Scarecrows: When False Fear Becomes Real

One of the more traditional icons of the autumn season in the western world is the scarecrow. A scarecrow is essentially a mannequin made of straw; once made, the straw-mannequin is dressed in clothes to make it look (somewhat) like a farmer. It is then set up in a field of crops, creating sort of a straw sentinel. The aim of course in making and setting up a scarecrow is to scare crows (and other birds) away and keep them from eating crops.

I’ve never used a scarecrow and have always found it difficult to believe that birds would be fooled by such shenanigans. However, I can understand the logic behind their use: birds eat crops and seeds; farmers scare away birds, keeping them from doing so; farmers cannot always defend their crops; a scarecrow can maintain the constant image of a farmer, doing what farmers themselves cannot do by staying in the field for the whole harvest. The hope is therefore that the birds will transfer their fear of farmers to something that looks like a farmer and be scared away.  

Scarecrows are not real, in one sense of the word, in that they are false imitations of that which is real (farmers). While they are not real, the fear that they are designed to inflict is real. At the same time (and try not to get confused here), the fear that they inflict is not really real, because it is merely self-inflicted. There is nothing really there that should inflict fear, because the scarecrows are not real.

Birds aren’t the only ones afraid of scarecrows. The Bible is full of stories of people who were afraid when they shouldn’t have been.

When the Israelites first approached the promised land, they found it to be exactly as the Lord had described; the spies Israel sent into the land noted, “It truly flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). As true as the Lord’s promises had been, it was also true that there would be obstacles between them and obtaining those promises. The spies immediately added, “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:28). These obstacles – the strong people and the fortified cities – were merely scarecrows. Though they appeared large and looming, the Lord had promised to go with them, and the land was theirs the taking. Unfortunately, fear turned into murmuring, and murmuring turned into disobedience. Scarecrows kept them from the Promised Land.

Jesus once told a parable about a man who was given a talent, a sum of money, by a master who knew he could use it to create a profit for his household. However, like the Israelites, His fear of failure kept him from doing anything. He said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:24-25).  His master replied by saying that fear ought to have motivated him to act; in fact, all he had to do was put the talent in the bank. Success would have been just that easy, yet the servant’s scarecrow kept him from acting. The parable ends with Jesus saying that a false fear would send the servant into outer darkness, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30).

Simon Peter was once with the disciples on the sea of Galilee, when a tremendous storm arose. Looking out to the sea, Peter saw Jesus walking across the water toward them (Matthew 14:24-33). Peter looked out at his Master and begged to be able to join Him out there on the water. Jesus instructed Peter to come, and, when he did so, as long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus, he was able to walk on the water just as Jesus did. Yet even Peter succumbed to a false fear; when he saw the waves, he began to doubt and at the same time to sink. Christ rebuked him, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). The waves were only a scarecrow; there was no danger when his eyes were fixed on His Master.

Scarecrows come in all shapes and sizes, but their goal is the same: to keep birds – or maybe even people – from their goal. Have you allowed a scarecrow to direct you from the path to heaven, your promised land? Has a scarecrow kept you from using what your Master has given you to do His will? Have the crashing waves of the world around you been a scarecrow to you, keeping you from fixing your eyes on Christ? Remember that along with the unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, the fearful and cowardly will have their part in the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).
-Patrick Swayne
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