3. The Fear of the Lord (2) – The Outworking

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  3. The Fear of the Lord (2) – The Outworking

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.”   

Before we examine some of the ‘fear not’ calls in the Bible, we are starting with the ‘fear of the Lord’, a deep awesome respect for God, which puts everything else in perspective. Having observed it in the previous study, let’s go on to see how important it is from an outworking point of view, having already suggested that for Israel that awesome respect should have come both out of the name of God and their history with God.

In Psalms and Proverbs we come across the heart of this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10) True wisdom starts with a proper appreciation of just who God is and when we have that it will generate this awesome respect within us and that in itself will impact anything and everything we do in life. For Christians that has been brought into even sharper focus with Jesus, God incarnate.

Now look up ‘wise’ and you find, ‘having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgement,’ and ‘wisdom’ is ‘having the quality of being wise’, but when you are challenged by Biblical revelation we see that wisdom is knowing how everything works or should work in the light of God’s design for His world. Now note that I said two things there: first knowing how everything does work (in this Fallen world) and second, how it should work if brought in line with God’s perfect design. True wisdom sees everything in a ‘God perspective’, so be careful how you exalt ‘big people’ in our world. If they do not have this perspective, they are not truly wise.

The laws or rules of both Old and New Testaments should be appreciated for what they are, the revelation from heaven, and a wise person has that appreciation: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) The wisdom and instruction referred to here by Solomon in Proverbs, is that revelation of how everything does work and also how it should work, but the fool rejects that revelation: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1) What is fascinating is that you will find a footnote in your Bible that says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient”, i.e. there always creeps in a moral dimension to these things. Wisdom that starts with acknowledging God, always has a moral outworking in the practicalities of life.

Two examples of that ‘practicality’ are seen in the history of Israel. First, “The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat.” (2 Chron 17:10) A recognition of God’s greatness kept Israel’s enemies in check. Second, Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chron 19:7) Similarly a recognition of who He was caused Israel to act without partiality or bribery. When they turned away from Him, honesty and integrity left public life in Israel. In our starter verse, that same fear kept them from sinning. These things have very practical outworkings. May that be true of our lives as well.

2. The Fear of the Lord (1) – The Call

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.

1. Fear or Afraid

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  1. Fear or Afraid

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.” 

As I have been reading the Bible just recently this thought about “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” has been crossing my mind.  I remember hearing one Bible teacher saying there are 366 ‘fear not’s in the Bible, one for every day of the year and an extra one for leap year! I assume he is right, I’ve never counted. It depends a little what version of the Bible you use. For instance, the NKJV usually has “do not fear” whereas the NIV has “do not be afraid”.  So let’s have a couple of weeks pondering this area of God’s word.

The two words are very similar; when you ‘fear’ or are ‘afraid’, you are scared, fearful, frightened, anxious. However, when we come to ‘the fear of the Lord’, which we’ll look at in the second study, the Message version points out well the sense behind fear in that context in our verse above: “Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you and instil a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won’t sin.”

Now what is interesting in that verse is that on one hand they were told to not be afraid because they were to have this deep fear of God within them. No fear because you have fear? Well yes, as we will see when you have this deep awesome respect for God, you will realise you don’t have to fear or be afraid of anyone or anything else.  Really that sums up what this series is all about, I suspect, but we’ll need to see it again and again before we really take it in. This is the thing about ‘meditating’, it means to chew over so that you can digest and absorb the words so that they become part of you.

So in this series we’re going to look at both the ‘fear of the Lord’, and a number of places,  times and instances, where we are told not to be afraid. I am going to try and keep the length of each one down so that they are just slightly longer than what we often refer to as our ‘short meditations’ but considerably shorter than what have tended to become our usual longer ones.

It is worth briefly noting in this opening consideration, the fact that the word ‘fear’ comes up over 450 times in the NKJV, over 330 times in the NIV, whereas ‘afraid’ comes up 205 times in the NIV and 214 in the NKJV. i.e. approaching 800 times this meaning is used in some situation or other in the NKJV suggesting a somewhat important subject to consider, although we will restrict ourselves to considering just some of the ‘fear not’ references.

Fear occurs in a number of varying contexts, for example, “Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place.” (Gen 20:11) i.e. no respect for God there in Gerah, a situation that was to be changed. There is also the command through Moses to his people: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only.” (Deut 6:13) However when we come to the Christian life in the New Testament we find, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18) The awesome respect for God has been tempered by the love of a Father who sent His Son to die for us. However much there is this ‘fear of the Lord’, we will see, He encourages a life that is otherwise absent of fear. Hallelujah!