The Fear of the Lord

A Biblical Expression

In the Bible the expression “fear of the Lord” is used quite often. For instance, in the Proverbs this fear is called “the beginning of knowledge” (1:7, NASU). In describes the particular attitude of a people, such as Abraham’s description of the people of Gerar: “there is no fear of God in this place” (Gen. 19:11). It also describes obedience and choosing to serve God, such as Job when Satan asked, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9).

Reverence vs. Emotion

To some, the idea of having fear of God is a troubling idea. Because of this, a common understanding describes the idea of “fear” as one of “reverence and respect.” This idea is not without merit and describes much of the attitude of those who choose to follow God, honoring His authority and His commands. Such a “fear” is demonstrated by how one chooses to stand before His God, with either humility and honor, or derision and dishonor.

However, the idea of very real fear as an emotion is also very much a part of this expression. The word translated fear in both the Old and New Testament is a common word describing emotion. The New Testament word is “phobos” from which we get “phobias” in English. So where does this idea of emotional fear come into one’s standing before God?

The underlying cause

What is the underlying cause to show God respect and honor? Is it purely magnanimity on the part of man? While God created man to choose to love and serve Him, the power and authority He has should give man good reason to do so. The follower of God respects God’s authority because that authority has real power.

Do not be confused

It is important not to conflate the idea of having fear of power with the righteousness or just nature of the power we fear. Fearing authority does not make such authority unjust or overbearing, although in cases of such abuses of power fear has its place. Before God our fear is a very real understanding of His perfect nature and perfect justice. Perhaps a healthy cause of fear is of our own unworthiness before perfect justice.

In either case, an understanding of the infinite authority and power of God should give man pause. From this man must develop a healthy fear and respect for God. To not do so is to lead to one’s own destruction, each and every single time.

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