What do you think about when you hear the phrase: “the fear of the LORD”?
If the first images that come to mind are of God’s anger or blazing fire—we’d love to deepen your understanding of the concept today! The fear of the LORD makes a frequent appearance in the Old Testament (over 70x).
The Hebrew word for “fear” is yārēʾ (pronounced: Yah-rah). The whole phrase “fear of the LORD” is transliterated: yārēʾ ʾt-yhwh (pronounced: yah-rah eth Yah-wah). Do you hear the wordplay? We are to “yah-rah … Yah-wah”; we are to “fear Yahweh.” (Reminder: “Yahweh” is the personal, covenant name of the LORD. Anytime your Bible has “LORD” in all capital letters, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is yhwh or “Yahweh”).
Looking at every instance of when the idea of fearing God is used, it comes down to three main responses to God.
1) The “fear of the LORD” means giving God your Undivided Attention.
Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 (NIV)
According to the Psalmist, an undivided heart leads to the fear of the Lord.
Think about it this way. What you fear is what grabs your attention; for better or worse. Let’s say you are deathly afraid of sharks. If you saw a shark in the water that creature would have your utmost respect. While trying to evade it I would not take my eyes off it. It would have my undivided attention. Now, that is a negative example to make my point. God should have our unwavering attention in that He does not become a small compartment of our lives; perhaps on Sundays. No way. We give Him the attention that He is the quintessential meaning and purpose of our lives. And we put Him at the center.
We don’t try to balance God amongst all our other priorities, no He is the center and everything else can find its orbit or place around Him! He takes priority. And our families are all the healthier when we do our part to lead them into a God-centered vision of life.
2) The “fear of the LORD” means giving God your Unrivaled Awe.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awe-inspiring, a great King over the whole earth. Psalm 47:2 (CSB)
“Awe-inspiring” is the same Hebrew word used for “fear.”
According to Jewish scholars, awe is the highest form of worship from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible. Clearly, God wants to captivate us in a way that is far more emotive than our mere intellect. Many usages of the fear of the Lord are tapping into the emotions of the human psyche. That which captures our awe tends to capture our hearts. So, when we see God for who He really is, we will be in awe of Him and more likely to adore Him.
Awe comes from seeing how God has worked from Genesis to Revelation; but also what He is doing in our own lives. It is a state and experience of wonder that comes from being overwhelmed by how good, powerful, and faithful our Lord is. One of the most helpful things we can do for our spiritual lives is to cultivate habits and rhythms that allow for our eyes to be spiritually open to the awe God wants to give to us! We talked about one way of doing this in this previous blog post (click HERE to check it out!).
3) The “fear of the LORD” means giving God your Unparalleled Allegiance.
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. Deuteronomy 10:12 (NLT)
Deuteronomy exhorts its listeners to have a total commitment to God, involving “all your heart and soul.” Fearing God leads to loyalty and obedience. It gives us a resolve to stay the course because what we know about God to be true. God gets our allegiance, more than our allegiance to any person, country, job, or whatever. In all, obedience to Him takes precedence over everything else. Who can be more important to obey than the God of the universe?
Often times the problem we have is that we give our earthly fears so much more weight than they deserve. We give more weight to the bigness of our circumstances than we do to the bigness of our God. Whether motivated by panic, or something else, we end up making decisions that go against the greater wisdom of loyalty to God, despite how things look on the surface. As the well-known Christian artist, Lecrae, says:
“We fear circumstances so much because we fear God so little.” – Lecrae
Perhaps if we developed a more holistic, healthy fear of God, maybe the anxieties we have today would not carry so much weight.
In summary: fearing God comes down to having the right posture before Him. He wants to live in fellowship with us and guide us, but we have to have the right perspective about it all.