What does it mean to fear God?
We have to ask that question because we can get this question wrong, and we can get it wrong pretty easily. And one reason we can get this question wrong so easily actually, is just because of how language works.
Proverbs is written in Hebrew, obviously.
And so they had to translate the Hebrew word for fear in Proverbs to English, which is pretty difficult, and one reason it is difficult, is because in English our words are pretty specific.
So, when we use a word like fear, we’ve got a pretty precise meaning that comes into our minds and that meaning is almost always negative.
We hardly ever think of fear as a good thing.
I guess, we’d use another word, besides fear, if we were talking about something good, which of course, is why, we can understand all the commands in the Bible, that are saying, don’t fear. Those commands make sense to us because in our language, we are pretty precise, and fear, is a word we almost always use to describe something, we don’t want to be true, of us.
Where Hebrew though is different.
In fact, it’s kind of like, I once heard someone say, and this is her explanation, not mine, but she explains, language, or words, are like luggage, you know suitcases, and instead of packing clothes into suitcases, what you do with words is you pack your ideas into them, in order to transport them into someone else’s mind.
And so say, I’ve got this idea I want you to hear, what do I do?
I pick a word or a suitcase to put that idea in, and in English, we’re blessed, because, we’ve got all kinds of suitcases, we can choose from, you know? If I want to say something, I’ve got all kinds of words.
Where in Hebrew, they had fewer words, or suitcases, and so what they had to do, was pack more stuff in the suitcases they had. When you don’t have as many suitcases, you still have to get where you have to get, and you still have to take your stuff, with you, so, what do you do, you pack more stuff into the suitcases you have, and that’s what the Hebrews did with language.
Take a word like fear.
For us, we hear that word almost completely as something negative, to be avoided, to be put off, because, we have more words, and we’d just use another suitcase, if we wanted to say something positive.
The Hebrews didn’t. And so they used what they had.
And the result is that in Hebrew, the word for fear is much more broad, than for us.
So, sometimes it means something negative, like you don’t want that, and yet, it’s also sometimes, something that is really positive and, something, you should want, which is kind of why we’ve got to do some work when we read Solomon or someone else talking about the fear of God if we are going to understand what he means.
One thing, we can do, is look at other words, they used to explain, fearing God. I guess you could say, what words did they pack in the same suitcase?
One word that’s used sometimes with fearing God, is trust or believe.
Exodus 14:31 is an example.
After God rescues the Israelites from the Egyptians.
“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord, and in his servant Moses.”
In other words, at that moment, they feared God.
And, proved that by believing, God, you can take care of us, which is not something we typically associate with fear. In English, you don’t normally say, I fear this person, that’s why I trust him. Usually we have doubts about people we fear. But, not in Hebrew. In Hebrew, you can trust someone you fear, and, in fact, with the fear of God you have to.
A person who fears God is a person who trusts God.
Proverbs 29:25 is another example.
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
And I just want you to notice the contrast.
On the one hand, you have someone who fears man, and on the other you have someone who trusts God, and really here these terms are almost interchangeable. In that, what does it mean to fear man, it means to trust in man and what does it mean to trust in God, it means to be someone who fears Him.
People who fear God trust God.
So if you want to know whether you fear God, you have to ask:
Do you trust that He has the power to take care of you? Do you find peace in the fact He knows what He is doing? Are you encouraged, knowing, you are never alone? He is always with you. Deep down, when things are confusing, is your mind able to rest, because you know He’s good, loving, merciful, patient, willing to forgive? When you read the Bible, are you convinced, it’s true? That God will keep all His promises? Do you find hope in God’s unchangeableness –that He isn’t one thing one day and something else the next, He stays the same, that He knows exactly what is happening, why it is happening and what to do to make it right.
People who fear God.
Another word used with this kind of fear, is love actually.
Which is funny.
Because, usually, in English, you fear things you think are going to be bad for you. I don’t usually like things I am afraid of.
But, biblical fear is different.
And we know that because, in the Bible, fearing God, is connected, with loving Him.
