Fear of the LORD

June 24, 2009

Pro 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Fear of God is one of the most frequently encountered concepts in the scriptures. From the time Abraham was commended for his fear of God (Gen 22:12) until the multitudes in heaven are commended for their fear of God (Rev 19:5), the theme is repeated over and over. Solomon stated that fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, the very foundation on which understanding is built. It seems that, in the view of Solomon, a person who does not fear God cannot credibly claim even to know God. Fear of God could be called a central theme of the Old Testament.

But, has the fear of the LORD become obsolete?

Many people who self-identify as Christians would say that Jesus brought an end to the need for God’s people to fear him. For them, God seems to have changed. They acknowledge that God in the Old Testament demonstrated his wrath, smiting people with wars, disease, and death. But they see God in the New Testament quite differently. Some go so far that they teach God will forgive everyone in the end. Perhaps this is the kind of teaching Paul had in mind when he spoke of people having itching ears. So, believing those myths, those folks see no reason for fearing God.

It is true that John wrote “perfect love drives out fear.” But until we reach a state where we sin no more, we cannot help but fear the one who has the power to condemn. Perhaps that is why God’s Word repeatedly admonishes us to fear God.

We find it difficult to understand how God’s love, grace, and mercy can coexist with his righteous wrath. Every person we know leans toward one side or the other — either toward generous grace and mercy, or toward strict judgment. We naturally visualize God being like people we’ve known (often, like our own earthly fathers.) But God is not like anyone you or I ever met. His love and his righteous wrath both exist, and both exceed anything we can imagine. We can’t predict what God will do based on what some human might or might not be inclined to do. God will do whatever he pleases. As the prophet Isaiah wrote,

Isa 46:9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
Isa 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

Throughout the Old Testament, we learn that fear of God is intended to motivate us to obey and to avoid sin. A few examples:

Lev 19:11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.
Lev 19:12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
Lev 19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.
Lev 19:14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

Lev 19:32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

Lev 25:17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God.

The Israelites were commanded to fear God, and to teach their children to do so. (Deut 6:1-2; 6:24, 10:12-21, 31:12-13). Jehoshaphat appointed judges and commanded them to judge justly, out of fear the LORD. A lack of fear of God led the Israelites to turn away from God. (Jer 5:21-24). That is just a small sampling of the Old Testament cases showing how fear of God led to obedience and blessings, while failure to fear God led to sin and destruction.

But someone will say that Jesus changed all that. Notably, Jesus himself addressed the subject:

Luk 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Jesus apparently anticipated that some would object to the notion of fearing God. To overcome that objection, Jesus reminded us that God has the power to “throw you into hell” — just about the most frightening prospect that could be mentioned. He was talking about “real” fear, not an unemotional respect.

The early church demonstrated and taught that instruction from Jesus. Acts 9:31, 10:34-35, 2 Cor 7:1, Heb 10:30-31, 1 Pet 2:17.

Paul feared the LORD, and therefore devoted his life to persuading others (2 Cor 5:11).

When we don’t fear God, we tend to take sin lightly. We sin knowingly, anticipating that it will be forgiven. We don’t see God immediately punishing sinners, so we are more inclined to sin.

Ecc 8:11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.
Ecc 8:12 Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.
Ecc 8:13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

Isa 57:11 “Whom have you so dreaded and feared
that you have been false to me,
and have neither remembered me
nor pondered this in your hearts?
Is it not because I have long been silent
that you do not fear me?

Fear of God is actually a gift of the Holy Spirit:

Isa 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD
Isa 11:3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;

Perhaps there is no other topic in scripture associated with more blessings than is the fear of the LORD. A few examples of the blessings promised to those who fear God: (Isa 33:5-6; Psa 34:7-9; Psa 112:1-3; Psa 103:11-17) And then there is the 128th Psalm:

Psa 128:1 Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways.
Psa 128:2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Psa 128:3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Psa 128:4 Thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
Psa 128:5 May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
Psa 128:6 and may you live to see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel.

