Meditations on “Fear Not”: 2. The Fear of the Lord (1) – The Call
Ex 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
We will, in this series, be examining some of the ‘fear not’ calls in the Bible, but we have to start with the ‘fear of the Lord’ we referred to in the first study and saw as “a deep and reverent awe”, as the Message version put it in Ex 20:20. As we pondered on that verse we noted that on one hand they were told to not be afraid because they were to have this deep fear of God within them and we observed that when you have this deep awesome respect for God, you will realize you don’t have to fear or be afraid of anyone or anything else.
But how does this call to fear the Lord arise in the Bible? Well, on the Plains of Moab, Moses, just before they entered the Promised Land, taught Israel, “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you.” (Deut 6:1,2)
It is important to see it in context. There is a body of law given to them by the Lord and when they take note of these laws they will realize that these will distinguish them from the rest of the world, and will see that this God, who they have been learning to follow and obey for a little over forty years, is indeed to be held in high esteem for He is the One who establishes law, establishes what is right and wrong according to the way He has designed the world to work. When sin entered the world at the Fall, humans started doing their own thing and some of records of Genesis show what a mess ensued. By calling Israel into existence and giving them the Law, He shows them a way back into relationship with Him and into the way He had designed men and women to live.
But why this ‘awesome respect’? Well apart from what we have just said, every time Moses refers to God he is reminding Israel who He is for we should know that the word LORD appearing in the Scriptures in capital letters simply means, “I AM” or “I AM WHO I AM”, the name given by the Lord to Moses at the burning bush prior to His delivering Israel out of Egypt (see Ex 3). So there is both the name and the historical context. The name, “I AM” implies ‘I always am,” i.e. I am uniquely everlasting. The historical context is of an all-mighty, all-powerful deliverer. This is the One who they are called to follow, one who Abraham had come to know as, “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:22)
But there are genuine reasons why Israel should ‘fear the Lord’ for already Moses has earlier communicated the law of blessings and curses (see Lev 26, although not called that there), and will reiterate them in more detail in Deut 27 & 28. This is a God who will hold them accountable, and accountability involves life and death. We are casual about this today but perhaps should heed the apostle Paul, “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:30) He still does hold Christians accountable – those who fail to hold this awesome respect – by discipline. May we never forget it.