You are on the Fear of the Lord Study Page of


This Page considers the phrase, "the Fear of the Lord"




The Fear of the Lord



    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.


Scriptural Teaching about the “fear of the Lord”


Psa 113:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom


(Also Prov 9:10) i.e. you are starting to be wise when you fear God.


Prov 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge


i.e. you are really beginning to know truth when you have the fear of the Lord.


Prov 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life:


i.e. when you come to the place of fearing the Lord, it releases life.


Prov 16:6 through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil


i.e. when you fear the Lord, it keeps you from doing evil.


Fear 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 in capitals.


     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:


Exo 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 – and looking in the Resource section for the first of the studies on God.)


Among those attributes we find that God is

      •  all knowing
      •  all powerful
      •  all wise
      •  exists everywhere
      •  has no beginning or ending
      •  is utterly perfect



Fear 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 things.


    Within the Bible, there are four encounters with God that are significant:


Rev 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 afraid


Ezek 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 subjection.


Isa 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.


Luke 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.


Examples of Fear

Fear from Power

    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 speaking:


‘Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.'

‘Ooh!' said Susan, ‘I'd thought he was a man. 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.'


    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.


Exo 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.


Fear 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.


Fear 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!


Fear of Enormity

    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.


Fear 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 us.


    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.



Return to Front Page