Fear – Exodus, Part 3

The Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, stand before Pharaoh, and tell him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: “Release my people so that they may serve me!”’”[1]  This is the seventh plague on Egypt.  You are still exalting yourself against my people by not releasing them, the Lord continued.  I am going to cause very severe hail to rain down about this time tomorrow, such hail as has never occurred in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  So now, send instructions to gather your livestock and all your possessions in the fields to a safe place.  Every person or animal caught in the field and not brought into the house – the hail will come down on them, and they will die![2]

Those of Pharaoh’s servants who feared (yârêʼ)[3] the word of the Lord hurried to bring their servants and livestock into the houses, but those who did not take the word of the Lord seriously left their servants and their cattle in the field.[4]  The rabbis who translated the Septuagint used φοβούμενος (a form of φοβέω).[5]  Jesus told a parable about a judge who neither feared (φοβούμενος) God nor respected people.[6]  But even this judge could be persuaded by a widow’s persistenceI will give her justice, the judge said, or in the end she will wear me out by her unending pleas.[7]  But even after six other plagues happened as prophesied by Moses there were still those who did not take the word of the Lord seriously.  The rabbis used προσέσχεν[8] (hold to), they did not hold to the word of the Lord.

It caused me to consider that those who did not take the word of the Lord seriously were actually hardened.  The judge did not fear God but could be persuaded by his own inconvenience.  To lose one’s animals and slaves is a major inconvenience.  Six out of six plagues would seemingly convince one that the seventh was possible if not likely.  Reason alone would persuade one to take precautions at least at the time of day prophesied simply to avoid the greater inconvenience of losing everything.  But only those who feared the word of the Lord acted rationally.  It gave me the impression that the others believed (though did not fear) that the word was the Lord’s, and acted contrary to his word because it was his word.  They were hardened.

The hail struck everything in the open fields, both people and animals, throughout all the land of Egypt.  The hail struck everything that grows in the field, and it broke all the trees of the field to pieces.  Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, was there no hail.  So Pharaoh sent and summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I have sinned this time!  The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are guilty.  Pray to the Lord, for the mighty thunderings and hail are too much!  I will release you and you will stay no longer.”[9]

Moses promised to pray that the hail cease.  But as for you, He said to Pharaoh, and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear (yârêʼ) the Lord God.[10]  In the Septuagint the rabbis used πεφόβησθε,[11] (afraid).  This form was not used in the New Testament.

When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder ceased, he sinned again: both he and his servants hardened their hearts.  So Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not release the Israelites, as the Lord had predicted through Moses.[12]  Pharaoh certainly believed the word was the Lord’s as a fact, but he did not fear that word.  Here I begin to grasp the fear of the Lord as something that is combined with factual acceptance to become New Testament faith, as opposed to dead faith or faith alone.

This fear is obviously not a flight of terror but a conviction to act in accordance with the word (Septuagint: ῥῆμα) of the Lord.  In New Testament terms it would be equivalent to the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.[13]  And this is because it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.[14]  In a similar sense the New Testament meaning of the fear of the Lord is equivalent to the love of God: Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments.  The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.  But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected.[15]

Luke used the phrase fear of the Lord in this association with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit: Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened.   Living[16] in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.[17]  At first glance Paul seemed to use fear of the Lord in a more fearful sense: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.  Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people[18]

If I expand the context, however, Paul spoke first of faith: For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens.[19]  While the natural person clings to this earthly tent for dear life we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.[20]  Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose, Paul continued (including by the way appearing before the judgment seat of Christ) is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.[21]  So is any of this a cause to be fearful?

Paul continued (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NET):

Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord – for we live by faith, not by sight.  Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him.

And what is this ambition to please him but the fear of the LordTherefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people, but we are well known to God, and I hope we are well known to your consciences too.[22]  For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.[23]

And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us.  We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!”  God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.[24]

So before Christ was crucified, rose again, ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit was given to provide this love, this desire and this effort, the Lord cultivated fear to motivate his people:  The Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order to display these signs of mine before him, and in order that in the hearing of your son and your grandson you may tell how I made fools of the Egyptians and about my signs that I displayed among them, so that you may know that I am the Lord.”[25]  Perhaps more to the point was Moses’ response to Israel’s fear when God spoke the law at Sinai: Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you so that you do not sin.[26]

Fear – Exodus, Part 4

Back to Fear – Exodus, Part 5

Back to Fear – Numbers, Part 4

[1] Exodus 9:13 (NET)

[2] Exodus 9:17-19 (NET)

[4] Exodus 9:20, 21 (NET)

[6] Luke 18:2 (NET)

[7] Luke 18:5 (NET)

[9] Exodus 9:25-28 (NET)

[10] Exodus 9:30 (NET)

[12] Exodus 9:34, 35 (NET)

[13] Philippians 2:13 (NET)

[14] Romans 9:16 (NET)

[15] 1 John 2:3-5a (NET)

[16] The NET parallel Greek text and NA28 had the singular πορευομένη here, where the Stephanus Textus Receptus and Byzantine Majority Text had the plural πορευομεναι (KJV: walking).

[17] Acts 9:31 (NET) [Table] The NET parallel Greek text and NA28 had the singular ἐπληθύνετο here, where the Stephanus Textus Receptus and Byzantine Majority Text had the plural επληθυνοντο (KJV: were multiplied).

[18] 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11 (NET)

[19] 2 Corinthians 5:1 (NET)

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:4 (NET)

[21] 2 Corinthians 5:5 (NET)

[22] 2 Corinthians 5:11 (NET)

[23] 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 (NET)

[24] 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NET)

[25] Exodus 10:1, 2 (NET)

[26] Exodus 20:20 (NET)