Fear is a powerful emotion. It can motivate us to do crazy things, both good and bad. A healthy fear of God will prompt us to revere Him and give Him the respect and honor due His holy name. However, fear of man can lead us to do things or make decisions we never would have made and are not always the wisest.
As we open the book of Exodus and begin our study through this massive narrative, we are quickly introduced to a man whose fear motivated him to do some crazy, evil things. But on the other hand, there were two women whose fear helped them accomplish good in the midst of difficult circumstances. So today, let’s look at how fear drove these people to do what they did and why it gave them different results.
Pharaoh, the king and ruler of Egypt, was one of the most powerful men in the world during that time. Egypt was a great nation back in 1400 BC with a booming economy and powerful army. But with almost every great ruler, the fear of losing power was forefront in Pharaoh’s mind, and it pushed him to try and preserve his power.
“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”
Notice that this was a new king that did not belong to the dynasty that worked with Joseph, and he was very fearful of Israel rebelling and rising up against Egypt. So what does this fear motivate him to do? He encourages the Egyptians to harass and burden the Israelites with hard work and slavery.
Do you think that sounds like a very good plan? I’d say no. If I was worried about a people group overthrowing my power, the last thing I would do is make them unhappy and angry. On the contrary! To me, the tactics of the Egyptians sound like a sure way to stir up a rebellion. But Pharaoh never asked my opinion.
However, this paranoid and fear-driven king didn’t stop there. Step number two on his agenda to weaken the Israelites was to kill their babies.
“Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’”
Pharaoh wanted to slow the population growth down and decrease the likelihood of a strong leader rising up among the Israelites. So he commanded the midwives to kill all the baby boys born to the Hebrews. After this little meeting, Pharaoh was probably feeling pretty good. He had all his bases covered, or so he thought. However, the Hebrew midwives kindly listened to Pharaoh’s instructions and then quickly disobeyed them. Why? Because they feared the Lord.
“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. … And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.”
~Exodus 1:17, 21
Fear of losing power motivated the king of Egypt to do evil things. However, fear of God strengthened the Israelite midwives to disobey the commands of Pharaoh and save the lives of many children. And because they feared God, the midwives were blessed and protected from any consequences they may have faced because of their disobedience.
On the other hand, Pharaoh’s fear led to his eventual downfall. Little did he know that he need not fear the Israelites, but that the fulfillment of all his fears would come from his own home. Moses, the deliverer of Israel and the leader of the Exodus, was raised in the household of Pharaoh. His adopted grandson, the child raised and trained by his very own royal team would become the strong leader he greatly feared.
Pharaoh’s attempts at destroying the Israelites not only failed, but backfired. Because of the command to throw every male Hebrew into the Nile, Moses was sent drifting down to an Egyptian princess. What man plans for evil, God uses for good.
So be careful what you fear. If your fear is of man and of losing wealth, power, or selfish gain, then watch out. Your very worst fears may come about. But if you fear God, like the Hebrew midwives did, than you shall be blessed no matter what man tries to bring against you.
Now the question is: who do YOU fear?
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