Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Fear of the Lord - Part 1

When I have spoken with Christian friends about my concern that we do not fear God enough, the reply has often been that fear in the scriptures does not refer to a literal fear and trembling, but rather a respect and loving reverence. There is a children’s song which contains the words “God’s love is big, God’s love is great, God’s love is fab and he’s my mate”. Does referring to God as ‘mate’ demonstrate a fear of a holy God? Or is it true that God doesn’t want us to shake and tremble before him, but rather draw near to him in love?

I have decided to study what the Bible has to say about the Fear of the Lord.

There are different Hebrew words which are translated as fear in our English Bibles, which do carry different meanings. The English word fear holds different meanings too: i) to be afraid of; ii) be anxious about; iii) regard with reverence and awe (Compact Oxford English Dictionary). One common Hebrew word translated as fear is Yare’ or Yir’ah which means fearing, reverent or afraid.


i) Wisdom:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” states Psalm 111:10 (repeated in Proverbs 9:10). A fear of God results in a worldview which holds that a holy God created the world, and that man is a fallen creature in need of redemption and salvation. Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, starts from the premise of humanism and a belief that man is essentially good and is capable of saving himself. These worldviews are diametrically opposed to one another, with one leading to life, and one leading to death. “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (Pr 14:27); “The fear of the Lord leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Pr 19:23).

ii) We need to search and cry out to God for a fear of the Lord:

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,
And if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
And if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
” (Pr 2:1-5)

Having a fear of the Lord does not come naturally to us in our fallen state. We believe we can exist independently of God, and don’t need Him. How wrong we are! Yet the Bible does promise that for those who battle against this natural wiring, who seek and search, a fear of the Lord will be given to them, which leads to so many blessings. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8).

iii) Blessings for those who fear the Lord:

It is clear from scripture that there is great blessing for those who do fear the Lord: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.” (Ps 128:1). “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Ps 147:11). “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Ps 145:18-19).

A wonderful promise is revealed in Malachi concerning the future of those who fear the Lord: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. ‘They will be mine’, says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not’” (Mal 3:16-18). How amazing! Those who fear the Lord will be “His treasured possession”, making up the very Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7).

iv) Humility:

A fear of the Lord will lead to humility: “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour” (Pr 15:33); “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life” (Pr 22:4). Recognising that before a holy God we are guilty sinners results in humility, which is the opposite of pride. We can have absolutely no pride in ourselves before God when even our own consciences condemn us. Taking this truth to heart will lead to an attitude of humility.

v) Obedience:

When Moses is recounting the law of God a second time to the Israelites, just prior to them entering the promised land, he encourages them to fear God and walk in his ways:

“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Dt 10:12-22).

It does seem that in this context, by revering God, and remembering how abundantly good he has been to them, it will encourage them to walk with him, love him, serve him, and obey him. By reading the law every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles, the children of Israel will learn to fear God (Dt 31:10-13), and so future generation will walk in his ways too.

The link between fear and reverence is clear in Psalm 33:8 which states “Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the people of the world revere him”. Psalm 86:11 links fear with a knowledge of the ways of God and asks “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

vi) Fear and the Messiah:

The scriptures show us that the Messiah will rule in the fear of God:

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,
He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning,
Like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth’”
(2 Sam 23:2-4).

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and of power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord –
And he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
(Isa 11:1-3).

“The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
A rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure”
(Isa 33:5-6).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exemplifies living in the fear of the Lord, for he demonstrated a complete, perfect submission to his heavenly Father whilst living on earth. Hebrews 5:7 states that “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission”. We can learn much of living in the fear of the Lord by studying the life of Christ and his relationship with His heavenly Father - his reverence for, his complete obedience to, and dependence upon Him.

vii) Avoidance of evil:

A fear of the Lord will lead to an avoidance of evil - “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech.” (Pr 8:13). “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (Pr 14:16). “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6).

Why is this? Is it simply a consequence of the love and respect we have for God? Because we love him, we grow to love what he loves and hate what he hates? This is certainly true. However, scripture shows there is a deeper meaning behind a fear of the Lord.

To be continued in Part 2...

No comments:

Post a Comment