ANXIOUS/DISQUIETING THOUGHTS: sar’af (noun). (Strong’s 8312).
Root: דָּאַג (da’ag). Root: שַׂרְעַף (sar’af).
Sounds like: daw’ag & sahr’awf.
I don’t think there’s a human out there that can say they’ve never had anxiety or worries. In fact, it seems that anxiety has become a global epidemic which does not discriminate between race or creed or nationality. For some, it’s minor worries of the day, for others anxiety is entirely crippling.
Anxiety has existed from the moment we took the proverbial bite from the apple and the Bible is filled with anxious people.
Anxious king: Zedekiah
During the conflict between the Jewish people and the Babylonians, king Zedekiah was under a great amount of stress. The prophet Jeremiah warned Zedekiah that if he submitted to the Babylonians, his kingdom would survive, but if he remained walled up in Jerusalem, his kingdom would fall. But rather than hear and obey, Zedekiah had a singular focus that fogged up his thinking. His anxiety was centred on the Jewish people who had deserted his kingdom; he worried that they would hand him over to the enemy:
Then King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “
I dread I am anxious [ani doeg] about the Jews who have gone over to the Chaldeans, for they may give me over into their hand and they will abuse me.”
But Jeremiah said, “They will not give you over. Please obey YHWH in what I am saying to you, that it may go well with you and you may live.”
Jeremiah tried to refocus Zedekiah on the task at hand. He had to admit defeat to live. The risk was not being turned over by his fellow Jews, the biggest risk to Zedekiah was not obeying God’s command. Jeremiah tried to make it clear: do not overreact, do not let your anxiety get the better of you. Trust God and you will live!
But Zedekiah couldn’t do it… he refused to accept Jeremiah’s warning, and Jerusalem fell to the enemies. Zedekiah was captured, his sons were killed before his eyes, and then Nebuchadnezzar blinded him and bound him with chains. He remained blind, alone, and imprisoned until his death.
Anxious king: David
Another Biblical king who felt the weight of anxiety was David. He spoke quite openly about his anxiety, but he dealt with his worries in a completely different way than Zedekiah:
David: For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety [ed’ag] because of my sin.
But my enemies are vigorous and strong, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me, because I follow what is good.
Do not forsake me, O YHWH; O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
David was overwhelmed with worry, but he recognized that he had anxiety because of his sin. Enemies gave him the reason to be anxious, but his lack of trust is what allowed the anxiety to get the better of him. We have many reasons to be anxious and worried about the things we cannot control: COVID-19, terrorism, debt, the threat of war, but we become anxious from those things by allowing ourselves to feel overwhelmed. David called out to God to help him, and help was what he received. He may have had a hard time trusting but he still relied on YHWH, and that was his strength.
Relying (or not) on YHWH
Here is how YHWH felt about those who had anxiety but did not rely on Him:
YHWH: “Of whom were you worried [anxious: da’ag’t] and fearful when you lied, and did not remember Me nor give Me a thought? Was I not silent even for a long time so you do not fear Me? I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry all of them up, and a breath will take them away.”
But for the anxious who relied on YHWH, it was a different story:
YHWH: “But he who takes refuge in Me will inherit the land and will possess My holy mountain. And it will be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.’ For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” says YHWH, “and I will heal him.”
People were given a choice: trust YHWH or don’t.
YHWH: ‘Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares YHWH, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil. But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of YHWH your God, saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; then in that case listen to the word of YHWH, O remnant of Judah.
Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious [doh’agim], will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there…
YHWH’s message: Don’t go to Egypt; you will die there. Don’t let your anxiety control your choices. Stay and trust in YHWH to bring you through the war and the hunger.
But what did the Hebrew people do? They couldn’t see the long term vision that God promised. They took, what they considered to be, the quick fix and headed to Egypt, despite the warnings. Their anxiety blinded any trust they had in God.
When the world seems on the brink of war, there is communal anxiety that builds and snowballs, causing panic and mistrust to sneak in and take over. Here’s how Damascus felt before their impending destruction:
Concerning Damascus: “Hamath and Arpad are put to shame, for they have heard bad news; they are disheartened. There is anxiety [d’agah] by the sea, it cannot be calmed.
Damascus has become helpless; she has turned away to flee, and panic has gripped her; distress and pangs have taken hold of her like a woman in childbirth.”
