Fear has the power to turn us into people we never dreamed we could be. I have been a person I’m not proud of when I was afraid. I was a jealous spouse when I was afraid my marriage was crumbling. I was an anxious, nervous, paranoid Momma when my daughter’s death put me in a constant state of fear that my children would die. I’ve been harsher than I’m proud to admit at work when I feared someone else’s performance would have a negative impact on our organization.
Fear has the power to destroy relationships, redirect our emotions, and oppress nations. This is especially true when coupled with pride and and a desire for power and control. Fortunately, God is bigger than our fear, our pride, our emotions…and he’s bigger than oppression.
These truths were so apparent in Exodus, when the Israelite people moved into Egypt. They were escaping a famine, and initially, they were received well. However, they kept multiplying at a rapid pace, and Egypt was filled with Israelites. (Exodus 1:7 NRSV) “Now a new King arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore, they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor…” (Exodus 1:8-11a NRSV)
That is a lot of fear and paranoia, grabbing a hold of this Pharaoh’s heart. He was terrified that the Israelite people would rise up against him. God made a covenant- He promised that they would be fruitful and multiply and they did. The blessing and anointing God gave to the Israelite people caused fear, paranoia and anxiety in Pharaoh.
Let’s get really honest with ourselves, friends.
Has God’s blessing and anointing of another ever caused fear and anxiety in you?
It has for me.
We see all of the incredible things that are happening for someone else and we think, what about me?
Maybe it’s a transition at work. Someone is coming in to take your position because you are moving on to something else…and they’re KILLING IT. And it kinda stings.
Or maybe they’re a super talented singer, or speaker, or author, or artist…and you see their success. Maybe it’s a group of people that has been historically oppressed, finally gaining access to the rights and privileges that you have taken for granted for decades. Or maybe it’s the next generation entering the workforce, coming in with their new ideas, dreams and ambitions. It’s not that you DON’T WANT them to succeed. It’s just that you don’t want them to steal YOUR success. It’s not that you don’t want good things for them, you do.
But there’s only so much pie. We don’t want to lose our claim to the choicest piece.
That’s exactly where Pharoah was.
Now hopefully, when we find ourselves in these human, sinful, selfish places, we can catch ourselves. We can confess it and hand it over to the Lord, allowing Him to refine our hearts, making us more like Him.
However, Pharoah was not in intimate relationship with the Lord.
Friend, it is so important that you are in intimate relationship with the Lord.
Because this seed, this thought, this paranoia can so easily turn into more. His sinful thought turned into a sinful action. The growth of the Israelite people led to such a fear in Pharaoh that he chose oppression over protection.
He wanted so desperately to retain his control. He had grown accustomed to the power, authority, admiration and prestige that came with his high position. He percieved the blessing of the Lord upon the Isrealite people as a threat to that power. His mind began to run wild and he started to imagine worst case scenarios.
There’s no real reason to believe the Israelite people would have taken up arms against the Egyptians. It’s not like they were in a habit of turning against the nations that had shown them kindness. But once those wheels of paranoid started turning, there was no stopping them.
Have you ever been there, friend?
The paranoia grabs you, and you cannot turn your mind off.
Everyone hates you. They are after you. They are determined to defeat YOU. They are determined to prove you wrong, to be better than you, to best you, to one-up you.
It’s so easy to get caught in that trap. To ruminate on these thoughts.
That’s what Pharaoh did. He obsessed about it. It became so central to his thinking that he came up with a plan to protect himself.
Have you ever come up with a plan to protect yourself from the imaginary scenarios that you created in your head due to fear? I have.
I have this fear of bridges. It’s totally wack-a-doo. I am certain that my entire family is going to die because our van is going to plummet off of a bridge into a lake or river. My husband can barely swim, and my children are all young. I have 4, and my oldest is the only one who can swim. I realized that, if this horrific incident were to happen, I would be solely responsible for getting EVERYONE out of the vehicle and somehow swimming them to shore.
Friends, the likelihood of this actually happening is SO SLIM.
But the fear of it gripped me. It took control of me.
And in my head, I created a plan. I did hours of research. How do you get everyone out of a sinking vehicle, including an infant? I even went so far as to put our LIFE JACKETS in the van. I made a whole plan, so that if this happened, I could get everyone out and on top of the van, and then I could pass all of the life jackets out so that I would not have to keep everyone above water by myself.
This fear of something that is probably never going to happen consumed me. I needed to make a plan.
Pharaoh was the same way. Now, my plan involved me trying to SAVE people, so it’s a little different. But Pharaoh’s fear planted seeds of anxiety and bitterness and hard-hearted ugliness. His fear and anxiety took root, and he made a plan.
To quote the Grinch, “Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Pharoah got a wonderful, awful idea.” Oppression. His idea was oppression. Forced labor. Slavery, to be exact.
His awful idea, to assuage his anxiety, was slavery. He believed that if he forced the Israelite people into slavery, they would stop flourishing.
God’s promises are bigger than Pharaoh’s persecution. The Israelite people continued to multiply, despite their circumstances. No matter what Pharaoh threw at them, they were fruitful. God promised it, and so it was.
Maybe you have been there.
Maybe you’re there now. It feels like the world is conspiring against you. Nothing can go right. Everything is wrong. Everyone hurts you. You can’t catch a break. You work hard, you do your best, you honor God, yet still the pestilence persists. You don’t fit in. You aren’t welcome or wanted. You’re beat down and discouraged. You want to quit. Why are you even still here? Why does God have you in this place, anyway? Hasn’t he promised you something different?
I bet the Israelite people felt like that.
I bet there are demographics in America today that feel this way.
I bet there are people in the pro-life movement that feel this way, who don’t check the “right” boxes.
As a woman in the American Christian Church, I often feel this way.
But, the Israelite people are a perfect example. When God’s promises are present, no hardship, toil or oppression can prevent them from prevailing. Victory is His.
God promised that the Israelite people would be fruitful and multiply. And they were. Nothing can stop the promises of God. Not even a King. Not even a King that has enslaved your people or ordered the midwives to kill all of the baby boys.
When God says you will, you will.
God said that they would be fruitful and multiply, and they did.
Oppression can creep up on us. We often don’t see the damage that fear can do until it’s already done.
What fears have you allowed to creep into your life, preventing you from seeing God’s hand at work in other people? Confess it. Allow the Lord to work in your heart, and trust that his work in others does not mean less for you. The blessings of God are not pieces of a pie. There are plenty for all of us, according to our giftings and callings. Seek yours. Ask God to reveal what he has set aside specifically for you. Listen. Do not allow your heart to grow hard the way that Pharaoh’s did. God wants to speak to you. Let go of all of the fears surrounding other people, and choose to see them the way that he sees them- as those created in the image of God to do mighty things. The Kingdom of God is not a competition but a cooperative. Let’s join hands.
What has God promised you? What Pharaohs exist in your life, trying to hold you hostage? Stop letting those oppressing voices have the final say. Cling to the voice of God above all of the other noise. He will not let you down.
Lord, Thank you for promises that are true. For never leaving me when oppression is stifling, and when it feels as though I cannot take any more. Thank you for persisting, and for always delivering when you say you will. Thank you for delivering me from my fears, for convicting my heart instead of hardening it. Help me see your plans for my life, so that my fear does not turn into a stifling oppression on someone else’s blessing. And if I am ever at risk of heading down that road, Lord, convict me so that I can turn onto a path that is more honoring of you and the people that are created in your image. In Jesus’ name, Amen.