Fear And Brutality
The Egyptians loved Joseph. He survived slavery, demonstrated impeccable character, served Pharaoh faithfully, and saved the nation from famine. That’s a sensational resumé.
When he was joyfully reunited with his family, Pharaoh gave them the best piece of land (Genesis 47). When Joseph’s father died, the Egyptians mourned for seventy days (Genesis 50). When Joseph died, he was recognized as a hero. His family was secure, but their welcome would not last. Warm hospitality twisted into fear and brutality.
Fear is the culprit that so often leads to brutality. Let’s follow the progression.
Intellectual and Relational Ignorance
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous” (Exodus 1:8-10).
The new king was intellectually and relationally ignorant. He knew not of the history, courage, or faithfulness of Joseph, and he lacked relationships with the Israelites.
When people ask me about a hot topic that’s causing them fear, I’ve begun asking them if they’ve engaged intellectually and relationally. More simply, I ask, “Are you reading books from people heavily engaged and forming friendships with people so that your understanding will be enlarged?” We need to read broadly from people heavily engaged, and we must befriend those most impacted.
It’s not terrible to be ignorant about a subject, but it’s gravely dangerous to be ignorant about a group of people whom you are being seduced to fear.
“If war breaks out, [the Israelites] will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10).
There isn’t a hint of evidence for Pharoah’s fears. The Israelites were never planning a hostile takeover, they were not plotting a coup, they were not amassing weapons. However, facts did not matter. Ignorance fed Pharaoh’s fears, which turned into full blown paranoia.
It reminds me of a parallel story – the birth of Jesus. King Herod was a deranged, paranoid killer. He slaughtered members of his own family, so it’s no surprise that his suspicions of the rumored King Jesus would trigger a murderous decree to kill any little boy in Bethlehem.
Tragically, this sort of paranoia has infested our world. Most of these stories are all less than a month old. Facts continue to be gathered, but notice a common theme:
- A Kansas City man shot a teen through a door. The boy had mistakenly gone to a house (off by one block) to pick up his little brothers. A family member said the man had become consumed with watching conservative news outlets and following conspiracy theories built on misinformation.
- A group of young women in New York, looking for a friends house, turned into the wrong driveway. A man came outside and shot the car, killing one of the women.
- A man shot a dad and daughter who were retrieving their basketball that rolled into his yard.
- An Oklahoman sheriff and other town leaders discussed killing a reporter, lynching Black residents, and hiring a hitman.
- A man with “neo-Nazi ideation” and patches and tattoos linked to white supremacy killed eight people in Allen, Texas.
- A man with a gun and zipties was arrested outside the house of Justice Kavanaugh.
- An attorney for Enrique Tarrio, one of the Proud Boys, blamed Trump for his client’s actions on January 6. He reminded jurors that Trump said “fight like hell” or his supporters weren’t “going to have a country anymore.”
Paranoia is everywhere.
There may not be a better/worse example of how people spread paranoia than Tucker Carlson. If he was reporting in Egypt at the time of Pharoah, his schtick would work. He’d ask cynical, paranoid questions that could be easily answered. But instead of asking knowledgeable people, he’d do a lot of implying:
Can someone explain why the Israelites are still living here?
Was Joseph really a good guy anyway? Do you really believe that a slave could end up working in the highest office of the land? What was he up to?
When our enemies invade, do you really think they’ll stand with us?
Carlson’s toxic replacement theory would be on repeat for Pharaoh.
“Look out! They are coming for us.”
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him” (Exodus 1:11-16).
Brutality can be prompted by fear or greed. In this case, it was both. The more the Egyptians profited financially and feared irrationally, the more they could justify their brutality. Slavery, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, Al-Qaeda terrorism, immigrant mistreatment – same song, way too many verses.
If you took away the stoking of fear from some politicians and media outlets, they’d not have anything to say at all.
Fear is a human emotion. It can save lives. However, when someone binds fear to unfounded paranoia, danger is lurking.
So now what?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18).
So what should you do about it?
- Recognize that fear-mongering is in direct conflict with God’s love.
If you are ingesting fear from a media personality, cut it out of your life. If you are reading a constant dribble of fear-inciting junk from friends’ social media posts, unfollow them. If you aren’t taking at least one day a week to avoid social media, start. Take action!
- Develop your inner-life.
The more time you spend in God’s presence, the less you’ll be able to stomach peace-shredding dogma.
- See people as they are, not strangers to be feared, but friends to be loved.
- Engage with information and relationships. The moment we begin to fear a group of people is the same moment we should engage in intellectual and relational learning, connecting our heads and hearts to the people we are being told to fear. Read books. Make friends and listen. Talk to people immersed in the culture and in the issue. Maybe you’ll conclude that you need to remain wary of a group of people offering you a cup of Kool-Aid. Or maybe you’ll find your suspicions were overblown and coming from someone with an agenda. Maybe you’re being played.
Love well. Fear not.