“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” Proverbs 9:10.
I begin this meditation on the fear of the Lord with a verse (one of many) that points to the benefits that result when the Lord (Yahweh) is feared. I do so mindful that many Christians, including pillars of the church, downplay the role of fear in a believer’s life and rather focus on love and grace that supposedly supersedes and is superior to fear. But having gone through the 500 Bible references to “fear” and trying to understand its meaning in the original Hebrew and Greek, I believe it is a wrong view, often promoted to ingratiate church spokespeople to the very people who need to fear God and, as a result, dumbs down the message that is presented, done in order not to upset saved and unregenerate sinners alike.
I begin with a rather superficial rendition, based on an extraction from Strong’s concordance about one of the Hebrew and one of the Greek words that the KJV and others have translated as “fear”, which I understand tries to convey anything from respect and reverence to terror and dread:
Hebrew: yârêʼ, yaw-ray’; a primitive root; to fear; morally to revere; causatively to frighten:—affright, be (make) afraid, dread(-ful), (put in) fear(-ful, -fully, -ing), (be had in) reverence(-end), see, terrible (act, -ness, thing).
Greek: εὐλάβεια eulábeia, yoo-lab’-i-ah; properly, caution, i.e. (religiously) reverence (piety); by implication, dread (concretely):—fear(-ed).
The lack of the fear is part of the reason why the church is in its inept and powerless condition that it often now finds itself in and, notwithstanding many Bible exhortations not to fear and not to fear the wrong things, and the importance of grace and love in the Christian experience, there is a need to rediscover the fear of the Lord as the following texts illustrates:
We are told to fear a holy, praise and wonder working God: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Exodus 15:11.
God’s desire is that His specially chosen people fear Him and thereby derive benefit: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Deuteronomy 5:29.
A key characteristic attributed to one of the most righteous men to have ever lived is his fear of God: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” Job 1:1.
A clear statement how to serve the Lord with fear, and with it comes joy: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” Psalm 2:11.
Rather than having negative connotations: “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” Psalm 19:9.
There is something very precious to be got in fearing God: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” Psalm 25:14.
Naturally, there is much to fear but not if we fear God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1.
What blessings come from being released from our natural fears and replacing these with the fear of God: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord” Psalm 33:4-11.
An invitation: “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth” Psalm 69:9.
Blessings resulting from fearing God: “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways” Psalm 128:1.
The importance and rich rewards that come from fearing God: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” Proverbs 2:1-5.
Fear brings confidence, refuge and life: “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” Proverbs 14:26,27.
True treasure comes with the fear of God: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith” Proverbs 15:16.
A salutary warning for when we are tempted to envy those who do not fear God: “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long” Proverbs 23:17.
Fear can be misplaced: “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” Proverbs 29:25.
Summing up the whole duty of man: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” Ecclesiastes 12:13.
Fear of God – a key attribute of the coming Messiah: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” Isaiah 11:1-3.
Wisdom and knowledge and the stability that results is brought about by the fear of God, which is treasure indeed: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure” Isaiah 33:6.
The fear of the Lord that unites His people and withstands the enemy: “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” Isaiah 59:19.
An irrefutable promise: “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” Jeremiah 32:39.
What we who fear the Lord should be doing – and the promise: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” Malachi 3:16.
Another precious promise to those who fear God: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall” Malachi 4:2.
Fearing God was an important characteristic of the early church: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” Acts 9:31.
How we should proceed once we come to Christ: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.
Just in case we thought fear was an Old Testament matter: “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” Hebrews 12:21.
How we should conduct ourselves – in godly fear: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” Hebrews 12:28
Holiness (also important) and fear go together: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” 1Peter 1:15-17.
A motto for life and it includes the fear of God: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” 1 Peter 2:17.
Fear is a good thing when we consider how holy and worthy of worship God is: “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” Revelation 15:4.
Fear when Jesus comes again to judge: “And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great” Revelation 19:5.
In today’s culture, fear is often seen in negative terms, even if many succumb to it, one way or the other. Although sometimes there is a place, e.g. warning us of danger, but too often people fear the wrong things. As we have seen in the aforementioned texts, fear if properly directed is an excellent thing with many benefits, especially if it is the fear of the Lord. We round off our meditation with a text that reminds us how fear can play both a negative and positive part in our lives. I write at a time when a second lockdown has just been announced to combat the Coronavirus. Different people have different reactions to this. Some see conspiracy theories being played out, just as did Israel in our text below, when the threat of invasion was all too real. Some who follow the rules religiously will tut tut at those who succumb to such theories. Yet criticism might apply to those who fear what happens if correct precautions are not taken but at huge cost, where the fear of death has been a factor in getting the populace to do what they are told and lose their freedoms in the bargain. Neither are correct responses, but to fear God, and that includes dread, is! As John Newton wrote, we are beholden to grace which both causes us to fear and relieves us from fear!
“For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” Isaiah 8:11-13.