“Whom shall I fear?”
That, indeed, is an interesting and important question.
And let no man accuse the psalmist, who asks this question in Psalm 27, of speaking from the heights of a shielded life. The psalmist is David and he dwelt in the walled city of Jerusalem surrounded by his mighty army that had triumphed in giving to Israel the whole land promised by God. He had hundreds and thousands round about him ready to defend him and to die to shield his life. Indeed, whom shall the king fear?
However, make no mistake by drawing the conclusion that he did not know what it is to have fear. He is not speaking here theoretically from the heights of a shielded life. He speaks experientially as a man who knows what terrors and fears there are in being a hunted man. Before he ever ascended to the throne he had to flee repeatedly for his life from before the sword of wicked king Saul. The javelin of this wicked king came frightfully near the point of terminating his earthly life. He had to flee from place to place as a wild beast is pursued by the hunter. Even after he became king he knew the terrors of fleeing before the treachery of his own son. And in Psalm 27 he does not write as one surrounded by the arm of flesh and shielded by earthly might. He does not ask, “Whom shall I fear?” because there was no earthly power to assault and trouble him. Not at all! He writes in the psalm, “When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.” He writes in the vivid consciousness of one who has had some very terrifying experiences. And he adds, “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” He will have no fear in the midst of terrifying days.
We say, therefore, once again, an interesting question: Whom shall I fear? Surely today there are sufficient things that surround us and are reason enough for our flesh to tremble with fear. Ever since we moved into the “atomic-age” there have been added to our life many new terrors and fears. And we do not now have in mind those of which we spoke last time. The awful armament race, the feverish intensity of the East and the West to produce the most powerful and most destructive weapons of warfare is sufficient to cause every man, woman, and child to ask, ‘Whom shall I fear?’ Shall we fear Russia or shall we fear our own leaders? Is there more danger for us in what Russia might do or in the polities and maneuvering of our own leaders? Must we live in fear of sudden and unprovoked attack from the enemy or in fear lest our own leaders plunge us into an indescribably terrible war by their hysteria or unwarranted suspicions. We read somewhere of the possibility that either an accidental H-bomb explosion or an attack by another nation could exactly result in our immediate attack upon Russia in the mistaken notion that Russia had begun the conflagration. At any rate, so small is the world today, so do we live on top of each other, so to speak, so involved and intricately related are the nations of the world today that one little spark in one corner can touch off a universal powder keg with its world-wide devastation and agony.
But apart from all this, assuming—what can never be in this world—that all nuclear weapons are banned and the ones now in existence are dismantled, granting that all the power of the atom as man has learned to harness it is used only in peaceful pursuits, man finds that he has not at all freed himself from fear. Even in peace (so-called) man finds hundreds and thousands of things to fear. Oh, he does not fear polio as he formerly did. Cancer’s fear is being presented as not as dreadful as before. Hope also is given for prevention of the dreaded heart-attack. But man continues to fear death. And until death has no more fear for him, he does not have freedom from fear. After all, do not forget that man’s fear of death is his fear of God! At the end of this life he comes to stand before God. Man knows that. And therefore it is not only a very interesting but also important question. “Whom shall I fear?”
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we stand before Him every step of our way also in this life. We stand before the Judge of heaven and earth every moment of our earthly existence. And He does not reserve judgment till all the “evidence” is in, as an earthly judge must do until he gets the whole picture. He knows the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. Every moment He is passing judgment upon the deeds of all men as to the ethical, moral value of their works. At the moment of death and to an even greater degree at the end of time His sentence will be meted out, but we stand before His judgment every moment of our lives.
Even then, the meting out of that sentence is not wholly reserved till the day of days or till the day of death. It is an evident fact from the testimony spread upon the pages of Holy Writ as well as from our every day experiences that God punishes sin in this life, yea that He punishes sin with sin. Why do men live today in the fear of what men will do to them? Why is there this tension which is called the “cold war”? Why is not the whole world one loving brotherhood? Why is there the continual struggle between capital and labor? Why are juvenile delinquency and teenage crimes becoming a very serious menace to the peace and wellbeing of our day? Or, if you will, why does man constantly live in fear of what his fellowmen might do to him? The answer to all these questions is that God punishes sin with sin.
