This upcoming Sunday I’ll be preaching out of Hebrews 11:23-28 and the story of Moses. The story of Moses interpreted through the lens of Hebrews is fascinating because in Exodus Moses is characterized by fear (2:14; 4:13) but in Hebrews he is commended for his courage (11:27). I’m probably like young, scared Moses, but his story tells me that there’s hope I might become courageous yet.
Moses overcame his fear when he “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” and when he “saw him who is invisible.” But the defining moment of Israel’s salvation, the Passover, is a story of fear. Those who were saved were saved because they feared and those who were destroyed were destroyed because they didn’t. The issue wasn’t the presence or absence of fear but with where that fear was placed.
Pharaoh had good reason to fear God. He witnessed plague after plague and yet Moses could still say to him in the midst of it “I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God” (9:31). Despite having every reason to fear God they failed to do so.
By contrast when the Israelites heard the command to participate in the Passover meal and apply the blood to the doorposts they obeyed. They feared God and obeyed and, in doing so, they removed any reason to be afraid. They knew that this was the final stage of their deliverance from slavery. No longer would they fear the chains of oppression, abuse, and violence. They also knew that by obeying God by celebrating Passover, they did not have to fear the destroying angel.
The fear of the Lord is the recognition of his awesome and terrible power. Jesus tells us in Luke 12 “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” God has the authority to throw us into hell and we are wise to fear that awesome authority. But when our fear is well placed, and we obey him by trusting his salvation, all fear is removed.
In the very same passage as the one quoted above Jesus goes on to tell us of God’s particular care. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
No doubt with some reference to the Exodus the writer of Hebrews declares “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Likewise, John tells us “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Those who fear God have nothing left to fear. We need not fear what man can do – God is sovereign. We need not fear disgrace – the affirmation of Christ is of greater value. We need not fear any human authority – there is a higher one still. We need not fear death – we have a sure reward. We need not fear the judgment – Jesus has taken it for us. Ironically, the fear of the Lord, when combined with obedience and trust, leads to peace, courage, and freedom.