What does it really mean to fear the Lord?
Last week we mentioned that the wisdom books teach that the chief end of man is to “Fear Yahweh”.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (ESV) The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with4 every secret thing, whether good or evil.
How would you define the fear of the Lord? Most people hear the word “fear” and automatically believe it means that we should be afraid of punishment when we do something wrong. While that is a part of fearing God, it is a very small understanding of what it means to fear God. There is much more to it than that.
This morning we want to help you get a better understanding of the concept of the fear of Yahweh.
One of the first characters to talk about the Fear of the Lord is Abraham, in the book of Genesis.
God made a promise to Abraham that he would have descendants, a family that was so big that you could not count them. And God told him that it would happen through his son, Isaac. THEN God told Abraham to sacrifice his son on the mountain.
They climbed the mountain, Abraham tied up Isaac, placed him on the altar and had his knife ready to kill him. The Angel of the Lord said
Genesis 22:12 ||… “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from me.” [CSB]
What did the angel mean when he said that Abraham feared God? The book of Hebrews explains:
Hebrews 11:17–19 ||By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and yet he was offering his one and only son, the one to whom it had been said, Your offspring will be traced through Isaac. He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead; therefore, he received him back, figuratively speaking. [CSB]
You see, Abraham offered up Isaac in obedience to God because he had FAITH in God. He believed that God would keep his promises.
From Abraham we learn that fearing God means having faith in God. His actions demonstrated a belief in the power and faithfulness of God.
You should also note that it mentions that Abraham was tested. Keep that in mind…
In Exodus 20 we read the 10 Commandments of God. Moses just came down from the mountain and explained the 10 commandments to the people of Israel. God was on the mountain.
Exodus 20:18–20 ||All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. “You speak to us, and we will listen,” they said to Moses, “but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses responded to the people, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come to test you, so that you will fear him and will not sin.” [CSB]
Moses says, “do not be afraid of God” but to “fear God”. That does not seem to make sense, does it? Clearly, they understood, or at least Moses understood, that there is a difference between fearing God and being afraid of God.
We really need to look at the context of that verse to understand the difference. God had just given the 10 Commandments. The first commandment is to worship Yahweh God and not have any other gods. In chapter 23 we find more regulations, and a reminder to keep God’s commandments.
There are a lot of laws and regulations listed throughout, but the one core commandment, which Jesus cited as THE greatest of them all, comes from the shema, which the Israelites would recite daily. We can find that in Deuteronomy 6, so let’s read that starting at the beginning so we can get it in its whole context:
Deuteronomy 6:1-5 (ESV) - “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
From this passage we understand that the fear of Yahweh is also connected to the love of Yahweh. If your fear of Yahweh does not help you love him more then you do not have a healthy understanding of the fear of Yahweh.
From Moses we learn that fearing God means obeying his commands and loving God more than anything or anyone else. You should also notice that God was testing the people. Keep that in mind…
Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land, instead Joshua led them. One of the first miracles God did through Joshua was to dry up a part of the Jordan River so they Israelites could walk across on dry ground. God told them to take 12 stones, one for each tribe, and make a memorial.
Joshua 4:21–24 ||and he said to the Israelites, “In the future, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you should tell your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.” [CSB]
IT does not make sense that the people, who just saw God do a miracle in drying up a river, and who saved them from the Egyptians, would be afraid of God. If we remember that Fear of the Lord means to trust and obey God above all others, then when we read this passage we are understand that God wants us to remember the mighty things He has done for us so that we can always choose to allow him to lead us.
From Joshua we learn that the fear of the Lord means allowing God to lead and direct our lives.
The man after God’s own heart, the beloved king, had a lot to say about the Fear of the Lord.
Psalm 103:11–14 ||For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust. [CSB]
Does it seem strange that we read about love and fear in the same verse?
From David we learn that fearing God brings his blessing on his children – and by blessing I do not mean the things of this world! If you think the blessing of God means that you and I will have more money, bigger houses and lots of food, you have a very small and pathetic picture of who God is and what He really cares about!
God knows that:
· without HIIM you can have full bellies and feel very empty inside
· without HIM you may have much money and still feel very poor and unhappy
· without HIM you could have a nice house but not know what it means to have love
The blessing that God gives to those that trust and obey him include the things mentioned in Psalm 103:
· God’s faithful love – and it is love that cannot even be measured it is so great!
· God’s forgiveness – getting rid of our sins and not bringing them up again!
· God’s compassion – as a loving father, caring for us enough to discipline when needed and provide what we really need: protection, leadership, love, acceptance and instruction.
BUT the greatest thing that God blesses us with is his very presence. THIS is why God wants us to trust and obey him, so that we can be close to him. Not so we can have piles of stuff but a deep relationship with him. He created us, he loves us and he gave his son Jesus to die for us so that we can have a renewed life WITH HIM.
The fear of God is about TUSTING God, OBEYING God, LOVING him and following his lead, and God BLESSES those who fear him with his very presence in their lives.
You might be thinking, “That is the Old Testament”. YES – and it takes up most of your Bibles and is what most of the New Testament talks about! You should know it! You MUST study it if you want to truly understand God!
