Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Fear of the Lord - Part 2

For Part 1 see here:


“Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:11-12).

“You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet –
When you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfil them;
Let all the neighbouring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth”
(Ps 76:7-12).

The above psalms certainly seem to be linking fear of the Lord with the wrath of God. It does seem that in their contexts, they are arguing that the fact that God can become angry with us should lead us to fear him and thus walk in obedience to his ways. In order to avoid being subject to this wrath, we should fear him and seek wisdom. This is made even clearer in Psalm 2, a great gospel Psalm - which incidentally comes right at the beginning of the book of Psalms, straight after Psalm 1 which introduces the law of God – so we have law (to convict of sin), followed by gospel (the good news about Christ) in the opening 2 psalms – isn’t it amazing how the gospel message is to be found throughout the Old Testament?

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together
against the Lord and against his Anointed One.
‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath,
Saying ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill’.
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have become your Father.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
(Ps 2).

The world refuses to accept the gospel message, the Messiah as their king, so God reminds them that Jesus, His Son, is his choice as Messiah, and will rule over the whole earth. Therefore the people are exhorted to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry” – submit to Jesus as Lord, believe in him, otherwise God’s wrath will remain on him (John 3:36). Those who do repent and trust in Jesus will indeed be blessed with all the blessings promised in the gospel (see eg Eph 1:3-14).

It seems that it is necessary for us to remember the holy God with whom we are dealing – we serve a holy God who will one day bring everyone to account for what they have done, and we will suffer the consequences of the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – unless we are found in Christ on that day, with our names in the book of life because we have trusted in the sacrifice of the Son of God which has brought us reconciliation and peace with God.

This is reinforced beyond all doubt by the use of a Hebrew word, “Pachad”, which means terror, dread, or an object of dread, in Psalm 119. This Psalm is written by someone who obviously has a great love of God, and deep respect for His word, law, and statutes. Read the following few verses, and pay particular attention to the last line:

“I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.
You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.
Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God!
Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me and I shall be delivered; I shall always have regard for your decrees.
You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their deceitfulness is in vain.
All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross; therefore I love your statutes.
My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws”
(Ps 119:113-120).

The word translated as “fear” here is the word “Pachad”. This is the same word which is used in Isaiah chapter 2 in the following verses referring to the Day of the Lord: “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty!...Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth...They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth” (Isa 2:10,19,21) “Dread” here in the NIV is translated as “fear” in the KJV. A similar message is repeated in Revelation 6: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Rev 6:15-17). This dread is something that certainly all unbelievers will feel on the Day of the Lord when they are on the receiving end of His wrath, with nowhere to escape, no defence to offer, nothing to plead. Yet is this something that believers also identify with?

Given that this word is used in Psalm 119:120 then the answer has to be yes. It is important that we recognise the full character of the God we serve, and not simply revel in His love, abundant and lavish though that is. We must remind ourselves that this God we serve is Holy and sin cannot abide in His presence and must be dealt with. It is in this context that “pachad” is used again of the people of God in Chronicles : “Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chr 19:7). ie let a terrifying sense of God’s presence restrain you from any injustice.


However, the New Testament is equally clear that once we have taken hold of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear the wrath of God:

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father’.” (Ro 8:15).

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16-18).

We do not live in fear of what God will do to us now that we are in Christ, because by His sacrifice we have been adopted as sons into the family of God. The law resulted in fear because it was powerless to save. The gospel results in adoption because the sacrifice of Christ is more than sufficient to save, to forgive us completely of all our sins. We need not fear the day of judgment, as long as we are found in Christ. On that day we will stand, because we will be clothed, not in our own filthy garments, but in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Yet we do need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), remembering that it is only because of our trust in Christ that we are saved, and that we need to continue to trust in order to escape the wrath to come. When we contemplate the fact that our sin could only be dealt with by the sacrifice of the Father’s Only Beloved Son, and what the Son had to endure on our behalf, surely this will leave us in fear of our God. When we contemplate the fate that awaits those who are not covered by the righteousness of Christ, surely this will leave us in fear of our God – and keep us clinging to the cross as our only hope. It will also lead to more heartfelt evangelism: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (2 Cor 5:10-11).

Jesus Himself reminds us of the wrath we could face if we are not to be found in him:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Lk 12:4-7). Jesus sums up the New Testament teaching on the fear of God – we must fear Him because of who He is, yet we need not be afraid for in the Father’s protection we have nothing to fear.


Having completed this study, I continue to believe, with added conviction now, that it cannot be right, even in a children’s song, to sing of this Holy God as being “my mate”. I need to ensure that my flesh trembles in fear of my God, and stand in awe of Him, thanking Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength that in His mercy He Has reached out and provided peace and reconciliation with Him to a wicked heart such as mine through the blood of His precious Son. God forbid that I ever take that for granted! Yes, I can approach Him with confidence through the blood of His Son, and thank God for that! Thank God for His mercy, His willingness to save all men who will come to Him through Christ, His longing that none should perish, His patience with us even now that He delays the return of Christ that more souls may be saved. Thank God for His love, that whilst we were dead in our sins, enemies of God, He sent His Son that we may be reconciled to Him, and that we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Him! Amazing love! How great is the love that has been lavished on us that we should be called children of God! All this is truly amazing, and truly wonderful, and such great news. Yet let us never forget either that this God is Holy and Awesome and will judge the earth in perfect righteousness on the Day of the Lord.

Let the final word go to the author of Ecclesiastes:

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”
(Ecc 12:13-14).

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