7490 - Fear of the Lord


Audio transcript

Today lets look at an expression found in many passages of scripture. "The fear of the Lord."

The first thing that come to mind when I hear this expression is the phrase found in Proverbs (1:7, 9:10, and 15:33) and in Psalms (111:10), "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But what exactly is the fear of the Lord?

Of the many words that may be translated "fear" in the Old Testament, the most common Hebrew word in this context is yir'ah. It describes terror, dread, and exceeding fear, but it also flows into more positive ideas of honor, reverence, and respect. It not only conveys the idea of being literally afraid like when one is confronted with a snarling lion, but also a deep respect and reverence such as would be proper when approaching the throne of a king.

Now in the New Testament there are two Greek words used to describe fear in the context we are speaking. The most common is the word phobos. This is exceeding fear, terror, that which prompts the desire to flee.

We may be familiar with this idea through a common word like arachnophobia- the fear of spiders. Regardless of the source of the fear, the effect is strong and tangible.

Now, one thing to bear in mind, while this idea of true fear, as we know it, is conveyed through this word phobos, there are also aspects of reverence, awe, and respect.

As an example of this complex emotion, lets look at a brief passage from C. S. Lewis' masterpiece The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We see two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver preparing two young girls to meet Aslan the lion.

"Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

These two young girls would have to confront their fears of a Lion by holding fast to the knowledge of His goodness. The lion was by no means tame, he was as wild as the wind, but he was good. God is not tame; he is not a little kitten we can approach without fear or respect.

Now, this is not to say that we are afraid of God in the sense that we want to run, or because we are afraid he will smite us in some terrible way. We are afraid of God, because He is Good, and we are sinners. We should not only approach His throne with respect for who He is in all His glory, but also with fearful reverence of His power and goodness.

In all of scripture, every time an angel appeared to a man or woman the response was the same, they were gripped with fear. When an angel appeared to Mary (Luke 1:30) and also to Joseph (Mathew 1:20), nearly the first words the angel spoke was to tell them to not be afraid. When the heavenly host appeared to the shepherds tending their flocks, the first words were "Do not be afraid" (Luke 2:10).

If the presence of an angel was enough to bring fear, how much more should the presence of God shake us to our core. In Isaiah chapter 6 we see a vivid picture of God appearing to Isaiah. Lets read selections from this passage and see what Isaiah’s response was.

1b “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2a Above Him were seraphs, 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

When the Lord appeared to Isaiah in all His holiness, Isaiah cried out a confession of his own sinfulness.

We are all sinners, and are deserving of death according to Romans (3:23 and 6:23), and as sinners, according to Matthew 10:28, we should fear God with terror, particularly if we have not claimed the salvation offered to us by the death of God’s son Jesus.

The saving grace of Jesus that works its change in our hearts will bring about a transformation in this fear from terror to reverence. It is fear nonetheless, but one with which we are able to approach the throne as we hold fast to the knowledge of God’s love, forgiveness and goodness.

If we have accepted salvation then we do not need to fear being cast into eternal torment, but in the words of A. W. Tozer, "No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God."