Many people struggle with this concept, that we should fear God,
this God that we are told IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Why should we fear
love, they reason? Let's spend a few minutes considering this fear.
Teaching about the “fear of the Lord”
113:10 The fear of
the LORD is the beginning of wisdom
Prov 9:10) i.e. you are starting to be wise when you fear God.
1:7 The fear of the
LORD is the beginning of knowledge
you are really beginning to know truth when you have the fear of the
19:23 The fear of the
LORD leads to life:
when you come to the place of fearing the Lord, it releases life.
16:6 through the fear
of the LORD a man avoids evil
when you fear the Lord, it keeps you from doing evil.
of “ the LORD ”
Before we consider what fear means in this context, we need to
note that the Scriptures focus this fear on “the LORD” and Lord is always
Why? Because it goes right back to Moses' encounter with
God as recorded in Exodus, chapter 3. At one point, Moses asks God,
who shall he tell his people, he has met with? What name shall he give
to the One he has encountered. The answer he received was as follows:
3:13-15 13 Moses said
to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God
of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?'
Then what shall I tell them?" 14
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to
say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.' " 15 God
also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God
of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of
Jacob - has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which
I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
The note at the bottom of the page in your Bible, for verse 15,
will probably say, “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may
be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14”
Thereafter in the Bible this name, “I AM” is simply printed as
“the LORD”, so you could translate the phrase, “the fear of the LORD”,
as “the fear of the I AM”.
So why does God describe Himself as “I AM”? Well, “I am” shows
something of God's eternal existence, His ever-presence, His unchanging
nature. He always has been and always will be - the same! If we were
ever able to do time travel and went back ten million years, we would
encounter God. If we encounter Him today, He is exactly the same as
back then. If we travelled ten million years into the future,
we would still find Him exactly the same!
But in verse 15 of the last quote above, He also described Himself
as “ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
” What was that saying? He is the God who interacts with
human beings in history, and this interaction tells us much about Him.
As we study God throughout the Bible we find there are certain attributes
of Him revealed (and you can find these in detail by going to our sister
site – www.Rochfordcc.co.uk
and looking in the Resource section for the first of the studies on
those attributes we find that God is
of the I AM
Now why should we fear God? Because you can't help it when you
actually realise who He is! If we really understand even a little of
those attributes above, we will naturally fear. Why? Because we naturally
fear the unknown or the great, or the different, and God is all of these
Within the Bible, there are four encounters with God that are
1:17 When I saw him,
I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on
me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
This is John receiving a revelation of the eternal Son of God.
He falls down and has to be reassured with the words, “ Do not be
1:28 Like the appearance
of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around
him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell facedown.
We're not told that Ezekiel was actually afraid but his response
is to prostrate himself before the Lord, which is a sign of fearful
6:4,5 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."
Isaiah sees the Lord and is clearly filled with dread because
all he is conscious of is his own failure, his own sinfulness.
5:8-10 When Simon Peter
saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord;
I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished
at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John,
the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't
be afraid; from now on you will catch men."
Here the impossible has happened. Fish have appeared in large quantity
where Peter knew there were none. It is a miracle. Peter's response
indicates awareness of his own sinfulness in the presence of Jesus,
the Son of God.
In each of these four instances the response of the person encountering
divinity is a sense of unworthiness, of fear.
There can be fear in the
presence of power. If you meet a
seven foot tall man in a lonely street, it is quite likely you would
feel fear. Here is strength, here is power beyond yours, and you don't
know what he might do.
C.S.Lewis, who wrote a whole series of children's books to convey
Christian truth, captured this in the first of the series called, “The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. Three children come into the magic
land of Narnia and have encountered Mr. & Mrs. Beaver who tell them
about Aslan the lion, who Lewis uses to portray Jesus. Mr. Beaver is
is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.'
said Susan, ‘I'd thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel
rather nervous about meeting a lion.'
