The “fear of the LORD” is a complex subject which every Christian should strive to understand more . . . It includes both a growing knowledge of God’s Word, but also a true sense of fear, awe, love, and adoration. Loosely organized thoughts follow.
The thesis of the book of Proverbs is that the “fear of Yahweh” is foundational to the pursuit of wisdom. Proverbs returns to an emphasis on this central thought again and again (see verses in Proverbs below). Never the less, understanding the fear of the Lord is not immediately easy. My notes document some of my study.
“Fear” means “Fear”
Part of the problem with understanding the “fear of Yahweh” is that too many times we are told that the fear of the LORD doesn’t mean fearing the LORD. That is not helpful. “Fear” means “fear.” Survey people who encountered the presence of the living God in the Bible and you will quickly see that they were, indeed, afraid.
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid1 and trembled, and they stood far off Exodus 20:18-20
And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41
Yet, the fear of the LORD also means safety and love
Psalm 34:7 assures us that the angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear God. And Deut 10:12-13 tell us that we fear God by loving Him and walking in all His ways. For those who know Christ, the fear of the LORD does not mean the terror of those who face God’s wrath.
Jerry Bridges is correct that the “fear of the LORD” is better described than understood. Still Murray’s thought points us in the right direction:
“The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains [compels or powerfully produces] adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.” John Murray
Fearing Yahweh involves both a growing understanding of God’s Word but also a response of worship and adoration. The quotes below are helpful in reflecting on the importance of fearing the LORD and also on understanding what it means.
Key Quotes on the “fear of the LORD”
“Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” - C.S. Lewis, from The Chronicles of Narnia
“I take humility and fear of the LORD as appositional.” Dan Phillips
Awe is an emotion in which “dread, veneration, and wonder are variously mingled.” Bridges goes on to point out that our use of “awe” to describe silly things as awesome has had the effect of dumbing down the definition of “awe” and as a result our understanding of the fear of God. Tornados are awesome, not ice cream sundaes.
“The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains [compels or powerfully produces] adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. Is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.” John Murray
“Filial fear is “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what he has done for us.” Sinclair Ferguson.
“twas grace that taught my heart to fear. And grace my fears relieved.” John Newton.
“The disconcerting oscillations between the psychological poles, ‘fear the LORD’ and ‘love the LORD,’ suggests that they are interchangeable for expressing the true religious experience.” Bruce Waltke
“The fear of God is the animating and invigorating principle of a godly life. It is the wellspring of all godly desires and aspirations. Do you desire to be a godly person? Then you must understand and grow in the fear of God.” Jerry Bridges
Fear of the Lord is “that filial relationship which, in the most positive of senses, puts us securely in our place, and God in His (a theme thankfully developed in, e.g., Ps 34:7 ff).” Derek Kidner
“The fear of the LORD”: Key sources for studying the concept
See also Proverbs Recommended Resources
“The fear of the LORD in Proverbs”
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD, (Proverbs 1:29, ESV)
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:5, ESV)
The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate. (Proverbs 8:13 ESV)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10, ESV)
The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be short. (Proverbs 10:27, ESV)
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26, ESV)
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14:27, ESV)
Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it. (Proverbs 15:16, ESV)
The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33, ESV)
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. (Proverbs 16:6, ESV)
The fear of the LORD leads to life,
and whoever has it rests satisfied;
he will not be visited by harm. (Proverbs 19:23, ESV)
The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life. (Proverbs 22:4, ESV)
Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. (Proverbs 23:17, ESV)
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:30-31 ESV)