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Fear and faithfulness (January 21, 2024)

Sometimes in the face of fear, faithfulness looks like doing nothing, writes Tara Bulger.

Outlook Standard Lesson for January 21, 2024
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 2 Chronicles 20:13-20

I have sometimes heard fear defined by the acronym “False Expectations Appearing Real.” The idea behind this definition is that there is much that is often unknown in fearful situations, and in fact, we may create more fear than is necessary. In our feeling of fear, our minds conjure all sorts of scenarios that probably will never happen. We expect the worst and may even move into incorrect action. This is not to say that fear isn’t warranted, but not knowing what to expect can worsen things.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat gets terrible news. Word reaches him that the Moabites, Ammonites and some Meunites were coming to battle Judah. We read that “a great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; already they are at Hazazon-tamar” (vv. 1-2). Jehoshaphat is afraid.

What is Jehoshaphat to do? Much is unknown, but the words “great multitude” must ring in his ears. Despite his fear, we know Jehoshaphat’s character. It has been carefully documented in 2 Chronicles. Over and again, we learn that the Lord is with Jehoshaphat because he seeks the God of his father and walks in God’s commandments (17:3-4). Jehoshaphat is faithful, and instead of letting his fear and all its false expectations get to him, he turns to the Lord in prayer.

Jehoshaphat stands in the assembly of Judah and prays that God will deliver them from this attack. His great prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:5-12 ends with this request: “O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

That was Jehoshaphat — afraid but faithful, scared but praying to God.

In response, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon the Levite Jahaziel, and all of Judah is told not to be afraid. They are assured that this battle is God’s, not their own. They are given a peculiar instruction: to go down to the battle and stand still. That’s all they have to do. Just go to the battle, in the wilderness, and stand still.

In hearing this, Jehoshaphat puts his face to the ground and worships God. All of Judah and Jerusalem follow suit. Stand still? That’s it? I try to imagine myself in the same scenario and wonder if I could stand still knowing a great multitude marched against me. Maybe I would try to stand still, but I would make sure I was ready for battle, just in case. But in 2 Chronicles, the instruction does not fall on deaf ears.

Jehoshaphat reigned in the wake of Israel’s divided kingdom and a long line of faithless kings. The northern tribes rebelled and split off into their kingdom. They had a succession of evil kings and prophets like Elijah and Amos railing against them.

The southern kingdom consisted of Judah, Levi and Benjamin. Many of its kings were evil too, and prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke out against them.

But Jehoshaphat rules the southern kingdom in faithfulness, keeping God’s commands. He is pious; he prays and removes many of the idols of the land. He maintains worship and shows concern for the Levites. His name means “may Yahweh judge,” and over and over again, the author of 2 Chronicles indicates that God does indeed judge Jehoshaphat as righteous.

So when the hard thing is called for, standing still in the battle, Jehoshaphat and the people do exactly that. And in the battle, as they stood still, their enemies attacked and killed one another. In doing nothing, the people of Judah are saved.

Questions for reflection

  1. What incites fear for you? Do you have “False Expectations that Appear Real?”
  2. Do you move quickly into action? Is that always the right thing?
  3. What is an area of your life where the answer to your fear may be to stand still before God?

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