The phrase “fearing the Lord” hits a sour note with a lot of people. Simply said, many folks are turned off by a God that they must fear. Speaking to that, many biblical translators, theologians and religious leaders have also slanted this phrase to create a more approachable Creator. Yet, if we earnestly explore the text, we need to ask ourselves “what does it truly mean to fear God and what is the benefit to this relationship?” We will go to the source to answer these questions, the Tanakh.
Many bible interpretations, in their attempt to do PR for God, have substituted the word “fear” for ones that are more pleasing such as “awe” or “reverence”. Yes, having awe towards God or reverence towards the Lord has a nice ring to it, but let’s study the language. The Hebrew word used for fear in these verses is “yare’ ” (יָרֵא) which can mean fearing, reverent or afraid. We need to remember that “yare’ “ was the emotion felt by Jacob before meeting Esau (Gen 32:12). Although Jacob could have been in awe of his brother or might have had reverence towards him, I think it was fear of suffering the consequences for what he had done, that motivated Jacob.
Also, because we are mortals, we have this uncanny need to humanize everything. As an example, God is liken to a righteous Father in some passages of scripture (Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, 64:7, Malachi 2:10), probably because He offers discipline, love and sustainment like a good Father. This, however, is a limited comparison. For instance, let’s look at the Israelites who shuddered in fear of God at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16) or even a terrified Isaiah as he took his commission from the Almighty (Isaiah 6). These people were experiencing a bit more than wonder and respect. In truth, this fear could be a combination of comparative humility, incomprehensibility and guilt. Although a human Father would be the closest comparison, we need to understand that he doesn’t possess all the facets of the Almighty.
So, for those that fear God, you’re in good company. The Tanakh depicts many successful people that feared God. For example, Father Abraham (Genesis 22:12), Joseph (Genesis 42:18), the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:17, 21) the choicest Israeli Leaders (Exodus 18:21, Nehemiah 7:2), the good Kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:19, 2 Samuel 23:3, 2 Chronicles 26:5) and Israel when it wasn’t sinning (Exodus 20:15, 1 Kings 8:40, 2 Chronicles 6:31). As we know, these people did enjoy the blessings of this relationship. Conversely, the Tanakh also sites those that did not fear the Lord; Pharaoh (Exodus 9:30), the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), the wicked (Psalm 36:2), the stubborn (Isaiah 63:17), and simpletons (Proverbs 1:29). As we can see, the blessings for those fearing God are commensurate to the curses spilled out on those not fearing Him.
So why did they, and why do we, fear God? The Tanakh gives at least two good reasons; first God commands it (Leviticus 19:14, 32, Deuteronomy 4:10, 6:2, 13, 24, 8:6, 10:12, 1 Samuel 12:24, 2 Chronicles 19:9, Psalm 2:11, 72:5, 96:4, Ecclesiastes 3:14, 12:13, Isaiah 8:13, Daniel 6:27) and second, it is the beginning of wisdom ( Job 28:28, Psalm 25:12, 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 2:5-6, 9:10, 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, 33:6, Micah 6:9), But; the list doesn’t stop here, there are at least eight other benefits to fearing God:
- Blessings: Exodus 1:21, Deuteronomy 5:26, Psalm 31:20, 34:10, 67:8, 103:13, 111:5, 13
- Prosperity: Proverbs 22:4
- Long Life: Deuteronomy 6:2, Proverbs 10:27, 22:4, Ecclesiastes 7:17-18, 8:13
- Protection: Psalm 33:18, 34:8, 115:11, Proverbs 14:26, 19:23
- Rescue: Psalm 145:19
- Salvation: Psalm 85:10, 103:17, Isaiah 33:6
- Peace: Proverbs 1:33
- Afterlife Psalm 61:6, Proverbs 14:27, Malachi 3:16
As for fear, it is only an emotion. Our true concern should be what does it look like, when we fear the Lord? Scripturally speaking, we are to…
- Not commit idolatry: Joshua 24:14
- Show charity and compassion: Leviticus 25:17, 36, 43, Deuteronomy 14:23, Nehemiah 5:15
- Stay away from evil: Exodus 20:17, Job 1:1, 8, 2:3, Proverbs 8:13, 16:6
- Be just: 2 Chronicles 19:7
- And most importantly, fearing God will motivate us to follow Torah; Deuteronomy 5:26, 8:6, 13:5, 31:12, 31:13, 1 Samuel 12:14, Psalm 25:14, 112:1, 119:63, 79.
Simply said, when you fear something, your behavior changes. Thus, as mentioned, fearing God inspires devotion to His laws. Additionally, for those that fear God, we are considered His (Malachi 3:16, Psalm 25:14, 61:6, 85:10). Whereas, by minimizing Him as a threat, we are re-engineer our relationship with the Maker turning Him into a complacent advocate. Although this may soothe our feelings, it certainly will minimize our own desire for change. We need to remember, God is the Creator, not the created.