Yitro
For the week of January 25, 2003 / 22 Shevat 5763
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5

Don't Be Afraid! Fear God

Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning" (Shemot / Exodus 20:20).

Picture yourself as part of this awesome scene. Camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai thunder, lightening, smoke and the haunting sounds of a mysterious shofar (ram's horn). You can hardly stand as the whole mountain is shaking. The smell of smoke sickens you. You can hardly think due to the continual drone of the shofar. A thick cloud covers the top of the mountain casting a strange shadow. The darkness is bad enough, but then you are jolted by another flash of lightening and the crack of thunder. What is happening? Is the mountain about to erupt, engulfing you in burning lava? Or is the God who has supposedly descended upon this mountain about to strike you dead? You are scared. I don't blame you.

But then your leader, Moses, raises his voice above the noise and says,

Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.

"God has come to test you." A strange test? Maybe not. The people of Israel were being prepared to face very difficult situations in the days and years ahead. The goal of this test was "so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." The people of Israel were being trained to live extremely moral and godly lives amidst future neighbors whose standards were much, much lower. To do that they needed to fear God. This experience was designed to teach them to do just that.

They were to fear God, yet not be afraid. A contradiction? Not at all. The key to being free from fear is to fear God.

Confusing? Let me explain. We don't want to admit it, but we are actually frail beings. It doesn't take much to hurt us or even kill us. We spend much of our time protecting ourselves from dangerous situations. Most of us are afraid when we face danger. This kind of fear affects our lives far more than we think. In fact, we learn to subconsciously avoid the situations that we are fearful of.

We are afraid of something when we are aware that our relationship to that thing is potentially harmful. We are only scared of fire, for example, when we think it might harm us. Once we know how to relate to fire properly, there is nothing to fear. But it is the fear of fire's danger that helps keep us in right relationship with it.

It's the same with God. We don't have to be scared of him unless we are not in right relationship with him. We don't realize that our disregard for God places us in the most dangerous position of all. Sadly many of us don't realize that we are in this dangerous position. But once we are in right relationship with him, not only do we not need to be afraid of him, we will also find ourselves able to face the most dangerous situations of life without fear.

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