Maurine Proctor’s column appears every Tuesday on Meridian. To sign up for Meridian’s free email sends click here. https://www.meridianmagazine.com/email/emailform.asp
It is easy, when reading scripture from the comfort of our armchairs, to feel quite superior to the Children of Israel as they tremble between the Red Sea and the oncoming, chariot-driven, fierce Egyptian army who are eager to impale them on their spears. From the advantage of knowing that the Lord will soon part the Red Sea for them, we scorn their fear, call it weak, imagine that we could do better.
The Lord, after all, has brought them out of Egypt with “a strong hand.” For their release he has sent lice, frogs and boils, destroyed the water of Egypt, taken their first born. He has destroyed their oppressors and sent the Children of Israel away from their bondage carrying the goods of Egypt.
They have moved from treading in mud slops to make bricks to seeing the greatest power in the ancient world brought to its knees on their behalf. If that is not enough to demonstrate that God is with them, He leads them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This is impressive stuff.
Still, when that destructive army with blood in its heart comes pounding toward them, the Children of Israel are simply terrified and they howled, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egpytians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14: 11,12).
They have similar whines later when they are thirsty, murmuring against Moses. Then, later, stomachs chewing in complaint and perhaps faint with emptiness, they murmur again, “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). These last two bitter, and I’m certain, relentless complaints, were issued after the Red Sea had been parted on their behalf and they had walked through on dry ground.
Talk about a God who is seeing to their every need. This is not only a miracle, it is an elegant one, right down to seeing they were not wading through a slosh, but comfortably walking on dry ground.
This instability on the part of the Children of Israel, this rushing to fear, makes them an unreliable lot who eventually cannot receive all of the blessings that God had intended for them. He had intended for them to become prepared to see His face, be wrapped in the security of His embrace, but their fear kept them from this astonishing blessing.
Yet, can’t we understand their fear? Wouldn’t it, in fact, be natural to shake with the Red Sea blocking your way and a hell-bent army thundering toward you? They had known the cruel whip of their overseers, learned to cow before their oppressors. This was just the completion of the same.
Certainly thirst bites hard when you look out upon a desert that offers no water source but the occasional mirage of a pool that disappears as you draw close. Hunger gnaws and diminishes you day by day, until enfeebled, you cannot continue.
These very real experiences seem like good reasons to be afraid when you are there on the spot, in the moment and have not seen Moses strike a rock for water or seen manna laid at your feet each day.
However natural it may be to rush to fear, it is clear from their story that fear debilitates. It paralyzes. It is a tool of the Adversary, and perhaps his prime one. Just as surely as sin blocks the comfort of the Spirit, so does fear. Fear is primordial; it overtakes us, we can fall into its sickening embrace before we know it. We may feel it as a clutching darkness or a pain that drains the goodness out of our day. Or it may simply be a sense that our nerves have been drawn taut like wires.
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Fear can be experienced as dread about some imagined outcome. It can merely be the sense that we are worried that bad things will happen, that we will miss the opportunity that could change our lives. It can be a sense that we will fail or that we will be exposed and find out things about ourselves and our weaknesses we do not want to know. We are fearful for our children’s physical and spiritual safety, for the commotion in our world, for the economy that is eating away our financial security like acid.
We may call fear by softer names—words like worry, anxiety or stress. We may even suppose that having these emotions is an indication of our being responsible. See how well I intend to do? I am worried all the time about it. See how much I care about you? I worry about you all the time.
Ironically, however, worry and fear do not indicate that we are responsible. They indicate that we have hit a snag in our spiritual development and that the Lord is inviting us to know Him better.
Let’s face it. It can be terrifying to live day by day in a world where what we value can be snatched from us. Some of us are called upon to do obviously hard things– wash the windows of skyscrapers, fight fires, do brain surgery—things that obviously call for nerve and courage. But it feels just as hard, and sometimes frightening to most of us, to raise a child who might go astray, or tackle the job we think we have no aptitude for, or live with the rejection or disappointment we didn’t expect. Sometimes we are frightened that we will just never be happy.
We have our own, very individualized, armies of Pharaoh rushing toward us with the Red Sea at our backs. We have our own thirst in the desert, our own stomachs kneading with hunger. The example of the Children of Israel who rush from the Lord who loves them for fear of their immediate and perceived danger is given us that we might do better.
“Fear not,” is an admonition given us repeatedly in scripture in a voice of tenderness. “Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me” (D&C 50: 41).
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).
Fear, in any of its forms, is not of the Lord. He does not give us the spirit of fear.
