For the week of January 20, 2024 / 10 Shevat 5784
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 10:1 – 13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
But fear not, O Jacob my servant, nor be dismayed, O Israel, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. (Jeremiah 46:27)
A considerable amount of biblical prophetic writing includes predictive portions for the purpose of eliciting a current response. It could be a warning of something dire that could be avoided if heeded, or it might be a promise of good things to come in order to encourage people toward a particular attitude or action.
Much of the Book of Jeremiah is sobering. As an act of God’s judgment, the kingdom of Judah was being violently overrun by the Babylonians. All the while, Jeremiah was giving the unusual message of calling the people to surrender. Exile was not to be the people’s end, however, for God would rescue them in time. Even though many of them would not be alive by then, they were to be encouraged by this. In this week’s Haftarah (weekly portion from the Hebrew prophets), Jeremiah was drawing the people’s attention to a time when they would not only be rescued by God and returned to their land, but live a life of “quiet and ease,” when “none shall make [them] afraid.” The anticipation of a day in the future when they would have nothing at all to fear called them to reject the tendency toward fear in the present. The passage continues:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished (Jeremiah 46:28).
It’s helpful to see that it’s not simply the anticipation of a brighter future that would make a difference, but also knowing that God would be with the people through what would clearly be a painful process until then. God will be working. God will see them through. Even though it will be difficult, because God will be with them through it all, they were not to fear.
I have been thinking a lot about the interaction between Yeshua and Jairus, the synagogue official (see Mark 5:21-43). Jairus’s daughter was ill, and Yeshua was on his way to heal her. After an interruption occurs on the way, Jairus gets word that his daughter had died in the meantime. No need for the healer any longer, he was told. For years, I have been struck by what Yeshua says to Jairus at this point: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). Where does it say that Jairus was afraid? It was over. His daughter was dead. He must have been disappointed and sad. Possibly angry about the interruption. Maybe he was put out by Yeshua’s giving attention to someone else, when he was next in line, so to speak. But afraid?
Perhaps what Yeshua is calling “fear” isn’t necessarily that all-to-familiar emotional unsettled reaction. It’s far deeper than that. It’s a way of looking at the circumstances of life that may or may not be accompanied by such feelings. It’s a distraction from whatever is really true at a given time. With or without feeling afraid, fear may be a way to describe when we look at life through an obscure lens of untruth.
To illustrate, picture this common movie scene. A person slips off the cliff’s edge. At the last minute, their companion grabs their arm as they dangle over a thousand-foot drop. Their companion says: “Don’t look down. Look at me!” At that point, the person has a choice. They could look down and focus on the danger or they can look upon the one who can save them. Looking down fuels hopelessness; looking up provides hope (assuming their companion has the power to save them, of course). But the companion’s ability means nothing if the person isn’t willing to trust them.
Jairus was thrown into a situation where the evidence suggested all was lost. Giving oneself to despair is the essence of fear, whatever our emotional state may be. Hope was restored when Jarius took his eyes off the problem and onto the Messiah. He who was appointed by God to one day provide “quiet and ease” for the nation was standing there with him that day.
Until then, we will face all kinds of challenges, but the Messiah will come through eventually as he promised. Until then, do not fear, only believe.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version