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Fearful People Do Stupid Things

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.  

Proverbs 29:25


I don’t know what the bumper sticker meant. Maybe it was a reference to timid drivers. The ones who go 5 miles under on the freeway.  Those who hesitate then inch out at busy 4-way stops.  

I doubt it was directed at those who keep their life savings under the mattress, only to see it burn. Maybe, as my husband thought, it was a veiled political message. Don’t fall for the lying, fear mongering welfare reform will “throw-granny-over-a-cliff,” ads.

But the minute I pulled out behind the pick-up, my mind flew to two.

Two Bible-time kings prove the point. They happen to be Israel’s first and last. 

1. King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:14-39:7)

Judah’s last king sees the writing on the wall. So he sends for Jeremiah the prophet, fresh out of the cistern. Tell me what’s coming, he begs. Assured the king won’t kill the messenger, Jeremiah delivers:

Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared, and the city will not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 

But if you do not surrender then the city will be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire and you shall not escape from their hands.  

King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.” (Jeremiah 38:17-19)

At least he was honest.  Zedekiah admitted fear of his countrymen. No paralyzing fear of the barbarous Babylonians. Fear of the mocking cruelty of his fellow Jews; that they’d laugh at him. Give him the old, Told you so. He’d opposed their surrender before. They’d mock him to scorn if he surrendered now.

Matthew Henry asks, If he should be taunted a little by the Jews, could he not make light of it? What harm would it do him? Those have very weak and fretful spirits indeed that cannot bear to be laughed at for that which is both their duty and interest. 

What would you have done?  What do you do when you realize you’re wrong?  

Do you swallow your pride, and eat your words? Fear the God who hates haughty hearts and lying tongues? Or do you double down, afraid you’ll be mocked? Surrender to the marauding Babylonians? Or hightail it outta Dodge?

Wrong fear reigned and he did a stupid thing. Zedekiah fled. Fear of his fellow man trumped the fear that Jeremiah’s sure word of the Lord should have invoked. Matthew Henry again: He thought it would be looked upon as a piece of cowardice to surrender; whereas it would be really an instance of true courage cheerfully to bear a less evil, the mocking of the Jews, for the avoiding of a greater, the ruin of his family and kingdom. 

Alas, when when Zedekiah and his soldiers saw the officials of the kings of Bablyon, with very scary sounding names like Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, and Sar-sekim the Rab-sans, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden…

And, as Jeremiah foretold, it didn’t go well for this fearful man, doing this stupid thing.

But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon…and he passed sentence on him.  The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and he slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39:6-7)

The parallel account of Judah’s fall in Chronicles is sadder still. The Chronicler paints a tragic, sweeping picture of Israel’s demise. It’s so sad because the stupidity of trusting man and ignoring God is so stark. Note the contrast: Who has compassion? Who has no compassion? 

The LORD, the God of their fathers sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (Jeremiah 36:15-16)

God, a loving father warning consequences, threatening punishment. Over and over he warned Israel, Zedekiah. Finally, time was up and there was no remedy for his people. Their misplaced fear was their demise.

Therefore he brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed the young men with the sword…and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. (Jeremiah 36:17)

Don’t be stupid! he warns. Don’t fear man; fear your loving Lord.  Did you see the stupidity of ignoring a God who has compassion on his people and trusting- cowtowing- to a king with no compassion?  

The contrast between Zedekiah and David is glaring. Late in his reign, David counted his kingdom. It was a grave mistake and he knew it. Confronted by the prophet Gad with a choice of three punishments his choice was clear:

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress.  Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)


2. King Saul (1 Samuel 15)

Israel’s first king also had a bad case of misplaced fear. Rather than fear and obey the One who had raised and anointed him to be head of Israel, he feared the people. 

Samuel gave Saul explicit directions.  When you strike Amalek, Samuel had instructed, do not spare them. Devote all they have to destruction.  But Saul and the people spared Agag, their king, and the best of the sheep and cattle-all that was good.  But all that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:9)

This selective sparing prompted Samuel’s, to obey is better than to sacrifice, rebuke. Sober and grim it ends.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you from being king.

Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:23b-24)

John Piper deals with Saul’s misplaced fear in his sermon, The Pleasure of God in Obedience.

Why did Saul obey the people instead of God? Because he feared the people instead of God. He feared the human consequences of obedience more than he feared the divine consequences of sin. He feared the displeasure of the people more than the displeasure of God. And that is a great insult to God. Samuel had said twice to Saul and the people in 12:14 and 24, “Fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” But now the leader himself has feared man and turned away from following God (1 Samuel 15:11).

Oh, for this holy, God-exalting fear!

Not the slavish fear of God that mistrusts him, recoils at his majesty. Perfect love casts that fear out. Not apprehensive fear that the shoe is about to drop; that sickness or sorrow will inevitably overwhelm. Fear not for I am with you. Definitely not fear that His love will fail and run out.

And yes, fearless people do stupid things, too. Just google “stupid stunts.”

But it’s all about WHO you fear. As Jesus sent his sheep out among the world’s wolves, he warned them to be wise. Not to misplace their fear.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. 
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 
Matthew 10:28

Fear him, because he loves his own. They will never perish, His sheep, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.