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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. 

The Great King is to be Feared

“For Yahweh Elyon is to be feared — Great King over all the earth.”

(Psalm 47:3 {verse 2 in English Translations})

 

As kids we were always told that it wasn’t nice to call people names — at least bad names… Yet, there is a practice of scripture of attributing names of honor to God. These names are names that reflect the attributes and character of our God, not the progressive development of a religion like some of the liberal “scholars” would suggest. And what we find in this verse is a grouping of three names that are bound together.

Yahweh is a name we are used to seeing. This is the “I am that I am” name that God gives to himself and provides to Moses, recorded in Exodus 3:14. It is a name that reflects God’s covenantal character of God as well as the eternal nature of his being. God always was, God is, and God always will be. While our existence is measured and bounded by time; time is a creation of God and has no bearing on his being — time has a beginning…God does not. Thus he tells us that we are to know him by Yahweh and by that name he is to be remembered throughout the generations (Exodus 3:15).

The name that is attached to Yahweh is Elyon (pronounced with a long “o”). Usually we render this “Most High,” and that is an accurate rendering of the title. I chose to leave the word untranslated, rather, to help set it apart as part of God’s glorious title of honor here. Elyon was a term reserved for God himself and was not to be given to men. It reflects that God is not the greatest in a set of like beings, but he is a being par-excellence — one of kind and incomparable to others. God stands alone as God. He is mighty and true and if you are going to fear any, this is the one you should fear. Jesus echoes this when he states: “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28) — Yahweh Elyon is the one of whom Jesus is speaking.

The final title is that of “Great King.” Many translations render this as, “a great king,” and that would be a legitimate translation were the subject being spoken of God himself. God is not just one of many great kings, but he is the great king — he is King over all the earth. While the definite article “the” is not present in the text, the context of the text sets this phrase apart as being a title attributed to God, thus neither article (“the” or “a”) is necessary and we see this again as a title of glory and honor.

You know what is interesting, though… As Christians, we are usually very quick to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the King of all Kings and the King over all the earth, but we rarely act as if he is the King over our lives. Kings make rules and Kings demand the obedience of their subjects. Yet how often we go about our lives acting as if we are our own and making decisions based on our preferences rather than on the basis of obedience to God’s command? I think that there is an explanation for our behavior, though — we do not obey our king because we do not fear him… A double-whammy — a double sin.

Loved ones, our lives are not our own. If we call ourselves Christians, then our lives belong to the one whose name we have taken and into whose name we have been adopted. The house rules demand that we obey if we love Christ (John 14:15). Will we? Will you? Do you fear your heavenly Father in a holy and reverent way that motivates you to a lifestyle that will honor him? In the end, such is the mark of a believer. May we indeed be able to sing the words of the psalmist from the bottom of our hearts in the deepest sincerity in our life here and eternally.

Fear Not, Little Flock!

Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible talks about fear? There is a fear of the Lord, which is the source of wisdom and knowledge—a fear that reflects a holy reverence for who God is. There is also a fear of the world—a fear of going hungry, not having the things we need, or of being persecuted for our faith. This is a fear that we are not to entertain in our lives, for it ruins our witness. The reason we need not fear any of these things is because we have a God in heaven who is sovereign and all-powerful and who loves us with a love that will never be lost or squandered. The pagans do not have a God who will do for them what our God does for us.

There are ramifications of leaving this second kind of fear behind. When you let go of fear and worry you also are left without excuses—you know, those excuses we all use to avoid doing what God has called us to be and to do. Notice what Jesus says immediately after these words:

“Fear not, little flock! For it is the pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

In other words, it is the pleasure of God to give us—his church—the kingdom. He will use us to transform the world around us to the glory of Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise—though we are strong, we are not measured by our size, but by the size of the God who is working through us and dwelling in our hearts.

When we read these words of the Gospel, our heart ought to skip a beat! Is this what God really intends for our little church? The answer that God gives us in an unequivocal, yes! Yet, there is a catch. Jesus also stipulates a means by which he wants us to accomplish this task in the verses that follow:

“Sell your possessions and give benevolences. Make yourselves coin bags that do not wear out and an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near nor does any moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

(Luke 12:33-34)

Note, Jesus is not telling us we must take a vow of poverty—here he does not say, “sell all of your possessions.” The fact that he still calls us to have a money purse is a testimony to that. The key is what we are using those possessions to accomplish. If we pursue possessions to gain more possessions for ourselves, then the possessions become idols and distract us from God’s purpose. If the possessions are but a tool to accomplish the work of the kingdom, then God will bless their use, for your heart will reside with heavenly things, not earthly ones.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our handicap is not our small size as a church and congregation. Our Father will not limit his work based on human considerations. Our handicap is our fear of letting go with the things we treasure on earth—both individually and corporately. Remember, David did not form a committee before he went to fight Goliath—he went in the strength of God and slew him. The God that gave him that boldness is the same God that indwells every believer, there is no reason that we too should not be so bold as to engage the giants of unbelief in our day.