“Do Not Be Afraid. I Myself Will Help You”
JESUS forewarned his followers: “The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test.” However, just before that warning, Jesus stated: “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer.” Since Satan continues to use the threat of imprisonment as a means to stop Kingdom preaching, the possibility that some governments will persecute true Christians is real. (Rev. 2:10; 12:17) Hence, what will help us to be prepared for Satan’s schemes and “not be afraid,” as Jesus admonished?
Of course, most of us have at one time or another experienced some feelings of fear. Still, God’s Word assures us that with Jehovah’s help, we can avoid succumbing to fear. How? One way Jehovah helps us to be prepared to deal with opposition is by identifying the tactics used by Satan and his agents. (2 Cor. 2:11) To illustrate how this is the case, let us consider an event that took place in Bible times. We will also look at some modern-day examples of faithful fellow believers who ‘stood firm against the machinations of the Devil.’—Eph. 6:11-13.
A God-Fearing King Faces an Evil Ruler
In the eighth century B.C.E., evil King Sennacherib of Assyria won a string of victories over several nations. Flushed with confidence, he then set his sights on Jehovah’s people and their capital city, Jerusalem, where God-fearing Hezekiah ruled as king. (2 Ki. 18:1-3, 13) No doubt, Satan was exploiting the situation, inciting Sennacherib to carry out his plans so that true worship could be annihilated from the earth.—Gen. 3:15.
Sennacherib sent a delegation to Jerusalem to demand that city’s surrender. Included in the delegation was Rabshakeh, who acted as the king’s chief spokesman. * (2 Ki. 18:17) Rabshakeh’s goal was to demoralize the Jews and make them give up without a fight. What methods did Rabshakeh use in his efforts to put fear in the hearts of the Jews?
Faithful Despite Isolation
Rabshakeh told Hezekiah’s representatives: “This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, has said: ‘What is this confidence in which you have trusted? . . . Look! you have put your trust in the support of this crushed reed, Egypt, which, if a man should brace himself upon it, would certainly enter into his palm and pierce it.’” (2 Ki. 18:19, 21) Rabshakeh’s accusation was false, for Hezekiah had not made an alliance with Egypt. Still, the accusation emphasized what Rabshakeh wanted the Jews to remember clearly: ‘No one will come to your aid. You are on your own—isolated.’
In more recent times, opposers of true worship similarly used the threat of isolation in an effort to put fear in the hearts of true Christians. One Christian sister, who was imprisoned for her faith and isolated from fellow believers for years, later recounted what helped her not to succumb to fear. She said: “Prayer helped me to draw close to Jehovah . . . I remembered the assurance at Isaiah 66:2, that God looks ‘to the one afflicted and contrite in spirit.’ This was always a source of strength and great comfort to me.” Likewise, a brother who spent years in solitary confinement said: “I came to realize that the small rectangle of a cell could also be a universe when one enjoys an intimate relationship with God.” Yes, having a close relationship with Jehovah gave these two Christians the strength needed to cope with isolation. (Ps. 9:9, 10) Their persecutors could separate them from family, friends, and fellow believers, but the imprisoned Witnesses knew that their opposers could never isolate them from Jehovah.—Rom. 8:35-39.
How important it is, then, that we use every available opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Jehovah! (Jas. 4:8) We should regularly ask ourselves: ‘How real is Jehovah to me? Do his words deeply influence me as I make decisions, small and big, in daily life?’ (Luke 16:10) If we work hard to maintain our close relationship with God, there is no reason for us to be afraid. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking representatively for the afflicted Jews, stated: “I have called out your name, O Jehovah, from a pit of the lowest sort . . . You have drawn near in the day that I kept calling you. You said: ‘Do not be afraid.’”—Lam. 3:55-57.
Planting Doubts Fails to Succeed
Rabshakeh used cunning reasoning in an effort to plant doubts. He said: “Is [Jehovah] not the one whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has removed? . . . Jehovah himself said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and you must bring it to ruin.’” (2 Ki. 18:22, 25) Thus Rabshakeh argued that Jehovah would not fight for His people because He was displeased with them. But the opposite was true. Jehovah was pleased with Hezekiah and the Jews who had returned to true worship.—2 Ki. 18:3-7.
Today, scheming persecutors may share bits of truthful information with which they aim to establish common ground, but they subtly intersperse that truth with lies, hoping to plant doubts. For example, imprisoned brothers and sisters have at times been told that a brother taking the lead in their country compromised and it would therefore also be all right for them to do so and to give up their convictions. However, such reasoning fails to raise doubts in Christians who are discerning.
Consider what happened to a Christian sister during World War II. While in prison, she was shown written statements indicating that a responsible brother had abandoned his faith. The interrogator asked if she believed in that Witness. The sister answered, “[He] is only an imperfect human.” She added that as long as he followed Bible principles, he was used by God. “But since his statements have deviated from the Bible, he is no longer my brother.” That faithful sister prudently followed the Bible’s admonition: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.”—Ps. 146:3.
