Conquering Fear with Fear
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.” (Prov 19:23)
What comes to mind when you think of rest and satisfaction? Most people imagine a beach; a mountain home; perhaps a massage in a 5-star hotel. While these are all appealing and certainly should be considered as blessings from God, they are not the kind of rest the Scriptures promise the child of God. What we do find in Scripture is highlighted for us in Proverbs: restful satisfaction. Another way to understand it is contentment, hope, and joy that comes from trusting and hoping in God, the source of true happiness and blessing.
As we read to the end of v.23, the Proverb seems to have something specific in mind when it refers to rest. The writer equates for his readers rest and satisfaction with protection from harm. In his day, as was often the case in the Old Testament, warfare was a reality that confronted God’s people every year. If not warfare, then harm from thieves and worthless men who sought to enrich themselves at the expense of others. If not warfare or thieves, there were any number of calamities that might afflict a person: famine, pestilence, drought, disease, etc.
By God’s grace (mediated through our police and military), most of us don’t have to worry about being harmed by enemies from day to day. But we still live under the fear of the coronavirus pandemic and the constant threat of economic ruin, sickness in ourselves and others, and even the constant pressures Christians face in our country to turn away from biblical truth. If rest is not taken from you by these temptations, perhaps fear for your children and grandchildren trouble you. Perhaps your own health is in decline and the thought of leaving this world unsettles you. This Proverb addresses all of these fears and concerns with one bold and familiar imperative: “fear the Lord”.
If we were honest, we’d have to admit that we don’t often equate finding rest with fearing God. If anything, fear of God seems to suggest restlessness. But, if you know your Bible well, then you know that fearing the Lord is associated with rightly understanding that He is not only all-knowing and all-powerful but is a morally perfect being who destroys sin and sinners if they don’t repent. And while this alone is not comforting, when we couple this knowledge with His undying love and commitment to His children, to those who repent of sin and trust His grace to forgive, the comfort and rest begins to make perfect sense. We fear God, but as those who have been saved by Christ, we don’t fear the penalty for our sins, we only fear displeasing this infinite, holy, loving God. This is the spirit and meaning of the Proverb: “the fear of the Lord leads to life”. It is that fear that leads us to repent and forsake sin and to flee to the Lord alone for protection from what we fear.
What we as children of God wind up fearing is the very one who provides comfort. We are comforted because the wrath and anger of God is not directed at us, but at anything and anyone who seeks our harm. That fear of God that once only bothered us as we cherished our sin, becomes the very selfsame source of comfort to us. And the Proverb reminds us, “whoever has it rests satisfied.” So, if you want rest today and going forward, examine your view of God. To the extent you rightly view His power and glory and hatred of sin, you can receive calm, rest, and peace. Whatever you fear; whatever attacks you; whatever you don’t and can’t possibly see that awaits you, God has from all eternity seen and disposed for your good.
Over time, if you regularly meditate on God’s fearful attributes, you will find what troubles you has less and less a grip on you.