the world are locked down in quarantine from the coronavirus. Many feel trapped: the threat of sickness, economic hardship, loneliness and uncertainty about tomorrow – it’s a recipe for fear. We all have Red Sea moments and would prefer to avoid them if we could. When we read through the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the exit came with a dramatic display of 10 plagues: blood, frogs, flies, gnats, livestock die, and boils. Now God could’ve wiped out the Egyptians with one word. Why the plagues? What’s God up to? Before the seventh plague of hail, God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh, “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod. 9:16).
When Moses came to Pharaoh with the news it was time for him to let God’s people go, Egypt’s pompous ruler asked, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD” (Exod. 5:2). In his hubris, Pharaoh thought little of God, but the Exodus narrative shows how foolish he was to ignore the LORD. After Moses warned a seventh plague of hail was coming, he added a merciful warning to shelter man and beast lest they be killed. Their response? “Whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses” (Exod. 9:20). Those who feared God, obeyed what He commanded.
In Scripture, fear is more than feeling terrified. The fear of man certainly includes that, but it also means revering people, needing them, or valuing their opinion so much that our decisions end up being controlled by them. We obey what we fear. We fear failure, over commit, get defensive, avoid risks, compare, envy, or twist the truth often because of what others will think of us.