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.'
he isn't safe?' said Lucy.
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.'
That perfectly captures the sense of the fear of the Lord as
we face the power of the Lord. He can do ANYTHING, and such power is
frightening. We fear when we realise the enormity of God's power.
14:31 And when the Israelites saw the great
power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the
LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
of the Unknown
There is also fear in the
sense of the unknown. Many horror
or sci-fi film makers have played on this with ‘ things' coming
out of darkness to the accompaniment of scary music. Some young people
leaving home to go to University for the first time, fear what might
be, because it is unknown. For some, starting a new job may create tremors
for the same reason. The new, the unknown, has this effect on us.
When it comes to God, He is Spirit and we are flesh. We cannot
see Him, but we hear of His activities and we may not understand them.
We fear. There is a large measure of the unknown about God. We may have
been told much about Him in the Bible, yet we are sure that is only
a tiny bit about the Supreme Being. We fear when we realise the unknown
dimension of God.
of the Difference
Then there is also fear in the
sense of the different. Young children
may react badly to their first sight of severely physically disabled
people. Many people feel distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of
the mentally retarded or the mentally ill. Their “differentness” creates
concern in us. Another expression of this is racial prejudice. We fear
other cultures, become defensive and fear them. What or who we don't
know, we fear. When we get to know someone of a different culture, we
realise as a human being, they have so many of the same characteristics
or experiences as we do, and the fear goes.
In respect of God, the characteristic that the Bible calls “holiness”
means separateness or difference. When we come to realise that God is
Spirit (Jn 4:24) and God is perfect (Mt 5:48), apart from all the other
things that make Him so different from us, there comes fear when we
sense God drawing near, simply because of the awful sense of “differentness”,
especially (like Peter and Isaiah) when we realise our imperfections
by comparison, that is really scaring, frightening – fear!
A final fear we might consider is the fear
of enormity of size. The one time
in my consciousness, when I am aware of fear, is when I start thinking
of the ‘size' of space and the enormity of the concept of eternity.
Trying to grasp the concept of “existence” or even non-existence makes
us suddenly realise a) how tiny we are, and b) how much we don't know
- how can we grasp the concept of ‘nothing', what does existence mean
before there was anything, what do these concepts mean in reality?
When it comes to thinking about God, our finite minds fall into
total confusion. How can God be personal yet exist both ‘here' and a
billion, billion, billion (how many do you want to add?) light years
away? If, as the Bible indicates, God can speak a word and suddenly
there is the sun, or a billion suns or whatever, in existence, this
is an enormity of size, power etc. that is just beyond our comprehension.
When we start to get a glimpse of this in reality, fear pours in.
in a Right Context
If we start to take note of what the Bible says about God, and
then get a sense of God's presence, and then start to realise just a
glimmer of the reality of who He is, it is natural that we, who are
so finite, so imperfect and who get it wrong so often, will feel fear.
In fact we may go as far as to say that the absence of fear of
the Lord is an indication of the shallowness of our understanding and
our experience of the Lord. When, by His grace and enabling, we catch
even a glimmer of that revelation we, like those we've seen from Scripture,
will need those words of assurance that say, “Fear not.”
And why don't we need to fear? Because God is love and God is
good and God is totally for us, so when He draws near it is for our
blessing. But having said that, if we are to see the whole picture,
we have to realise that it is blessing for those who have responded
rightly to God and are now in relationship with Him. For those who reject
Him, there is a very real fear of retribution or judgement which the
Bible also speaks about.
This is the paradox – fear of judgement for those who do not
know God, fear of His awesomeness for those who do know Him - but which
then gives way to love and assurance as He reveals more of Himself to
So yes, the command is first to fear the Lord, and having come
to that place of recognition of His greatness and holiness, followed
by a corresponding awareness of our sinfulness and need of His salvation,
we are then brought into relationship with Him so that His own Holy
Spirit is able to teach and comfort us.