"Say to him, Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood-because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.'" - Isaiah 7:4
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means "Jethro," from Exodus 18:1-20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1-13.
A 19th century Hasidic master once said, "Without God, a person can't cross the street; but with God, a person can split the sea . . ." In other words, without God we can't do anything, but through God all things are possible.
In this week's Haftorah reading, the prophet Isaiah was commanded to deliver a message to Ahaz, king of Judea. Ahaz was distressed since the king of Israel had teamed up with the king of Aram against Judea. The message Isaiah delivered to him was this: "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood . . ." God assured Ahaz that his enemies would not be victorious over him. "It will not take place, it will not happen" (v. 7), God reaffirmed several verses later.
However, why the need for so many expressions for the same message? Couldn't God have simply said, "Don't be afraid"?
When Abraham was troubled in Genesis 15:1, God told him, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield . . ." When Isaac was worried in Genesis 26:24, God said, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you . . ." And twice in Jeremiah 46:27-28, God told his people, "Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant . . ." If it was enough for Abraham, Isaac, and the descendants of Jacob to simply hear, "Don't be afraid," then why wasn't it enough for Ahaz?
To answer the question, we have to understand who Ahaz was. In short, he was one of the most wicked and ungodly kings to ever reign over Judea. For the believer who has a relationship with God, it's enough to gently remind him or her not to fear. But the person who depends on his or her own strength and abilities suffers from more fear and needs more reassurance.
This was the case with Ahaz, who had pushed God away at every chance possible. Once a person is so distant from God, it's hard to have the faith needed to get through hard times. A few verses later in Isaiah, the prophet put it this way: "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (v. 9). We need our faith to carry us through hard times. If we have cultivated a faith relationship with God all along, we'll remember not to fear and that will be enough. However, if we ignore God's presence in our daily lives, then our anxiety level will be such that getting to a place of trust will be extremely difficult.
Today, let's cultivate our faith relationship with God. Let's remember that God is the Source of our strength. Without Him we are nothing; with Him we can do anything!