Saturday Word Study: The Fear of God (plus, the reason for and solution to America’s unrest)
We have a tendency to talk a great deal about the Fear of the Lord. It is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge and it is a way of life for the believer. We cannot even hope to claim to be part of God’s covenant if the fear of the Lord is not within us.
There is another phrase, though, that sometimes goes overlooked, but is no less significant. And that is the fear of God. In principle, the language is interchangeable, as the Lord is God, nevertheless, there are some interesting connotations that are connected to the language of “the fear of God.”
The Phrase itself shows up ten times in the Bible:
Genesis 20:11 — “And Abraham said, ‘Because I said, ‘truly there is no fear of God in this place they will slay me because of my wife.’’”
In context, Abraham has once again told a king that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. In ancient times, if you married a wealthy widow, her wealth became yours and Abraham feared that if king Abimelech knew that Sarah was his wife, Abimelech would kill Abraham for the wealth. Why does Abraham expect such lawlessness? It is because Abraham knows that where there is no fear of God in the land, there will be no fear of the law. The Apostle John says that sin is lawlessness. Abraham’s conclusion is that lawlessness is a result of not fearing God. A brief survey of the news in America and in the world seems to be a testimony to this great truth. Where there is no fear of God in our nation, there is nothing but lawlessness and chaos.
2 Samuel 23:1-4 — “Now these are the last words of David — an utterance of David, the son of Jesse, an utterance of the warrior was was raised on high and anointed by the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ‘The Spirit of Yahweh speaks by me; his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel says to me, the Rock of Israel speaks; he who rules over men, who rules righteously in the fear of God — as the light of the morning, the sun rises; on a cloudless morning it shines bright like rain on the grass of the earth.”
Verse 3 is the passage in question, but since the language of David is poetic at this point, it was fitting to set the context. In many ways, what is found here is the opposite of what we saw in the previous passage. When there is no fear of God there is lawlessness, but when those who rule do so in the fear of God, it is refreshing to the people, like bright sun in the morning or the sparkle of rain as it glistens on the freshly watered grass — such is the righteous rule of those who fear God. In light of these two passages, the question should be raised: “Why would we ever want the ungodly to lead us in the community or the nation?
Nehemiah 5:15 — “Yet the former governors which were before me weighed heavily upon the people and took from them bread and wine after the forty silver shekels — even from their servants. They domineered over the people. But I did not do so because I feared God.”
Nehemiah’s is a wonderful life to study and clearly he is a man of great integrity. But in Nehemiah’s own words, why is he a man of integrity? Why does he act justly and even benevolently with the people? It is because he feared God. How often our political leaders try and take credit for the good deeds that they do. Nehemiah does not think that way. From his perspective, what he does he does out of the fear of God — he knows that God has placed him in that position of authority and that he will be accountable to God for all the decisions he makes.
Romans 3:18 — “There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.”
This, of course, is cited from Psalm 36:1, which reads: “Transgression utters to the wicked in the depth of his heart; there is no dread of God before his eyes.” What is interesting on a linguistic level is that in the Hebrew the term פשׁע (pasha) is employed rather than the ordinary word for fear, ירא (yara). Commonly פשׁע (pasha) is translated as “dread” and that in itself remains to be another word study. Nevertheless, as Paul understands the use of Psalm 36, the same idea is communicated. The natural man is a man who does not fear God but who is wicked utterly. Such a man is a man apart from the saving grace of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1 — “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from the defilement of the flesh and spirit, striving for holiness in the fear of God.”
What is the promise that Paul is speaking of in this verse? It is the promise that God would take us to himself as his people. And thus, in light of that promise there is a commitment to strive to cleanse from being defiled (sanctification) in body and spirit (notice that the spiritual side of man has been corrupted by sin just as the physical side of man). More importantly, given our study, notice that true holiness is always paired with the fear of God — it is impossible to have one without the other.
Depending on the English translation you happen to use, there are other passages that speak of the fear of God. For instance, Job 4:6. In these cases, though, the phrase “fear of God” is either inferred (as in the aforementioned passage in Job) or the term “dread” us used (as in Psalm 36:1). Our goal has been to focus today on the explicit statement, “fear of God.”
The obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this can be found in the society around us. If you want to know why there is chaos in our nation and in the world, it is largely because there is no fear of God. When man does not fear God, he will not fear the law of man and sin will ensue. At this moment we are seeing this not only in Portland but also in many other parts of our nation.
So, what is the solution for our nation? It is one one that will be brought about through civil laws and conventional human authorities. It is a gospel matter.