Fear of God is the beginning of knowledge, and is the source of many blessings. Failure to fear God is the cause of much sin and destruction.

Do we really fear God? If so, I think we would be zealous to get sin out of our lives. We would create wide boundaries for ourselves to keep ourselves as far as possible from committing sin. We would certainly study our Bibles to learn what God has commanded. We would be zealous to obey. We would be concerned for the lost. We would pray humble prayers. We would serve the poor. We would speak up for the cause of the weak and helpless. We would arrive at church on time. We would pay attention to the words in the songs we sing. We would listen attentively to the message preached from the Bible. We would absolutely give rapt attention to the reading of God’s Word. We would not quickly forget what was said and done when we returned home from worship. If we fear God, we would not try to justify ourselves. If we fear God, we would not be people-pleasers. If we fear God, we would not speak evil of our brother. If we really fear God, we will not fit in very well in a world where those around us do not fear God.

If we really fear God, we will be greatly blessed. The fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.

Heb 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
Heb 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Ecc 12:13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.


  1. I think that the fear of the Lord sometimes gets a bad rap because people don't believe that we need ever fear God.. possibly it would be helpful to use the word respect instead of fear. A child who respects their father acts differently than a child who does not. I think that respect is probably a more contemporary word than fear.All that said, I have to say that I really do not have a problem with the word fear.. I have sensed this fear at times and it has kept me from doing some foolish and unwise acts. I remember one time when I was in the process of being laid off.. I was upset and one day, as I sat at my computer composing an angry e-mail message to an executive in my organization, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper this to me:.“You can go there if you wish … but if you do I will not go with you.”.I’m not sure that I can adequately put into words the sense that came over me. I can only describe it as the fear of God. I immediately deleted the message.I am not alone in this kind of response.. Moses sensed this fear at the burning bush.. Isaiah was awestruck in God's presence.. Paul experienced the fear of the Lord when he was knocked off his horse.The fear of the Lord.. when understood within the confines of the love of God.. is a healthy and awesome respectful fear.. and nothing to be afraid of 🙂

  2. Kansas Bob,Whatever the scriptures mean by "fear the LORD," it involves trembling, and a recognition that the LORD has the power, after killing the body, to throw our souls into hell (Luke 12:5). I think it's talking about "real" fear, not merely respect. When we water it down to "respect" we put God on the level of mortal men. Jesus taught us not to fear man, but rather to fear God. Fear God; honor the king (1 Pet 2:17)

  3. I think that most obey the Lord and follow Him out of a deep sense of awe and respect Alan.. the imagery of how a father is respected comes to mind. Most I know are not walking in fear of death or retribution.. that comes across to me as an approach that a toddler has towards their father.. not the reaction of a mature believer.Maybe you can offer an example from your life of how the fear of the Lord moved you in some way. Might be helpful to hear your story.. be helpful to how the impact that fear has had on your life.Thx, Bob

  4. Kansas Bob, I think a person who doesn't fear God doesn't really know God. But the scriptures do tell us to "rejoice with trembling" which is an interesting mix. I think those passages have in mind a fear of offending God. We are sinners and we are certainly capable of offending God. I think that's why Jesus told us to fear him. As for me personally, there are many examples where fear of God affects me. One that comes immediately to mind is that I have a strong conviction about being ready when worship starts, paying undivided attention when the scriptures are read, and paying attention to the words of songs when singing. If someone tries to talk to me during those activities, they get ignored — sometimes to the extent that they may feel I am being rude. But I think we need to have enough reverence for God that we will not carry on fellowship activities while his Word is being read to the congregation.

  5. I agree with you on this Alan:."I think a person who doesn't fear God doesn't really know God.".That said I think what you described is more of a reverence for worship and the scriptures.. unless you fear that God will do something to you if you allow someone to interrupt you during those times.I don't think that we are disagreeing at all.. as I have said I have sensed the fear of the Lord on several occasions.. but I do not live in fear of God or what He will do to me.. that to me would be an improper relation to have with our heavenly Father.

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