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.

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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!

5. God brings Good

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.5

5. God brings Good

Luke 1:11-13 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.

It seems that one of the by-products of sin is fear of the Lord. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God and then acknowledged that they were afraid of Him (Gen 3:8,10). Today so many people fear God because they think He is going to slap them! Yes, it is natural when we are guilty to flee from a holy God, but tragically that only shows even more the awfulness of this thing the Bible calls ‘Sin’, because it also blinds us to the whole truth (2 Cor 4:4). The whole truth is that God promised blessing for His people (Deut 7:9-15) because He is love (1 Jn 4:8). The Bible shows Him constantly seeking to bless His people, those who will come to Him. In fact anyone can come to Him and receive His blessing, His goodness – but of course you must first see that that is something you really want, mustn’t you?

So, here we have righteous but childless Zechariah in the innermost part of the Temple, minding his own business while lighting the incense, when he is confronted by a messenger from heaven, an angel – and he’s frightened. For all of his righteousness, all of his goodness, he has not been able to come to a place of peace in the presence of God.  Indeed for Him, God is not a loving heavenly Father, but an awesome far-off, holy Being, one to be feared.  Well yes, the Bible does say that the ‘fear of the Lord’ is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), but note that it is the beginning. That simply means that recognizing our weakness and our failures and seeing God’s perfection is a starting place for any relationship with Him. From that we find that He’s there with open arms to whoever will come with an open and honest heart, acknowledging their need.

Of course Zechariah hasn’t realized that because Jesus hasn’t come yet and hasn’t demonstrated God’s staggering love by dying for us.  No, Zechariah is still in the place of fear, because he hasn’t yet realized that God is good, and all God does in our direction is for our good, for our blessing. He’s still in the “God will condemn me” mode.  He hasn’t yet got to the realization that “God loves me, God is for me, God wants to bless me” place that the children of God come to as they receive the wonderful work of Jesus in their lives.

The very first thing the angel does is try to put Zechariah at rest – don’t be afraid. When he says that, he means it. You don’t have to be afraid! There is no cause for that. God has come to bring blessing. What was the greatest burden in Zechariah’s life? That he had no children. So what’s God going to do? Enable him to have a child! Isn’t that good?

Those of us who still struggle with a “God’s a hard man” mentality (see Lk 19:21) will grumble and say, “So why did he have to wait so long?”  Hullo?   He could have waited all his life!  But God came at a time that was right, because of lots of other circumstances now falling into place, and enabled him to have the child he had so longed for.  Isn’t that wonderful?   How you respond to this, reveals where you’re really at with God. Do you need, perhaps, to pray, ‘Lord set me free from this fear and help me see you as you really are, full of love for me’?

Walk of Despair

WALKING WITH GOD. No.40

1 Kings 19:3,4 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!