Do not be afraid because of them! That might sound good. But who said it? Who was it said to? Does it apply to us? And who is “them”? Who is it that we shouldn’t be afraid of? Oh yeah – why shouldn’t we be afraid? These are all good questions. Will we ask them? Or will we just run with the statement not to be afraid? Especially if we’re Christian and we know this comes from the Bible!
Do not be afraid or terrified
because of them …
So, what’s happening here? Well, the line – Do not be afraid because of them – is from the Bible. And that’s probably why Christians want to claim it and run with it. No fear. God will take care of us. No matter what.
Sorry, but that’s not exactly correct.
As always, context matters! Context is where we begin to get answers to those questions at the very beginning of what you just read.
- Who said it?
- Who was it said to?
- Does it apply to us?
- Who is “them”?
- Who is it that we shouldn’t be afraid of?
- Why shouldn’t we be afraid?
Do not be afraid because of them. How do we know what it meant when it was said? And how do we know what it means for us today? Does it even mean anything today?
As I always say, context matters. So let’s start by viewing this verse, actually partial verse, and then start answering all those questions.
Dt 31:1 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. 4 And the LORD will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Dt 31:7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Who said it?
Well, right away we see this is Old Testament. Old Covenant. So whatever else we learn, we know right away that this means something different for us today than it did to those who heard it back in the days of Moses. After all, the Old Covenant promises had to do with things happening in this life. In contrast, New Covenant promises tend to be about the next life, although they might have some beginnings of fulfillment in this life. For an example of how that worked with New Covenant promises, I invite you to check out the series on The Beatitudes.
As for who said, Do not be afraid because of them, it was Moses. However, since Moses was a prophet and spoke words from God, we can view this as a promise from God. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a promise for anyone other than those who heard Moses speak those words. After all, this was part of the Exodus. It was a special event in a special time for God’s chosen people.
Of course, we want those words to be for us. As Charles Stanley wrote:
Could anything feel more disconcerting or frightening than having to face a terrible trial all by yourself? God tells us that those who know Him never have to worry about that. He’s right there with us, in the easiest and most difficult of times. Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Dt 31:6). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
But is that true in this case? Are these words still for us?
Who was it said to?
As we saw, it was said to God’s chosen people, during the time of the Exodus that freed them from slavery under Pharaoh.
Does it apply to us?
To answer that question, let’s look at context. Of course, the context of the words, do not be afraid, during the Exodus. Also within the context of the Old Testament as a whole. And finally, to the New Testament, since it’s about Jesus and the New Covenant.
Does it apply to us – within the context of the Exodus?
31:6 The Lord was the Divine Warrior, the commander-in-chief of Israel’s forces. He will not leave you nor forsake you: Moses reminded the people that God had promised to remain with them, to protect them, bless them, and fight for them (Josh. 1:5; 1 Kin. 8:57). Joshua used the same language to assure the people of the continuity of God’s Presence and of godly leadership (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9). Jesus made the same promise to His church (Matt. 28:20).
31:7, 8 With encouraging and challenging words, Moses publicly transferred his authority to Joshua (1:38; 31:14, 23; 32:44; 34:9). He is the One who goes before you: Moses applied the promise given to Israel (v. 6) to Joshua. Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Dt 31:6–8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
This is the time where Moses knows he’s going to die. He passes the leadership role to Joshua. But look at the context, as always. Moses is also passing the baton of leadership from the time when the Exodus was in progress to the time when the Exodus ends and life in the Promised Land begins.
Just as God was with Moses, God will be with Joshua.
Does it apply to us – within the context of the Old Testament?
Granted, the Israelites turn away from God. But remember what God said about that.
Jer 24:1 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the craftsmen and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the LORD. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
Jer 24:3 Then the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”
Jer 24:4 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Jer 24:8 “ ‘But like the poor figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,’ says the LORD, ‘so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. 9 I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing, wherever I banish them. 10 I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their fathers.’ ”
In the verse of the day series, I try not to get too deep into the details. For today’s verse, notice: 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Also remember, Jeremiah was after the Exodus. Way after. In fact, Jeremiah wrote about another kind of Exodus. The one where God’s chosen people were defeated, and many were taken to Babylon. And here’s God, reminding them that he’s not going to leave them. When they turn back, He will rescue them just as He did in the Exodus.
Does it apply to us – within the context of the New Testament?
Remember, a bit earlier we read Jesus made the same promise to His church (Matt. 28:20)
Let’s look at Matthew 28:20. It’s one of the verses I probably write about the most.
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
And there it is – surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
It’s not just this verse either. Throughout the Bible, we see the continuation and revelation of what the original Covenant was all about. There’s no reason to think that when Moses said, The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, it would end there.
Who is “them”?
Obviously, the “them” part has changed.
When Moses spoke the words, God was telling His people not to be afraid of those who currently inhabited the Promised Land that He was about to deliver to them.
As time when on, Israel’s enemies change. For instance, they were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Daniel wrote about those times, and we read about his lack of fear.
And in New Testament times, we see different enemies. The Romans. Even the Jewish leaders. And now, in present times, we have still other enemies.
Who is it that we shouldn’t be afraid of?
So, depending on the times, there are different people that we’re told not to be afraid of. However, Jesus did make a somewhat more specific statement about this.
12:2-9 pp — Mt 10:26-33
Lk 12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
Lk 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Lk 12:8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Lk 12:11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
Yes, within that passage, referring to do not be afraid of them, Jesus tells us: Lk 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
So who should we not be afraid of today? Satan. And of course, that means any of his minions – fallen angels, fallen people, and anything else that comes from Satan.
Why shouldn’t we be afraid?
We already have a clue as to why we shouldn’t be afraid. It has to do with death. Not the first death, but the second death. By the way, you can check out The Problem of Free Will for more on the concept of two “deaths” even back in the Garden of Eden.
Bur for today’s verse, let’s look at something Jesus said.
Jn 5:16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jn 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
Jn 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
Jn 5:28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
One verse in there – Jn 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life – very clearly shows that after the first death, we cross over to life. Eternal life. And that’s why we should not be afraid.
Conclusion – Do not be afraid because of them! But who is “them”?
So now we see, there is a relationship between the promise in Deuteronomy and the promise of Jesus. The promise that we do not need to be afraid.
The difference though, is huge.
When spoken by Moses, “Do not be afraid” was because of an immediate concern. Namely, moving into the Promised Land and beginning a new life there.
When written by Jeremiah, the thought of “Do not be afraid” was because of a prophecy that was going to be fulfilled. A short term change in their lives. But later, a return to life with God.
And when spoken by Jesus, the words “Do not be afraid” were about both this life and the next. Do not be afraid in this life, because no one can take the next life away from us as long as we believe in Jesus. However, to see what “believe” really meant, I urge you to check out Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God? Hint – it means more than just believe, the way we think of believe today.
Ultimately, we find that “Do not be afraid”, for Christians, tells us not to be afraid for our physical lives. The infinitely greater concern is what happens to our souls. And as long as we truly follow Jesus, our souls are safe. That is our basis for not being afraid.