While a lot of the hype of Halloween is made up, most of us do have a significant set of real fears. As Christian believers, we are not exempt from fear.
The Old Testament story of the return of a group of Jewish exiles to their homeland after a long enforced absence has a great lesson embedded about how to handle our fears, which sometimes are very real.
The exile was long and lonely. It lasted seventy years, more than a generation, and the ancestral home of the Israelites was five hundred miles away. No doubt some of the captives finally resigned themselves to their new home in Babylon and decided to fit in as best they could. Some likely even prospered. But for others, being a stranger in a strange land was never to be accepted and there was always the call of home.
So when Cyrus of Persia assumed the Babylonian throne, God moved his heart to make this surprising proclamation:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them’ ” (Ezra 1: 1-3).
The waiting ended. Imagine the exhilaration in the hearts of those who prepared to take the long journey home. Imagine the apprehension. The trip alone would take months. Would they all survive, this company of more than forty thousand travelers? And what new worries might their destination hold? The desolation of their homeland? Its occupation by those who had no interest in welcoming the former owners back? How would they live? Where would they live?
|Destruction of Jerusalem |
Still, wasn’t it their LORD who was leading them? Was He not able? They traveled on, and at last they were home.
“When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem…” and a first order of business was “...to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God” (Ezra 3: 1-2).
And here’s the part I love: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.”
Their fears were justified, and the threats were well founded. Surrounding neighbors were hostile to them and to their God. Nevertheless, “Despite their fear...,” the Israelites did what they were supposed to do and in the manner it was to have been done. They didn’t wait until the threat had passed or until their fears subsided. They were obedient to their God in spite of the threat and the fear. They did it anyway, not knowing what the outcome would be.
What do we fear? Do we fear losing face with others, losing our jobs or security, losing our influence? Do we fear facing situations over which we have no control or losing our freedoms? Do we fear losing our lives or the lives of those we love?
Hebrews 13:6 reminds me, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ ”
The Israelites kept steady on in their mission to rebuild God’s temple regardless, and a few months later, the foundation was laid. What a momentous occasion. The priests and Levites “with praise and thanksgiving … sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever” (Ezra 3:11).
So excited were the people at this milestone that they “gave a great shout of praise to the LORD,” and some were moved to tears and others to joyful shouts. Despite their former fears, the Bible says that “the people made so much noise… the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:14).
Have you ever been so afraid that you felt you had to whisper or walk softly so that the object of your fear would not “hear” you? I know what that kind of fear feels like, whether real or imagined. The fear that had been felt by the Israelites was real and justified, but as a result of their obedience to God, it sounds to me like their fear was replaced by great and loud rejoicing.
Yes, they continued to face opposition and barriers, both from within their own ranks and without, as they began to rebuilt their decimated city of Jerusalem. But so faithful was their God that when the wall around the city was completed, Nememiah reports, “ When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16).
What an interesting turn of events. Now the fear rested with the Israelites’ dreaded enemies.