YHWH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Psalm 27:1
Fear – Maybe it helps to be the king. I can see why David doesn’t fear anyone or anything. He has God on his side and he’s the king. That’s a big advantage. But what about the rest of us? We don’t command armies, order legislation or have the power of life and death in our hands. Does this verse really apply to us? I hope it does, but if I’m really honest, I’m still afraid. I’m afraid of public humiliation. I’m afraid of economic collapse. I’m afraid of betrayal. Or cancer. Or whatever is on the top of this list for today. Funny thing is that David could easily have all those fears too, plus some big ones that go with being the king. So, what makes it possible for David to say that he’s not afraid?
If we read very carefully, we discover that David doesn’t actually say he’s not afraid. He just says there is really no one to fear. That’s not the same as feeling afraid anyway. But David has a very good point. No person should make us quake because God is sovereign over every man. David says God is his light. David sees what life is like because he looks at life from God’s point of view. That clarifies a lot. All those things that I fear start to fade away when I see what the world looks like through God’s eyes. When God shines the light on the dark, I see the truth. He’s there. There’s no monster under my bed.
David also says that YHWH is his salvation. That’s not quite the evangelical word we use. For David, salvation is yishee, deliverance and rescue. It’s very here-and-now stuff, not pie-in-the-sky get-to-heaven thinking. I’m in danger. YHWH rescues me. That’s salvation. It’s tangible and temporal. Yes, I experience rescue from everlasting death (is that an oxymoron?) but the focus of my attention is right now because I live in the right now.
God’s point of view and His tangible rescue mean that I don’t fear anyone. The Hebrew verb yare has five different senses (see TWOT, Vol. 1, p. 399). The first is the emotion of fear. David’s claim doesn’t rule this out. The second is the intellectual anticipation of evil. God’s light and rescue eliminate this, if I stop to mediate on the truth. The third sense of fear shifts toward positive expressions. “Fear the Lord” is the equivalent of showing awe and reverence. Fourth comes fear as righteous behavior. Finally, there is a use of yare in the sense of formal religious worship. So, you see that David is occupied with the distinction between the first and second sense; both negative. But one is normal emotional reaction; the other results from a failure to recognize the goodness of God.
Yeshua employs these subtle distinctions in Matthew 10:28: “and do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy soul and body in hell.” Yeshua’s comment is a word play on the multiple uses of yare. There is only one to really fear – and what “fear” means before that one is the crux of the matter.
Maybe I don’t have so much to fear after all. Maybe my emotional reaction (fear) just leads me to settled confidence in the Lord of hosts (fear). One fear becomes grounds for another fear. Right?
Topical Index: fear, yare, Matthew 10:28, Psalm 27:1