He may warn us at times, but this is not in the spirit of fear. Be certain, when you are in its clutches, that fear is always a tool of the Adversary, meant to dim your light and divide you from God.
When you are fearful, the flow of the Spirit seems to stop. Our material world, the temporary, the here and now looms large and we feel its power like Pharaoh’s army. Sometimes in the grip of the immediately tangible and threatening, we cannot feel, the light touch of the Spirit, the calming voice of God. To our trembling he says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10)
God did not put us in this insecure, fallen world to be frosted in fear, glazed in anxiety, but, instead to come to know Him and his power. Yes, we are in some kinds of bondage here, but He allows it so He can demonstrate that He is the Deliverer.
When we drop the notion that we have to control every aspect of our world to work out “just so” for us, and instead put ourselves in His hands, our fear begins to evaporate.
When we begin to seek to know Him with all of our hearts, refusing to be tossed around by the trivial or the threatening, fear begins to dissolve. The material world, where our fears lie, loses its power over us. Yes, we live here and must respond to its demands, but it is not our source of security.
We aren’t insecure in this fallen world; we only think we are. How could there be a more secure place to be than in His hands? God has prepared this journey for us, has foreseen every eventuality, and if we seek him with all of our hearts, he doesn’t just show us the way.
. . . . . . . . . . . He is the way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He tells us (John 14:6).
Jehovah told Moses that His name was “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Could there be a name that represents anything more secure, more solid, more trustworthy, firm and immovable?
The Red Sea will part. It may not be on our time table or in our way, but that’s acceptable because we know that He is doing something important with us and for us that we cannot do for ourselves. He is about the work of transforming us, expanding our understandings, shifting our paradigms. It would not do to leave us as the shaky and wavering, those who cringe at every sign of Pharaoh’s army.
Our call is to be steady. Charging God foolishly because we are frightened demonstrates that we have not yet come to understand who He is and the nature of the covenant that binds us to him if we give him all our hearts.
He is making of us the brave and invincible, those who have planted their hearts in the eternal, not the temporary. M. Catherine Thomas shares a story told by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in her remarkable book Light in the Wilderness. He said, “If there are no miracles, it’s because we don’t want them. The majority don’t have miracles because they don’t live where miracles happen. When we become as obedient as Christ, we will have miracles.”
She said, Elder Holland “paraphrased the little French poem about our having to risk coming to the edge in order to experience the miraculous: ‘God says to us: “Come to the edge.” “No, I’ll fall.” “Come to the edge.” “No, I’ll fall.” “Come to the edge.” So, I came to the edge, He pushed me, and I flew.”
If we need evidence of what He can do with a soul who can take that leap and fly, we just need to look at Moses himself. When God called Moses to free his people, Moses was immediately swamped with a sense of inadequacy, eaten up with fear. He said, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
That trembling persisted for a time, as later Moses spills the same sense of inadequacy, in conversing with the Lord “They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice” (Exodus 4:1).
It was indeed a terrifying thing that was asked of him, to go before the haughty, cruel leader of the ancient world and demand the release of valuable slaves. Pharaoh responded with as much belittling haughtiness as Moses imagined, saying “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2). To make matters more difficult, the Children of Israel also joined in the chorus of abuse toward him when their tasks were increased after Moses’s first encounter with the ruler.
They charged Moses with having put a sword in the hand of Pharaoh to slay them, having made them abhorrent in his eyes.
Under this heap of derision, Moses had to be reassured by the Lord, asking a question still laced with fear. “Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that thou hast sent me?” (Exodux 5:22). God had to remind Moses, “Ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).
In coming to know God, line upon line, and acting in obedience to his voice Moses is transformed, often by the very obstacles that first made his nerves raw. By the time he is at the Red Sea with the army charging toward him and his vulnerable people complaining before him, Moses is no longer the reluctant man, timid to take on the responsibility of freeing Israel, by asking the Lord, “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh?”
No, now he is changed, made over by God into one who is a powerful prophet, capable of raising his hand and parting the Red Sea.
Do we want to say forever impaled on our fears, a victim to our forebodings and insecurities? This is a dangerous world, yes, but we have the very Creator of the universe offering to take our hand to negotiate it. He allows us to face Pharaoh that He might demonstrate His power, allows us to run headlong into Red Seas that He might teach us about ours through Him.
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As we have true experience with God, and we note it, our trust in Him expands, and our need to cling to the worries of this world begins to take on perspective.
I can understand the shakings of the Children of Israel, stuck between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, but I don’t want to be them. I want to take a journey like Moses, and leave my fears behind, littering the desert as too heavy to carry to the Promised Land.