Meditations for Troubled Times
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12-13)
These are distressing days, but this is nothing new. In 249, a plague broke out in the Roman Empire. It lasted for over 10 years. At one point, it’s believed that 5,000 people were dying each day. The mightiest of kingdoms was brought to its knees by disease. In 1876, the US Presidential election was marred by controversy. People were kept from casting ballots. The election results were inaccurate. There was uncertainty about what would happen. People were afraid the nation might descend into civil war once more. Pandemics and political problems litter human history, and we certainly are facing them now.
So, what do we do? Too often, we give ourselves over to an unholy worry. We become paralyzed by panic. We fear the wrong thing. This is what Isaiah was told in Chapter 8, where we learn that things were not easy in his day. In the place of infectious microbes and election anxiety, insert threatening powers. Assyria was taking over Mesopotamia piece by piece, but Syria and Israel sought to stop them. So, they banded together and tried to bully Judah to join. They essentially said, “If you don’t, we will squash you.” In response, Judah’s King Ahaz spurned their threats and ran to Assyria for help. He relied on Assyria’s sovereign rather than the LORD. He feared the wrong thing, and God warned the prophet not to do the same. He told him not to ape the anxiousness of others. “Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”
And, beloved, are we not to follow suit? In the face of societal ills and stagnating economies, we are to be dissimilar. When troubling times come, we are to take an alternate path and not be alarmed, frantic, and filled with despair. We are not to fear what the world fears, like pandemics and political uncertainty, because our fear is directed elsewhere. “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear and let him be your dread.” The word “dread” literally means “to tremble.” This is how Isaiah felt in chapter 6 of his book. As he saw a vision of the highness, hugeness, and holiness of God, he quaked, saying “Woe is me.” He understood the bigness and righteousness of God. He knew his smallness and sinfulness. The prophet feared the LORD.
Some want to qualify this and say, “Isaiah means ‘reverence’ and ‘being in awe of God.’” This is true, but, in chapter 6, with Isaiah’s vision, there was a holy trembling about the prophet. This is what the LORD was calling for in Chapter 8. And this reminds us: God is not some domesticated deity. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Therefore, we should not shudder at what others do, because our fear is directed elsewhere. Where should it be? The God who is majestic, large, and sovereign, who stands behind all things, and who enfleshed himself in Christ, suffered for our sins, and eviscerated the fear of death and hell. Where, then, is your fear? Is it directed toward the LORD? If you tremble before him, then you have no need to quake at anything else.