And this is Deuteronomy 10:12, where Moses says.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
And in the same sentence, you see they were commanded to fear God, and to love God, which is something we might be tempted to think is impossible.
Because, we all know there’s a kind of fear that’s not really compatible with love.
Like some of you are afraid of dogs.
And you would never say I am so afraid of dogs, I love them. No. Instead. You ask when you go to someone’s house. Do you have a dog. And if you see a dog. You want to run away from them. Which is kind of how we think of fear, but, biblical fear of God, doesn’t make you want to run away from God, instead.
It makes you want to run to Him.
People who fear God love God.
If you doubt God, you are not fearing Him. If you don’t like God, you don’t fear Him. Do you trust God? Do you love God? That’s part of what it means to fear Him.
A third word often used with biblical fear, is the word hope.
Fearing God doesn’t mean wondering about God and being worried about whether or not He is out to get you.
It can’t mean that because one of the words we find coming up alongside biblical fear is the word hope, and hope means what, it means, confidence in future good, and biblically, it’s a rock solid assurance.
And it’s an essential part of fearing God.
I mean, Psalm 33:18 says.
“Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.”
And the second phrase expands and clarifies the first. What’s a person who fears God doing, he’s hoping in God, specifically in God’s steadfast love. He’s confident, the person who fears God, that God loves Him.
Which means, when we talk about fearing God, we are not talking about doubting Him. We are not talking about wondering about His character. We are not talking about thinking of him as someone evil, to be avoided. We are not talking about always going around questioning whether He is for you.
In fact, you know basically what we are talking about?
Fearing God is being in awe of God.
Awe would be amazement. Astonishment. It’s the way you respond to something huge. Beautiful. Powerful. And better than you.
This is how Psalm 33:8 puts it.
“Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.”
Which is parallel. Meaning, two ways of saying the same thing. Fearing God according to the Psalmist, is standing in awe of God.
Jonathan Edwards once explained,
“The fear of God is having your mind possessed with an awe-inspiring sense of God’s greatness and majesty.”
And I like that.
It’s a mind possessed with an awe-inspiring sense of God’s greatness and majesty. It’s like when you’ve seen something great. You know, something really great and you want to see it again and you keep thinking about it.
The first time you are up on a plane. And you are looking down. And you are like wow. What?
When you have your first baby. And you are looking at this baby. And. You can’t stop looking.
Is when you’ve seen.
You know it.
You recognize deep down.
He’s not just a word. He’s greater than you.
And you like it. And you love to think about Him. He’s not small to you. He’s amazing. And so, your mind is possessed. It’s constantly running back, to thinking about Him and worshiping Him.
You enjoy that.
You’d rather think about Him than yourself.
It’s like in Revelation 15:2-4.
Where the apostle John tells us of this vision God gave Him of what the Christians who had died and were now in heaven were doing and experiencing.
And apparently, he saw them standing before God and heard them singing, and you know what they are singing? In heaven? What are they excited about? At that moment?
Is it, “Oh this place is so beautiful.” Or, “look at the streets of gold.” Or, “you’ve got to see my house.”
Is it, “Look at me. I am glorified. The angels think I am awesome.”
They were singing.
“Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; For all nations will come and worship Thee; For Thy righteous acts have been revealed.”
As these believers stood before God, they sang of His glory and majesty, of His might and power, of His righteousness and holiness, and of His infinite uniqueness. Their response to this revelation of God was a holy fear and a desire to glorify Him. Their fear consisted of a holy awe and reverence that turned their focus away from thinking about themselves or other people or even the glories of heaven to being consumed with God. These people in heaven were consumed with God; they were a God conscious, God centered people. They had lost their concern about proclaiming or displaying their own glory. The primary topic of their conversation was not about themselves. Their primary focus was not about themselves. Rather, they were taken up with a desire to glorify and magnify God.
Which is what it means to fear God.
God-fearing people are consumed with and enthralled by God.
Or at least that’s what they are wanting to be, that’s what they are pursuing.
How about you?
Are you a person who trusts God, loves God, hopes in God, is in awe of God, fears God?