By Natalie Seale
“The wicked flee when no one pursues,but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
There are many ways to define the characteristics that make us bold – a willingness to take risks and act innovatively; to have confidence or courage; to get things done in the face of risk, rejection, or shame – but I’ve always found this one the best:
Boldness is the opposite of fearfulness.
Perhaps you’ve opened your Bible to a passage and found God’s people acting out of fear. Let’s be honest, though, those Old Testament times weren’t exactly free and easy. Even their status as His chosen people didn’t protect Israel from floods, famine, slavery, death, exile and injustice. The world was a frightening place! But even more than that, the Israelites proved time and time again that they were unable to keep to the laws and codes outlined for them in the Covenant. They had been given a set of instructions, but they persisted in creating false idols, in wanting more than was provided, and in letting their lack of trust get in the way.
In short, their fearfulness wasn’t the right kind of fearfulness. The Bible uses the word fear at least 300 times when referring to God, and many of these have positive connotations rather than negative ones. In Genesis 42:18, Joseph wins the trust of his brothers when he declares himself as a “God-fearing man”; while in Exodus 18:21 Moses chose leaders to help on the basis that they both feared God and would not accept bribes. Fearing God is, therefore, a good thing – it demonstrates our integrity as Christians, our trustworthiness and our willingness to treat others with love and kindness. In the crucial passage from Romans about sin, we read that the chief sin of humanity is to “have no fear of God at all.” (Romans 3:18).
So if we’ve worked out that fearing God is so important, where does that leave us with boldness? How do we strike the balance between fearfulness and fearlessness?
Though we have a tendency to use “proverbs” as a catchall term for short pieces of wisdom, this is actually one of the most complex books of the Bible. The word translates from the Hebrew word mashal, but the latter has a much more varied meaning than its English equivalent. In addition to the kind of short sayings of popular wisdom that we might expect, theBook of Proverbs also includes longer, instructive poems of advice intended to be passed down from teacher to student, or parent to child;and dramatic personifications of the wise man and the fool (or the righteous and the wicked). As well as the complexity of its subject matter, the Book of Proverbs also raises questions about its authorship and dating. Traditionally referred to as the “Proverbs of Solomon,” it is clear that other writers had a role in collecting together the sayings, poems and instructions that make up the book – among them Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Lemuel, whose mother is attributed with the writing of one of the most well-known and loved of all the proverbs: Proverbs 31.
The draw of the guide for being a virtuous woman is strong, but Proverbs 28:1 probably tops the list as my favouriteBiblical proverb.This is because of the way that it relates so beautifully to the gospel.In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his wish that they live fearlessly – more specifically, that they live a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit… not frightened in anything by your opponents.” (Philippians 1:27-28).Paul confirms the truth established in Proverbs 28:1 in a really powerful and meaningful way here. When he tells the Philippi to live a life worthy of the gospel, he is reminding them that righteousness and courage go hand in hand, and that together they can defeat wickedness and fear.
So what is it that makes the wicked flee, and what makes the righteous bold? And what does it mean for us?
If the second half of Proverbs 28:1 is encouraging, the first is pretty baffling. Do the wicked flee because they don’t fear God, or do they fear God in the wrong way? Do they even know they are wicked? And do they care? The Bible provides us with a roundabout kind of answer in Genesis. After Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge “…they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8). We know how this story plays out: Adam tells God that they were hiding because they were naked and afraid; and God wants to know how they knew they were naked. After all, He wasn’t doing anything threatening, merely walking through the Garden of Eden as He had done on many days before. The difference was that Adam, with the guilty conscience acquired from defying God, felt threatened enough to flee – even when no one was pursuing him.
Adam defied our kind and just God, and was cast out of the garden as punishment. It would take many generations for the relationship between the Lord and His people – that’s us – to be repaired through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Though The Word reminds us time and again that it is human to sin,it also permits us to rejoice that, where our sin is concerned, we have been washed whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). The blood of the Son was enough to wash us all clean of sin, forever. In Psalm 32:1 King David tells us: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” – and indeed, because of Jesus we need not struggle with a guilty conscience, fear Him, or flee from Him. The second Adam has triumphed over the first: the grace of God abounds, always.
Cleansed of our wickedness, we must focus on boldness, which we read is earned through righteousness. If we go back to the same Psalm again,a few verses later David writes: “He who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice you righteous ones, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11). What makes us righteous? The answer here is simple: trusting in the Lord.When we place our faith in God and the plans He has laid out for us, we demonstrate just how much we trust in His mercy and wisdom. We become righteous not because of anything we do – in fact, it is important to remember that where righteousness is concerned, there is nothing we can do – but because we are imputed with the righteousness of God. By Him and through Him we are granted the boldness of the lion – the king of the jungle, the strongest of all.
Far from making us feel helpless, knowing that we can’t achieve righteousness on our own should give us confidence and courage. Though we’ve picked it apart pretty thoroughly here, Proverb 28:1 actually boils down to a single, beautiful truth:
We become bold only when we draw near to God.
The good news of the gospel is that the wicked rebellion against the Lord that started with Adam passed long ago – we have nothing to fear!We need not worry about guilty consciences or the price of our sin, because Jesus has settled every score on our behalf with our Father in Heaven.
Yet, we are still called to be bold.
Bold in our promises.
Bold in our conviction.
Bold in our faith.
Bold in ourselves and in the face of anyone who tries to make us feel afraid; like we aren’t enough; or that our faith doesn’t matter.
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7
You are a dearly loved daughter of the King, with all the strength and confidence of the lion. Draw near to Him. Put your trust in Him. He will show you the way to roar!
Natalie is a Yorkshire lass who recently moved all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to live with her husband Quincy. She has a PhD in Renaissance history and until recently taught undergrads and post-grads at the University of Edinburgh. Her passion is for teaching, but in the process of applying for a visa she discovered a new love for writing devotionals and lettering by hand. Good coffee, old books, family time, warm jumpers and Texas sunsets are some of her favourite things. Her heart is to live a life full of the love and joy of God, and in doing so help others to achieve their potential.