From Fear to Fear

Apparently there’s fear, and then there’s fear. Reading Jonah this morning, and in the opening act of this well known story it’s the fear factor that’s caught my attention.

The first thing I noticed was Jonah’s “national fear” or his “ethnic fear.”

Jonah’s shipmates are going crazy. The world is turning upside down around them . . . kind of literally. The seas have been thrown into chaos. They’ve never experienced anything like it. It is so severe that they know this is not just a natural weather pattern. And they eventually discern that somehow their tempest is related to their traveler, the guy asleep in the bottom of the boat. And so they grill Jonah, “Confess. Why this disaster? What is your work? Where do you come from? What country? What family?” (1:8 MSG). And Jonah’s response is kind of humorous.

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”   ~ Jonah     (Jonah 1:8-9 ESV)

Really, Jonah? You fear God? God told you to go left and you went right. God commanded you go to the great city and you headed for the wide open seas. God told you to go public and, instead, you went hermit. God said, do my will. And you tried to flee from His presence. Yet, you say, “I fear the LORD.”

So, it seems to me that, in this case, fearing God is less about an attitude of Jonah’s heart and more of an attribute attached to his religion. That the “fear” he has because of his heritage is more of a banner that he wears than it is a behavior which he exhibits.

But then I notice another example of the fear of the LORD. Not just a religious fear. But a God inspired, awe-filling, boot-shaking, action-taking fear.

Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this mans life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.   (Jonah 1:14-15 ESV)

These poor mariners are frazzled. It has not been a good day for them.

They start off being afraid because of the raging seas that have whipped up around them–unlike anything they had encountered before, causing each of them to cry out desperately to whatever god they were familiar with (1:5). Then, when they find out that Jonah is a prophet on the run, and that the tempest they’re in is the Creator’s way of pursuing His AWOL servant, they become “exceedingly afraid”– as in double afraid, as in terror-filled afraid. And then they are cornered into throwing a man of God overboard as a last ditch effort to save themselves . . . can’t image the fear they felt at that point.

So they toss Jonah overboard. And the sea’s calm. And the light goes on. And they now know the LORD, the God of heaven and earth, reigns. And their desperate fear becomes directed awe as they bow before the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth. And they worship. And they resolve to worship more. And their fear of the LORD isn’t just some lip-giving platitude, but plays out as a new life-altering response.

So, apparently there’s fear, and then there’s fear.

Might we, as God’s people, fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. And that it would be more than a slogan we utter, but would be manifest in a sacrifice we would willingly offer.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   (Romans 12:1 ESV)

All because of grace . . . all by grace . . . all for God’s glory.

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