Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty 1863, Brooklyn Museum
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.
Some would be slaves.
They would fight for the right. They would weep to return; and faithless forget the horrors. For fear of the unknown or to keep peace at home, they would stay enslaved.
A line in Lincoln’s “Speech to an Indiana Regiment” launched this post. In the speech, he addressed the baffling matter of slaves who would fight for the Confederacy.
Fellow Citizens…I may incidentally remark, however, that having, in my life, heard many arguments, — or strings of words meant to pass forarguments, — intended to show that this negro ought to be a slave, that if he shall now really fight to keep himself a slave, it will be a far better argument why should remain a slave than I have ever before heard– He, perhaps, ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it…[March 17, 1865]
Then I read the book of Numbers. The Israelites were about a year out of Egypt, and already they would return:
And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (11:4-5).
Why is the LORD bringing us into this and, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to EGYPT? And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt”(14:2b,5).
Why would a freed slave fight for the Rebels? Why would he return to Egypt? Why would we turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves we want to be once more? Surely not to let our stomachs and screens play god? Or to let lust and greed rule; to allow pride or pity to throw parties? Why would we possibly be slaves to the world’s weak and worthless ways?
Scripture offers (at least) these three reasons: 1. We choose slavery to sin because sin just feels good. For a second at least. We choose “to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,” (Hebrews 11:25) because killing sin hurts and ice cream tastes good. Zipping our lips to blame and complaint is hard, and it’s not easy to open them to forgive and repent. Gossip rolls of the tongue, anger flies, and impatience and envy are so…comfortable. Status quo needs no fight. Natural need not deny the flesh. 2. We choose slavery to sin because we have selective memory. We are faithless enough to think only of the “free fish and garlic,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” We choose to remember short-term security over the deadly wages of sin. We remember the pleasure, but forget to remember the bricks and the straw, the whips and the welts. We forget God’s provision in the past and ignore his promise to prosper. 3. We choose slavery to sin because we fear. Slaves, at least, know stability. Leaving Old Masters brings fear of unknown places, but also sworn enemies. When Jesus said, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he wasn’t talking about peace in our time. His mind was on the kingdom that the violent take by force. We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear (Romans 8:13-14a). But of little faith, we fear much. But we would be slaves. Like Old Testament slaves, we have a choice in our service. He could choose to stay forever with a master he loved. “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (Exodus 21:5-6). But Slaves-R-Us, whether to sin which leads to death or obedience which leads to righteousness. But this kind is not forced on us against our will. Either we see a) the pleasures of sin or b) the beauty of righteousness as more appealing.
I think we will opt for b) if we:
Remember right: the fruit we’ll will get (Romans 6:22), not the fruit we got.
Wage war against the flesh: stop keeping the peace with our eyes and ears, our tongues and hands and feet (Romans 8:13).
Fear not, for our Master goes before us (Numbers 14:9).
Like Lincoln said, “Perhaps he ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it.” And so, with the best of Masters, we press on in the good fight. Since we would be slaves.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:16-18
Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
There’s fear and then there’s fear.
Mom learned to swim when I did. She was in her thirty-one. I was six. Great was my puzzlement when I spotted my strong, capable mom clinging to the edge of the pool, face hovering over the surface of the shallow. Oh sure, I had butterflies when I first flopped off the high dive. But Mom–she was afraid to splash her face.
I learned more about the irrational fear since our mother-daughter lessons at the YWCA. Like how her own mother was terrified by water. Grandma wouldn’t even take her shoes off at the beach, if she’d even consent to go. Mom described how fear nearly came between her and Dad. Early in their courting, Dad took her to Mill Pond. It was all she could do to wade in to her ankles.
A little boogie boarding incident in Maui comes to mind, too. We’re not thrill seekers, not daredevils, Jim and I. We couldn’t surf to save our lives. But the allure of a white sand beach on a sunny Saturday morning is stronger than a Siren’s song.
Maui’s Ho’okipa Beach Park is world renown for surfing. We’d stowed the boogie boards from our condo closets and voila! It just so happened that some family friends were picnicking on the white sand beach. And that’s how we Wisconsinites got a free surfing lesson in the mighty Pacific.
So, tether your strap to your wrist first. Then lie down with your belly on the board and then paddle out where the waves are breaking. Once you find the wave you want to ride, kick and paddle hard ahead of it, until you catch the wave!
Oh, and if you get stuck under one, don’t panic. Just hold your breath and you’ll come out of it. Just keep your wrist strap on, whatever happens.
Fear of wave power had us tethered up before we were off the beach. Then we flopped ourselves down on the squat, foam boards and paddled out. With fearful trembling, and joyful hope, behind our surfer-dude guide.
Here are four key questions and answers about draw-near fear:
1. What is the right fear of God?
A loving, drawing reverence you feel in the presence of great power. Right fear draws us near God. Wrong fear drives us from Him. It’s plunging into the Maui’s north shore well-instructed, tethered to your board. It’s not a paralyzing dread that keeps your face out of the YWCA pool.
