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Fear and Favor

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Fear not, O land;
be glad and rejoice,
for the LORD has done great things!
Fear not, you beasts of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

Joel 2:21-22

Praych It!

Have you ever heard somebody praych? That is, have you listened to someone pray and suspected they were really preaching to you instead of speaking to God? It may be that someone has heard us pray that way at one time or another. It is rather foolish when you think about it. Imagine putting the 911 dispatcher on hold as you lecture the accident victim on the importance of obeying traffic laws. Whether well-intentioned or out of arrogance, it is ineffective and negligent behavior.

Well, in these verses, God does something similar as he proclaims good news to the inanimate and incognizant creation. Though he speaks to the land and the beasts, the message is intended for us. However, in God’s case, the technique is quite effective.

Comfort in Fear

At this point in Joel, Jerusalem has been devastated by a plague of locust. However, as they humbly submit to God’s call to repentance, he promises to restore what the locusts have destroyed. God speaks first to the land. For anyone else, this behavior would certainly qualify as eccentric, but not for God.

In Genesis 1, by commanding, he caused the land to appear. He spoke again and made it bear fruit. However, by Genesis 3, we hear God cursing the land because of man’s sin. When God curses, destruction follows. In Joel’s day, the land had good reason to fear God’s voice, it had felt the effects of God’s curse of locusts and drought. This time, however, it hears those welcome and comforting words, “fear not,” because God is going to do “great things.” It is not only good news for the land, but for everyone else up the food chain as well.

God repeats, “Fear not,” to the beast. They have also known both the life-giving voice of God as well as his cursing. They suffered extreme deprivation as a result of the locust plague. However, God promises to provide them with abundant food. In speaking comfort to the animals, God communicates comfort to his people. Is this not the logic that Jesus used? “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

A Biblical Pattern

The phrase, fear not, occurs many times in the Bible. When it comes from the mouth of God or one of his servants, we often notice two things: There is good reason to be afraid, and something really good is about to happen. It is like finding a policeman at your front door. All kinds of fearful thoughts enter your mind. You hold your breath as you open the door, and the officer says, “Ma’am I have an armored car out front with a million dollars that we need to deliver to you. Where would you like us to put it?”

This pattern of favor offered in the context of great fear is very prevalent in the Bible (e.g. Exodus 14:13-14; Luke 1:26-30, Luke 8:49-55). Here is an example from a familiar passage:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:8-11)

A New Era

We Christians, live in a new era. It is not that we do not at times experience God’s favor in the context of great fear. However, we have seen the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who bore God’s curse for us. As a result of his resurrection and exaltation, God has poured out his Spirit as was prophesied by Joel (cf. Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18). Every believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ. He is also the Spirit of adoption, causing us to savor the reality of acceptance into God’s family.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.... So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:13, 16-18)

The phrase, fear not, occurs many times in the Bible. When it comes from the mouth of God or one of his servants, we often notice two things: There is good reason to be afraid, and something really good is about to happen.

Now as Christians, though we have experienced favor in the context of great fear, we delight in the far greater blessing of fearlessness in the confidence of divine favor.