April 13 – A Helpful Fear

You are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.

Isaiah 8:12–13, nasb


In the days of the prophet Isaiah, Ahaz king of Judah faced a crisis in the impending invasion of the Assyrian army. When Ahaz refused an alliance with the kings of Israel and Syria against Assyria, they also threatened to invade Judah. Behind the scenes Ahaz had allied with Assyria. Isaiah warned Ahaz against that ungodly alliance, but told him not to fear. The king was only to fear the Lord and not be troubled.

In the same sense, a Christian is not to be shaken by whatever hostilities threaten him. Fearing the Lord will help him face opposition with courage and see suffering as an opportunity for spiritual blessings, not as an opportunity to compromise his faith before the believing world.

To be dedicated to the Lord in the face of persecution demands that your mind and affections be set on heavenly values, not earthly ones. If you’re preoccupied with possessions, pleasures, and popularity, you’ll fear the enemy’s assaults. But if you’re heavenly minded, you’ll rejoice when you encounter various trials.[1]

12–15 A number of conjectural emendations have been suggested to aid our understanding of this passage, but none has commanded general scholarly approval. The text makes excellent sense as it stands and should be approached in its integrity. The NIV margin takes qešer in v. 12 in the more formal sense of a treaty, while the text understands it in its more usual sense of a conspiracy. But if God is speaking here of a conspiracy, who is under criticism? The commentators are divided, some taking the verse to refer to the political situation in which Ahaz is involved through the threat of the two northern kings, others thinking that it is Isaiah and his disciples (v. 16; the verbs in v. 12 are plural) who are under criticism from the people. If v. 12b balances v. 12a, the former interpretation is the more likely.

Isaiah and those who welcome his message (“you” in v. 13a is plural; cf. v. 18) are to epitomize the response all the people should have made to his message (cf. 7:2), for a deep reverence for God (cf. 29:23) banishes the fear of humankind. Miqdāš (“sanctuary”; v. 14) comes from the same root as taqdîšû (“you are to regard as holy”; v. 13). God will himself be a holy place in the midst of his people (cf. Ex 40:34–38; Jn 1:14; Rev 21:3).

The prophet has already shown in his language that he regards the division of the kingdom as a tragedy of divine judgment (7:17). Both houses will face further judgment from God because of their attitude in the present crisis, though the mention of Jerusalem suggests he has Judah chiefly in mind. Perhaps he takes the judgment of apostate Israel for granted.

Isaiah uses two analogies to picture this judgment. God is often described in the OT as a “rock” (e.g., Dt 32:4, 15, 18; Pss 18:2; 71:3), normally with implications of shelter and refuge. Here the prophet turns this familiar figure against the people. God the Rock is for his people who trust him, but he is against those who refuse to believe. To them God will be either a boulder over which a person falls in the darkness or a loose rock at the edge of a ravine. Isaiah has already pictured people under the divine hand of judgment having to become hunters again (7:24); now he speaks of God as the divine Hunter, who uses bird snares and spring traps as foils for his victims.

The NT writers saw the ultimate, divinely-given object of faith to be Christ. Human beings reveal their attitude toward God by their faith in Christ or by their rejection of him, so the NT writers applied this prophecy to him (Mt 21:44; Lk 2:34; Ro 9:33; 1 Pe 2:8). The importance of this passage for the NT is shown by the fact that so many different NT writers quote or allude to it (see also the comments at Isa 28:16).

It is impossible in English to convey the terrifying force of the seven Hebrew words that constitute v. 15. All five of the verbs end with the same long vowel, and four of these open with the same letter and follow one another in unbroken sequence. We may attempt something like the following: “They will stumble, many of them, they will fall, be smashed, snared, seized.” This conveys a little of the sentence’s form but does scant justice to its extreme terseness or to its auditory power.[2]

8:11–15 God deeply impressed upon Isaiah a surprising message. The holy God, who is the sanctuary for frightened human beings, is also the snare for those who do not fear him. Judah and Jerusalem wring their hands over surface-level crises (7:2, 6, 16), with little awareness of the grandeur of God. By disregarding God, they find him to be an obstacle they cannot evade. First Peter 3:15 uses language from Isa. 8:13 to identify Isaiah’s the Lord of hosts (v. 13) with Jesus Christ.[3]

8:12 conspiracy. The people considered Isaiah a traitor because he said that Ahaz and his administration were wrong to rely on Assyria.

8:13 fear … dread. It is not people (v. 12), but the Lord who is the object of fear. The kings of Syria and Israel seem dangerous to Judah but the Lord can bring their threat to nothing. Even Assyria can do nothing without the Lord’s permission. He is the ultimate authority to whom all must submit, in whom all must trust, and to whom everyone must render an account (12:2; 33:6; 50:10; 59:19; Pss. 25:12–15; 34:11–14).[4]

8:12 Do not say: The commands in vv. 12, 13, 15, 19 are in the plural. Perhaps Isaiah’s adversaries were labeling his rejection of an alliance with Assyria a conspiracy.

8:13 Hallow means to treat as holy. Your fear indicates a sense of reverence, awe, and wonder. Your dread indicates fright and terror. If the people want to be frightened, they should be frightened of God. If they want to respond to God correctly, they should treat His name with awe and fear Him (Ex. 20:20).[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 118). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 523–524). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1256). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1135). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 817). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.


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