It’s walking near the big loping dog that’s running at you, barking. It’s not high-tailing it away from the beast, chirping, Go home, go home, go home. I know. I tried it and the German Shepherd had my hamstring for lunch. I was afraid to get close.
Now I’m afraid not to. I don’t run from big dogs anymore. I still fear them running at me. But my fear holds me fast; it doesn’t scare me away.
John Piper explains how this right fear of God draws us near Him:
If you are running from God because you are afraid of him, then you are not yet as afraid as you ought to be. In fact, your very flight is a mockery of God, presuming to think that you could outrun this German shepherd. If you really fear him and love your own life, stop running, turn around, and hug his neck for dear life, and he will lick your face.
The fear of the Lord is fear of fleeing out of his fellowship into the way of sin. Therefore the fear of the Lord is full of peace and security and hope. It keeps us near to the merciful heart of God, our fortress, our refuge, our sanctuary, our shield, our sun. Isaiah 8:13 says, “The Lord of Hosts, . . . let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, and he will become a sanctuary.” A proper fear of the Lord keeps us under the shadow of his wings where we need not be afraid.
It’s true for big dogs and big waves. How much more with Almighty God!
2. What benefits come to those who fear the LORD?
Big, bountiful blessings. Here are ten to whet your appetite for this blessed fear:
God will confide in him. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Ps. 25:14
God will instruct him. Who, then, are those who feartheLord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. Ps. 25:12
God will watch over him. The angel of theLord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Ps. 34:7
God will have compassion on him. As a father has compassion on his children, so theLord has compassion on those who fear him; Ps. 103:1
God will give him wisdom. The fear of theLord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov. 1:7, Prov. 10:27, 14:25
God will keep him safe from snares. The fear of theLord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death. Prov. 14:27
God will grant him prosperity. Humility is thefear of theLord; its wages are riches and honor and life. Prov. 22:4
God will endorse her praise. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Prov. 31:30
God will hear him. Then those who feared theLord talked with each other, and theLord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written concerning those who feared theLord and honored his name. Mal. 3:16
God will be his sure foundation. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; thefear of theLord is the key to this treasure. Is 33:6
3. Can this draw-near fear be learned?
By knowing God better. By reading his Word. And obeying.
Deuteronomy 4:10 says,
Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and that they may teach their children so.
And Deuteronomy 17:19 says,
And [the king] shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and doing them.
Jim chuckles, shakes his head whenever he recounts our Maui adventure. Barnies on foamies were we. He-atop the Pipeline; I-beneath-inside the monster wave.
Inside I held my breath, lungs beginning the burn; the strap still secure around my wrist. Finally, I burst into glorious light. And then my eyes set on Jim; gripping his board, and craning. What a grin, then, when our eyes met.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
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. Letmefallintothehandsof theLord, for his mercy is very great; but do not letmefallinto 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)
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 fearout. 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.
Anddo not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear himwho can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Fear him, because he loves his own. They will never perish, His sheep, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.
“No, Mom, no! I’m don’t want to. I’m too scared. No! Please, no!”
Waterpark guests glanced our way. Some smiled. Lifeguards looked. I persisted.
His 4-year old cousin loved the slide and his six-year old brother was a frequent flyer. Gabe would try it once. Screaming and squirming he was trapped in my maternal hold.
I know you’ll love it Gabe. It’s not scary. It’s really fun.
Gabe persisted public, loud, wriggling hard to get free.
No, Mom. I’m too scared. It’s too dark (not true) and too steep (not true) and the slide goes outside (true-but not scary). Pleeeease, no!”
For a split second I reconsidered. Then I saw his goggled grinning face emerging from the chute and on toward the stairway we strode.
By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, ahead of his mouth. I lowered Gabe, holding firm to his hand to prevent retreat and we made our way to the next landing to the tune of “Why Mom? It’s too scary.”
Finally, 112 stairs up with double blue tube in tow, we hit the summit. Relentless, omniscient mom and reluctant, scared-to-death son.
Gabe’s last stand at the sight of the tube was pitiful. Then I set him square on the first circle, and held him tight.
No, Mom, please, no.
You’ll be back a dozen more times, assured the grinning teen who pushed us off.
* * * * *
There we were. Together on our tube. Gracefully, silently sliding through the fat green tube, awash in mid-morning sunshine.
No more was he screaming fear. Gabe was broadcasting joy. The second the tube hit the water, he said the words I knew he would,
That was so fun. Let’s go again-ten times!
And in the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe did enjoy ten runs down the once feared, dreaded and very scary green slide.
* * * * *
And from our first run down the green chute to our last breath on God’s green earth, our loving Lord holds our hand and walks us through.
For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is on the Holy One of Israel.
-Written in memory of my dear, fearless Uncle Kevin. God took hold of his hand and walked Uncle Kev home Sunday, February 19th, 2012. Now in four years since, I’ve seen Him hold his family, too.