Having accurate knowledge of God’s Word and applying its counsel will help us to guard against deceptive reasoning that could weaken our resolve to endure. (Eph. 4:13, 14; Heb. 6:19) Hence, to prepare ourselves to be able to think clearly when under pressure, we need to give priority to daily Bible reading and personal study. (Heb. 4:12) Yes, now is the time to deepen our knowledge and fortify our faith. One brother who endured many years of solitary confinement said: “I would like to encourage everyone to show proper appreciation for all spiritual food that is given us, since we do not know just how it will be of value to us at some time.” Indeed, if we carefully study God’s Word and the publications provided by the slave class today, then, at critical moments in life, holy spirit will “bring back to [our] minds” what we have learned.—John 14:26.
Shielded Against Intimidation
Rabshakeh tried to intimidate the Jews. “Make a wager, please, with my lord the king of Assyria,” he said, “and let me give you two thousand horses to see whether you are able, on your part, to put riders upon them. How, then, could you turn back the face of one governor of the smallest servants of my lord?” (2 Ki. 18:23, 24) Humanly speaking, Hezekiah and his people did not stand a chance against the powerful Assyrian army.
Persecutors today can also appear to be overwhelmingly powerful, especially when the full weight of the State is behind them. That was surely the case with the Nazi persecutors during World War II. They tried to intimidate many of God’s servants. One of our brothers, who spent years in prison, later described how he was threatened. On one occasion, an officer asked him: “Did you see how your brother was shot? What lesson did you learn from that?” His answer was: “I am a witness for Jehovah and will remain such.” “Then you are the next one to be shot,” the officer threatened. Nevertheless, our brother stood firm, and the enemy backed down. What enabled him to face such a threat? He answered: “I trusted in the name of Jehovah.”—Prov. 18:10.
By having full faith in Jehovah, we carry a large shield that protects us against all the resources Satan brings to bear in order to harm us spiritually. (Eph. 6:16) Hence, we do well to ask Jehovah in prayer to help us fortify our faith. (Luke 17:5) We also need to make good use of the faith-strengthening arrangements provided by the faithful slave class. When faced with threats, we are strengthened when we recall the assurance that Jehovah gave to the prophet Ezekiel, who had to deal with obstinate people. Jehovah told him: “I have made your face exactly as hard as their faces and your forehead exactly as hard as their foreheads. Like a diamond, harder than flint, I have made your forehead.” (Ezek. 3:8, 9) If needed, Jehovah can help us to be as diamond-hard as Ezekiel had to be.
Opposers have found that when all else fails, tempting rewards can at times break a person’s integrity. Rabshakeh also employed this method. He said to those in Jerusalem: “This is what the king of Assyria has said: ‘Make a capitulation to me, and come out to me . . . until I come and I actually take you to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil-olive trees and honey; and keep living that you may not die.’” (2 Ki. 18:31, 32) The prospect of eating fresh bread and drinking new wine must have been very appealing to those cooped up behind the besieged city’s walls!
Such a prospect was once raised in order to try to weaken the determination of an imprisoned missionary. He was told that he would be taken to a “pleasant home” in a “beautiful garden” for six months so that he would be able to think. However, the brother remained spiritually alert and did not compromise his Christian principles. What helped him? He later explained: “I used to think about the Kingdom as the real hope. . . . Being fortified with a knowledge of God’s kingdom, being sure of it, never doubting it for a moment, I couldn’t be moved.”
How real is God’s Kingdom to us? The patriarch Abraham, the apostle Paul, and Jesus himself were all able to endure difficult trials because the Kingdom was a reality to them. (Phil. 3:13, 14; Heb. 11:8-10; 12:2) If we continue to put the Kingdom first in our life and keep its lasting blessings in mind, we too can resist the temptation to accept offers of temporary relief from trials.—2 Cor. 4:16-18.
Jehovah Will Not Forsake Us
Despite all of Rabshakeh’s efforts to frighten the Jews, Hezekiah and his subjects put their unwavering trust in Jehovah. (2 Ki. 19:15, 19; Isa. 37:5-7) Jehovah, in turn, answered their prayers for help by sending an angel to strike down in one night 185,000 warriors in the camp of the Assyrians. The very next day, Sennacherib hurried back in disgrace to his capital, Nineveh, with what little was left of his army.—2 Ki. 19:35, 36.
Clearly, Jehovah did not forsake those who put their trust in him. Modern-day examples of our brothers and sisters who stand firm under trial show that the same is true of Jehovah today. It is with good reason, then, that our heavenly Father assures us: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”—Isa. 41:13.
^ par. 6 “Rabshakeh” was a title of a prominent Assyrian official. The man’s personal name is not revealed in the account.
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Over 30 times in his Word, Jehovah himself assures his servants: “Do not be afraid”
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How were Rabshakeh’s tactics similar to those used by enemies of God’s people today?
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A close relationship with Jehovah enables us to maintain integrity under trial