the good side of fear

Fear. That ugly tyrant that leaves us with all kinds of issues while the ones we fear just go on about their business. This is what Exodus opens with. However, we find that there is a good side of fear as well. It holds our attention in the second half of Exodus 1 (v. 15-22).


The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exodus 1:15-17


Here we have the king of Egypt instructing the midwives of the Israelites not to allow any boy babies to live. This is heinous to be sure, but does it strike anyone else how deep the destructive fear of others has run in these Egyptians? The king—who should be leading the country—is having clandestine meetings with midwives!


The midwives, for their part, show us a different kind of fear—a good fear. They fear God. I have to wonder as I read this, How is this different from the Egyptian fear?


They fear God, the Egyptians fear the Israelites. Couldn’t we just make an argument that it’s the same? One fears a people, the other fears their God? But they are not the same—at least not to me. The Egyptians have a fear of what malicious act will be done to them by another. The Israelite midwives have a fear of being the ones doing something malicious. Something they would do to their God. They do not wish to disobey him—he is God after all! They don’t fear that this would harm him, but that it would harm their relationship with him.


Granted, in part they do not wish to do something malicious to him because he can do far worse to them. But the motivation for the fear finds its source in their actions, not another’s. And they fear, not other people, but the one who created the people. They fear God.


I wonder, do I have this kind of priority for God? Do I place him far above whatever is convenient or desirable at the moment? Do I give him first place so that my greatest fear would be to harm my relationship with him? Or do I rely so heavily on grace that I have denied God his due respect? Do I willingly disobey and disrespect him for the simple fact that I know I can receive forgiveness? Do I fear God?


I’m not calling for a terrifying kind of life where we fear we will—at the last minute—be told by God that we weren’t good enough and so will be sent to hell. Fearing God doesn’t mean always walking around fearing a lightening strike. That’s not the gospel Jesus came to give us, that’s not truth. But sometimes grace makes it hard to care enough to choose well. Where sin abounds there will always be more grace.


It’s a risk God knew he was taking yet he took it anyway. As I said Monday, this Jesus, he loved too much. But we should seek to have a healthy fear. A fear of harming our relationship with the Father. A fear of willingly going against the only one who ever loved us purely and freely. And we can trust that God will care for those who fearfully respect him.


The midwives took their lives in their own hands when they chose to disobey the king. They could easily have been killed, but God protected them. (Don’t think I missed the fact that they honored God by lying! We’ll consider that tomorrow.)


For now I wonder, do I fear God? In a good way? Do I trust that fearing him leads to blessing and to God caring for me? 


 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.     Exodus 1:21



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