“TREMBLING at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” (Proverbs 29:25) With these words the ancient proverb alerts us to the kind of fear that is indeed a mental poison—the fear of man. It is likened to a snare. Why? Because a small animal, like a rabbit, is helpless when it is caught in a snare. It wants to run away, but the snare holds it relentlessly. The victim is, in effect, paralyzed.
If we are seized by the fear of man, we are a lot like that rabbit. We may know what we should do. We may even want to do it. But fear holds us in thrall. We are paralyzed and unable to act.
Think of some examples in Bible times of those who were captured by the snare of fear. In the days of Joshua, 12 men were sent to spy out the land of Canaan prior to the Israelites’ planned invasion. The spies came back and reported that the land was fertile and rich, just as God had said. But ten of the spies were overawed by the strength of the inhabitants. Thus, seized by fear of man, they gave an exaggerated report about this strength to the Israelites and caused the whole nation to be seized with fear. The Israelites refused to obey God’s command to march into Canaan and take possession of the land. As a result, during the next 40 years, the entire adult male population of that time, with a few exceptions, died in the wilderness.—Numbers 13:21–14:38.
Jonah was another victim of fear of man. When assigned to preach to the great city of Nineveh, he “proceeded to get up and run away to Tarshish from before Jehovah.” (Jonah 1:3) Why? The Ninevites had the reputation of being a ruthless and violent people, and Jonah certainly knew that. Fear of man caused him to run in a direction away from Nineveh. True, he eventually accepted his assignment but only after receiving unusual discipline from Jehovah.—Jonah 1:4, 17.
Even kings may fear men. On one occasion, King Saul directly disobeyed an express command from God. His excuse? “I have overstepped the order of Jehovah and your words, because I feared the people and so obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:24) Some centuries later, when Jerusalem was under attack by the Babylonians, Jeremiah, a faithful prophet, counseled King Zedekiah to surrender and thus save Jerusalem from much bloodshed. But Zedekiah refused. Why? He confessed to Jeremiah: “I am in fright of the Jews that have fallen away to the Chaldeans, for fear that they might give me into their hand and they might actually deal abusively with me.”—Jeremiah 38:19.
Finally, even an apostle could be afraid. On the day Jesus was to die, he warned his followers that they would all abandon him. Peter, however, boldly declared: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both into prison and into death.” (Luke 22:33; Matthew 26:31, 33) How wrong those words proved to be! Just a few hours later, Peter fearfully denied having been with Jesus or even knowing him. Fear of man overpowered him! Yes, fear of man is indeed a mental poison.