In fact that is the very nature of sin. We need not at this time go into detail to show that man can keep the second table of the law only as he keeps the first table of that law. We need only remind you that Jesus said that the whole law is contained in this that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. When we do not love Him, we cannot possibly love our fellow men whom He places next to us and with whom He demands that we serve Him. When we do not love Him, we are going to hate our neighbor and be a constant menace to him. The sin Adam and Eve committed did not in any way bring any physical discomfort, pain or bloodshed to each other. Their initial sin was entirely one of rebellion against God. It was strictly a sin of the first table of the law. What dreadful consequences, though! And what a brutal act of violence breaks forth in their firstborn! Those who desire to maintain that man always sins by imitation, who want to deceive themselves and others into thinking that a child comes into this world with a soul that is a clean slate, and that you and I can write on it what we please and mold and form his character as to whether it will be good or evil, will have a difficult time of it to show where Cain learned to murder his brother. Did he learn it from the beasts of the field? Of course not! Cain did not slay Abel for food as the beast will do. Scripture gives us quite a different picture. It was hatred in his heart that moved him to murder his brother. John tells us in I John 3:12 that he slew him because his works were wicked and because Abel’s were righteous. From his parents he inherited a corrupt heart, a heart that could do nothing but wickedness, that could only hate God. In that hatred he came with his sacrifice of the fruits of the ground. And in that hatred he rose up against Abel who displayed a love to God which he had received through the regenerating grace of God. And all the murder, theft, adultery, deceit in all their forms and combinations are here because man hates God.
And rather than to restrain sin in the unregenerated by His Spirit God uses sinful men as they develop in sin to punish man in this life for his sinfulness. Do we not read in II Samuel 7:14 the word of God to David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men”? To be sure, here we read of God chastising His elect people. He will correct them with the rod of men. But the fact remains that God uses men in their sinfulness to correct His people. What, shall the Babylonians be able to say in the judgment day: “Lord, we served the correction and instruction of Thy people, Israel, when we took them captive into our land. We did Thy good pleasure. Bring us, therefore up out of this awful torment of hell”? Not at all. They plundered and captured not in any love to God but in hatred of Him and of His cause. Yet God used them in their sinfulness to chastise His people. They in their sinfulness were the rod wherewith He chastised them. Or, again, if you will, God tells Abram that his seed shall be afflicted for four hundred years in Egypt and shall not inherit the promised land yet for some time to come because, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Was there any intention whatsoever of God to restrain the sin of these Amorites? No, but according to His sovereign counsel sin would develop in these Amorites till the measure was full; and then He would destroy them and give Israel their land.
But what God did in chastising Israel with the rod of wicked men He also does when He punishes the ungodly nations in this life by the ungodly deeds of other godless nations. And that is why we have all the bloodshed, violence, greed, immorality, deceit, fraud, intrigue and deception in the world today. God is punishing mankind in this life with the rod of wicked mankind. And when he, who in Scripture is called the man of sin, shall appear, the world will rush toward its most perplexing and terrible moments of anguish in that great battle of Armageddon.
An important question it is then, whom shall I fear? Shall we fear man through whom God afflicts the world and ignore Him who sends them to chastise His people and to give temporal punishment to the wicked? It does make a great deal of difference whether our fear is fear of man or fear of God. It makes a great deal of difference in our fear whether it is due simply to the fact that we see man in all his cruelty and wickedness as our enemy or whether our fear is due to the fact that we see the sovereign God in all His majesty and glory. It makes a world of difference whether our fear is a matter of the painful emotions of the flesh or whether it is an act of faith in the living God.
One who sees nothing more than the man who confronts him with danger and peril for his flesh shall never obtain a true freedom from fear even when that particular enemy is removed. Death will still stand before him in another form all too soon. But he who sees the living God by faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, can say with David, “Though an host should encamp against me, in this will I be confident.” He will have no fear in the midst of terrifying days.