Anxiety is like a raging, uncalmable sea… it churns wildly, and all your efforts are put towards just trying to stay afloat and survive.
War torn countries are often in this state of just trying to exist. In their status of awaiting impending destruction, economic failure, and famine, the survivors begin consuming anxiety:
Ezekiel 12:17-20 (See also Ezekiel 4:16-17)
Moreover, the word of the YHWH came to me saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with trembling and drink your water with quivering and anxiety [u-vid’agah]. Then say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord YHWH concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel, ‘They will eat their bread with anxiety [bid’agah] and drink their water with horror, because their land will be stripped of its fullness on account of the violence of all who live in it. The inhabited cities will be laid waste and the land will be a desolation. So you will know that I am YHWH.’”
Trusting in YHWH won’t eliminate the cause of your anxiety, but it will carry you through it. Jeremiah reinforced the importance of trusting in YHWH:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in YHWH and whose trust is in YHWH. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious [lo yid’ag] in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.
This is a beautiful image… Fully trusting in YHWH is like being a glorious, green, tree planted by the water, fully nourished and above the anxiety that surrounds it. It does not wilt in fear… in fact it will be vibrant and it will bear fruit regardless of what is thrown its way, be it drought, disease or storms.
Yeshua (Jesus) may very well have had this passage from Jeremiah in mind when he told the parable about the seed:
Luke 8:11-15 (See also Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20)
“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries [Greek: merimnon] and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
Anxiety is like a thorn… it chokes us and halts us from growing in our faith. We cannot mature in our walk with God if we let anxiety choke us out, and weigh us down:
Anxiety [d’agah] in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.
Cast all your Anxiety
We have a God who gets it… because He lived it:
And He [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
Yeshua felt the immense weight of anxiety as he faced His impending death, and His anxiety manifested physically as drops of blood. And so He fully understands the overwhelming anxiety that has weighed upon us, because He lived the experience.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah, he painted a picture of the One who would understand our sorrow and grief because He carried it for us:
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But YHWH has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
God understands burdens of this world, and so He does not tell us to just “get over it”, or just “trust in Him and shut up about it”. No… we are told, instead, to take all the anxieties that we bear and place them onto Him:
1 Peter 5:6-7
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety [merimnan] on Him, because He cares for you.
Yeshua carried the weight of all our sins onto the cross. And because of that incredible deed of sacrifice, today we can unload the weight of our anxiety, that we carry on our shoulders, and pile it on top of Him.
Anxious Thoughts and Consolations
Alongside the anxieties that plague us, is the loud nattering of negative thoughts that howl in our brain. Anxiety gives multiple birth to anxious thoughts. There is actually a separate Hebrew word for anxious/disquiet thoughts; it is sar’appai… found twice in the Tanakh (Old Testament):
If YHWH had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, “My foot has slipped,” Your lovingkindness, O YHWH, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts [sar’appai] multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.
I used to coach figure skating to the littlest of skaters… ones who could barely keep their feet on the ice. I recall the panic of these little humans, some who had just barely learned to walk… and the tears were plentiful! This verse makes me imagine YHWH standing behind us with His arms outstretched and our arms draped over His, trying to stand on blades for the first time… our feet are slip-sliding everywhere, but He is holding us up… and His presence immediately calms all the anxious thoughts that loudly flood into our brains: thoughts of “I can’t do this!” and“I’m going to fall” all fade away when we fully allow YHWH to hold us up.
We live in an era now where there is medication and therapist who can help us with our anxiety… and that is a good thing. They are valuable tools to help us manage the loud garbage that rumbles around in our heads. But do not forget that our healing will go so much better if we also rely on our Creator who loves us. He cares for us and He wants to lift the heavy weight of anxiety off of us. If we let Him, YHWH will quiet the noise, lift the burden, and carry it Himself. King David wrote:
Psalm 139:23-24 (A Psalm of David)
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts [sar’appai]; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
There is a path we are all on… and it may be full of thorns, but if you trust in God you will find the everlasting way, bringing you back home to the garden of Eden, where God is waiting with open arms. He is preparing the way, and removing every obstacle… So pile all your anxieties onto Him, grow in your faith, and firmly place your feet on the path that allows you to wander straight back home.
Next week: Case, Cause, Dispute