But Jesus took the penalty of sin on himself, so we don’t have to fear God, right? Well, Jesus did change the dynamic of our relationship with God, that’s true. It’s because of him we can have peace with God and not have to fear or worry about our eternal fate when it comes to his final judgement. However, once again, fearing God goes way beyond just being afraid of God’s judgement (though it remains a reality for those who have not trusted in Jesus).
Let’s look at how this applies to the church today.
The book of Acts is about the spreading of the good news of Jesus and the establishment of the church.
Acts 9:31 ||So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. [CSB]
The church in Acts grew, Why? Because God blessed it! WE do not grow the church, God does, it is HIS church. But notice with me what is said about the church:
1. It lived in the fear of the Lord
2. It was encouraged by the Holy Spirit
The early church was known as a group of people who feared God and listened to the Spirit. And God blessed them – by using them to lead more people into a relationship with God. That is what is means when it says, “it increased in numbers.”
From the early church we learn that we still need to fear God.
Just as the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord and the culmination of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, the beginning of God’s story and the end of God’s story are wrapped in the theme of fearing God.
We have been studying as a church how the Bible is a complete story and that there are themes that consistently run from Genesis to Revelation. These themes most often point to the mission, character and nature of Yahweh, God as well as man’s response to those.
Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Going back to our wisdom literature, we read that fearing Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge. Now that we know the fear of Yahweh means to trust God and to keep his commands, to love God above all else and follow his leadership, let’s go back to the very beginning…
Genesis 2:15-17 (CSB) - The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
God created Adam and put him in the garden and gave him stewardship over it. Then he gave this first commandment – “don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad”
Let me requote Prov 1:7 “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. Why do you believe God did not want Adam to eat from that specific tree? Because God wanted man to listen to him, trust him and obey him.
The fear of the lord involves all 3:
· We can listen to someone, but still not care about their message
· We can trust someone but still not be willing to follow them
· We can obey someone but have a bad heart
God wants us to listen to him, trust what he says and then be willing to obey, even if it does not make sense at the time, even if we are not satisfied with what he is asking. THAT is the Fear of the Lord.
In Genesis 3:1-7 the temptation that the serpent used to get Adam and Eve to disobey God was the temptation for them to have their own knowledge, positioning themselves in God’s place by taking it for themselves rather than receiving it from God. Fearing God (IF they had done it) would have maintained true knowledge for them. Trusting, obeying, and loving God is the beginning of true knowledge.
Let us look together at the book of Revelation, chapter 19. This is a chapter of songs of praise to God. It is just before Satan is permanently defeated and before the final judgement of God on mankind.
Revelation 19:5–8 ||A voice came from the throne, saying, Praise our God, all his servants, and the ones who fear him, both small and great! Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying, Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns! Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has prepared herself. She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. [CSB]
Those of us who fear the Lord (that is Those of us who trust, obey and love God) are the bride of Christ, and some day we will stand in his presence and declare his greatness!
This chapter is a chapter of celebration! And the people who “fear God” are told to praise God. At first look, without the greater context that we have established, that doesn’t make sense! You do not celebrate and praise someone who you think will harm you or who you are afraid of, do you? So, we must go back to what we learned from Abraham and Moses—that fearing God means TRUSTING, OBEYING, LOVING and FOLLOWING.
So, we see that from the very beginning, the first commandment to mankind was designed to teach us to fear God. We understand from the wisdom books that the chief end of man is to live in the fear of Yahweh. And we conclude with the day when God will call all those that have feared him to celebrate with him forever.
AS YOU STUDY God’s Word, it is important to keep this bigger picture view of the fear of Yahweh in mind. It is healthy and helpful to continue to explore the depths of it. It is not a simple one sentence concept, it is an all of life, 24/7 kind of concept that will continue to unfold in our hearts and minds as we seek to understand and live in it.
It means not only to fear being punished for wrongs, but also loving God enough to trust him and obey him and listening to the Spirit.
JUST LIKE Abraham, you will be tested to see if you truly have faith in God. Just like the Israelites, you will be tested to see if you will follow God completely. You will NOT be perfect at it, but with God’s help you will learn more and more each day what it means to Fear Him.
What keeps us from fearing God?
· PRIDE – thinking that we know better than God and that we are smarter than God. This is the temptation of Adam and Eve as well as you and me
· FEAR OF OTHERS –It is God who created you and me, it is God who offers salvation to you and me through his son, Jesus the Messiah, and we should fear disappointing him more than we fear disappointing others
· LACK OF LOVE – not loving God enough to allow him to change us, not loving God enough to follow his lead, not loving God enough to WANT to live a life that makes him smile.
· DOUBT – doubting that God is even really there, that he cares, or that he is who he says he is…the all-powerful God of the universe who is perfect and just and holy, and deserving of our fear.
You DO NOT live a life in the Fear of God so that you will get something back; and you cannot live a life of fearing God if you are being swayed by what other people or culture think you should do.
You live in the Fear of God when, out of love, you choose to trust that HIS ways are best, that HIS words are true and that He can be TRUSTED with your life.
Are you willing to trust God and obey him in all areas of your life?
IF So, then today I pray that you may experience the Love of the Father, the forgiveness that comes through the Son, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit in your life!