“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tubeshaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill – The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it – and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river. This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained-well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”
– J. R. R. Tolkien
You see above the opening to one of the greatest works of children’s literature ever written. The description seems to be of a life everyone would dream to live, full of perfect security, comfort, respectability, prestige, wealth. Yet the story that follows concerns how much better Bilbo’s life became after he left it. I’m certainly not trying to force a moral into Tolkien’s classic, but I do think it illustrates the point of this series of blog posts, because many people I’ve met seem to be chasing a life guided by principles that dictated Bilbo’s respectable actions before meeting a certain gray wizard.
I believe many people I know, myself included, chase after the respect of other people, the security of wealth, and the comfort of a quiet life. However, these things easily become idols. I want to examine, Biblically, the underlying and intertwined concepts of the fear of man, idolizing security, and pursuing wealth (three manifestations of worldliness). Our main emphasis will be on finding instances in Scripture where the Fear of Man is either exemplified or explicitly discussed.
I would like to start in 1 Kings 12. Jeroboam I is king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Having reached peace with Rehoboam, he sets about establishing his dynasty. To do so he begins to build fortified cities. And he also introduces idolatry to Israel. “Wait what? That doesn’t seem very smart,” you say. You’re right. In 2 Kings 17 we read that Israel was eventually led into the captivity of the Assyrians for walking in the sins of Jeroboam. Quite ironically, in 1 Kings 11 God had promised Jeroboam that his reign over the 10 tribes of “Northern Israel” would be established if he obeyed God’s commandments. The dude had a promise from the living YHWH of Israel. And he led a nation into idolatry with him? Why? This seems stupid. He even knew God was remaining faithful to the Davidic covenant by keeping Rehoboam as king of Judah, and thus had a clear demonstration that God keeps his promises, both to punish and preserve. Why was he failing to trust God?
Before we write off Jeroboam as one of the greatest idiots of all time, let’s pay more attention to verses 26 and 27 of 1 Kings 12. We see clearly that Jeroboam valued his physical safety and security. In and of itself, that’s not so much a bad thing. However, he valued it enough that it caused him to make up an idol to worship instead of the jealous God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So his priorities were out of whack. But why was he so concerned about his physical security? Because he was afraid his people, if left to worship God correctly in Judah, would rebel against him and kill him. This is one of several snapshots we have of the politically savvy Jeroboam.
But Jeroboam’s “political savvy” is really a deeply entangling sin: the fear of man. What exactly is the fear of man? Jeroboam’s example illustrates it beautifully. The fear of man is the mental evaluation that a person is a more dangerous threat than the living God. Jeroboam was convinced that his human subjects were a more powerful threat on his life than the judgment of YHWH would be were he to sin. He believed his subjects could thwart God’s promise to bless obedience. He believed God would do nothing to protect him should his subjects decide to reconcile with Rehoboam. Jeroboam failed to trust God. The fear of man is one of many opposites of trusting God.
I think a common objection or question at this point would be, “But how is the fear of man in the sense of trying to maintain other people’s opinions the same as the fear of man in the sense of getting killed by them?” Well it’s not identically the same. Much as the being angry with someone and wanting to kill them are not identically the same, even though the Bible refers to anger as condemned under the commandment not to murder. But the difference is in degree, not in kind. The fear of losing another’s opinion is the fear of losing the benefits of his opinion and of the inconveniences or emotional pain that person can cause you. The fear of having someone kill you is the fear of the long term inconvenience and short term physical pain that person can cause you. While different in degree, the heart issue is similar, and to my knowledge, there is no clear differentiation in Scripture. The lack of trust in God and the fear instead of men and what they can do to you is the defining aspect of the fear of man.
I hope, in future posts, to delve more deeply into this definition, see it better illustrated in examples (from Scripture), find as many passages addressing the fear of man as possible, consider common ways the fear of man affects our lives, and start providing Biblical help on how to combat this sin. I trust you and I will be deeply encouraged and inspired by that study.