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D'varim/Deuteronomy 3:2 Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand
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Biblical Hebrew doesn't have a negative imperative; the negative particles and are never found with imperative form verbs. Instead, as here, the particles come with verbs in the second person prefix form, singular or plural as appropriate. These are literally translated, "You shall not ...", although most English versions usually render them using a negative imperative form, "Do not ..." The particle has the sense of an absolute or permanent prohibition, as found in the Ten Words: ", You shall not murder" (D'varim 5:17); you shall never do this. The particle is used for a more immediate effect: don't do this now.1
Why shouldHaShem be telling the Moshe and the Israelites not to fear Og the king of Bashan? According to Moshe's narrative (in the previous chapter), the Israelites had only recently defeated Sihon, the king of Heshbon; quite comfortably, it would appear. Why would they fear another Amorite king? This doesn't make sense. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish taught that the fugitive that fled from the battle of the kings (B'resheet 14:13) and came to tell Avraham that his nephew Lot had been captured by the four kings headed by Chedorlaomer of Elam, was Og (B'resheet Rabbah 42:8). Rashi suggests that "Moshe and the Israelites were afraid lest the merit of Og having served Avraham would stand on his behalf" so that they might have been unable to defeat him without heavy losses.
The two-word exhortation , "do not fear" is used many times in the Hebrew Bible and its Greek equivalent is found in the gospels and letters. It is a term of exhortation and encouragement, frequently spoken by HaShem or His representatives to individuals about to face battle or some other form of trial, and is usually accompanied by promises of protection, strength of victory. Avraham heard HaShem say, "Fear not, Avram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great" (B'resheet 15:1, JPS); Yitz'khak heard, "I am the G-d of your father Abraham. Fear not, for I am with you, and I will bless you and increase your offspring for the sake of My servant Abraham" (26:24, JPS). HaShem told Ya'akov, "I am G-d, the G-d of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back" (46:3-4, JPS). Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel received specific words of encouragement at the start of their ministries to the people: "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the L-RD" (Jeremiah 1:8, ESV) and "Son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words ... Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 2:6, ESV).
The phrase became part of the standard military rhetoric as part of preparing for battle: "When you take the field against your enemies, and see horses and chariots -- forces larger than yours -- have no fear of them, for the L-RD your G-d, who brought you from the land of Egypt, is with you. Before you join battle, the priest shall come forward and address the troops. He shall say to them, "Hear, O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them" (D'varim 20:1-3, JPS). The serving High Priest comes forward to speak the word of comfort to the army. Joshua was given very specific words of encouragement and promise as he led the Israelites to occupy the Land: "Do not be frightened or dismayed. Take all the fighting troops with you, go and march against Ai. See, I will deliver the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land into your hands" (Joshua 8:1, JPS), "Do not be afraid of them, for I will deliver them into your hands; not one of them shall withstand you" (10:8, JPS), "Do not be afraid of them; tomorrow at this time I will have them all lying slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots" (11:6, JPS).
The servant in Isaiah's famous Servant Songs is addressed in the same way: "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your G-d; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:9-10, ESV). The city of Jerusalem is promised favour - "Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak" (Zephaniah 3:16, ESV) - and even the Land of Israel and the animals living there received encouraging words: "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the L-RD has done great things! Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield" (Joel 2:21-22, ESV).
The gospels too frequently use the phrase. After Mary is told about the child she is to have, Yosef is is told, "Do not fear to take Mary as your wife" (Matthew 1:20, NASB), then before Yeshua's birth, an angel speaks to shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10, ESV). When Yeshua calls the first disciples at the Sea of Galilee, He tells Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10, NASB). During the transfiguration, Yeshua's inner circle are awed by the sight of Him talking with Moshe and Elijah, but "Yeshua came up and touched them, saying, 'Stand up, do not be afraid'" (Matthew 17:7, NJB). Hearing that his daughter has died while waiting for Yeshua to come to his house, Jairus is told, "Do not fear, only believe" (Luke 8:50, ESV). Later on, the disciples hear, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32, ESV). When John sees his vision of Yeshua on the island of Patmos, he is told, "Fear not, I am the first and the last" (Revelation 1:17, ESV), and the letter he is given for the church in Smyrna warns, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer" (2:10, NASB).
So, given that Yeshua has promised never to leave us or forsake us, to be with us "until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20), when and why do we fear? We know that the devil is a defeated foe, "the ruler of this world is judged" (John 16:11, ESV), he has already been completely and comprehensively disarmed by Yeshua at the cross: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him" (Colossians 2:15, ESV). The writer to the Hebrews is quite explicit: Yeshua took on (our) flesh and blood so that "through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14, ESV). We should be so confident, knowing what G-d has already done for us in Messiah, that we can say with Rav Sha'ul "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of G-d which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39, CJB).
Moshe and the Israelites needed to be told not to fear Og, king of Bashan. In spite of the mighty victory G-d had just won over the priests of Ba'al at Mt. Carmel, Queen Jezebel scared the life out of Elijah with her message: "'Thus and more may the gods do if by this time tomorrow I have not made you like one of them.' Frightened, he fled at once for his life" (1 Kings 19:2-3, JPS>). Elijah ran away, all the way to Mt. Horeb and told G-d, "the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and have put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they are out to take my life" (v. 14, JPS). Moshe and Elijah both took their eyes off what G-d had said and focused on what they heard or saw happening around them. They both needed to be called back to G-d's promises and - without turning off their powers of reason - put their focus back on G-d.
We need to be reminded of again and again of G-d's powerful word: "Fear not!" gives us an assurance of divine protection that enables us to face war and adversity with confidence. Rav Sha'ul instructs the Ephesians about the spiritual battle in which they are engaged. He tells them to: "take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm ... taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:13,16, ESV). There is no doubt in these words: we can resist and stand firm; we can extinguish the devil's missiles. Be encouraged by these words and remind yourself of them daily: in Yeshua, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and will overcome everything the devil and this world can or will throw at us. We have G-d's word, promise and authority on that!
1. - See Page H Kelly, Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar, Eerdmans, 1992, page 173
Further Study: Shemot 14:13-14; Psalm 118:6-9; James 4:7
Application: Do you find it hard to accept that G-d has really won or is winning the battle in this world? Do you fear what might happen to you, your children or your grandchildren? Hear G-d's word for you and the generations to come: "Fear not!" As Yeshua told his disciples, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NASB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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