“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10, ESV)
Read Psalm 111.
The first vehicle I ever owned was an Isuzu Trooper SUV. I loved it for many reasons—the spartan, no-frills interior, the five-speed manual four-wheel drive, the space to transport my mountain bike and camping gear in the back. The only customization was a sticker on the back window that read, “Fear God.”
One day, at a red light, I heard a knock on my side window. After cranking down my window, a teenage girl blurted sarcastically, “Why should we fear God? Doesn't God love us?” Quickly I answered, “Fearing God doesn't mean being afraid, it means being in reverence or awe.” The light changed, and we both drove off.
I share that story for two reasons. First, the Bible clearly states that we are to fear God, and people want and need to know what that means. Second, my answer was only partly right. I've grown in my understanding since then, and I'd like to share that with you.
The Bible speaks frequently of fearing God, especially in the books of Proverbs and Psalms. Fearing someone we love and who loves us may be an unfamiliar concept for most of us. Fear a loving God? That doesn't make sense. Isn't there another explanation? Actually, there's not.
Many Hebrew words for fearing God perfectly match our common understanding of fear. Some include “afraid” (yare), “terror” (charadah), and “dread” (pachad). The Hebrew word for “fear” in Psalm 111:10 is yirah, which means “terrifying.” In other words, there's no dismissing the “fear of the LORD” as meaning only reverence and awe. There are other Hebrew words for “reverence” and “awe,” but they are not always used when the Bible references “fear.” So what are we to make of this?
One of the best methods of biblical interpretation is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. This means that we look first at what the Bible says about its own teachings and claims rather than a commentary or other interpretive writing. When we follow that approach, we discover something very enlightening about fearing the Lord: our understanding is much richer when we don't explain “fear” away. Try this with the following passages: Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 14:27, Psalm 19:9, Psalm 25:14, and Psalm 86:11.
Fearing the LORD recognizes Him as He truly is: a Being of infinite power and love, perfect holiness, flawless purity, and complete justness. He is a Being so holy we could not see Him and live (Exodus 33:19-20). We should not view God like we view any other being, as anything less than the omnipotent, fearsome, awe-inspiring Being of all. Our life depends on Him. The universe exists at His pleasure. He is not to be trifled with.
However, we must also remember as the Psalms and Proverbs remind us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom — it is the starting point.
What the Bible teaches us is that understanding and recognizing God as He truly is actually leads to life and health, peace and truth, and even salvation!
In Part 4 of this weekly series on fearing God, we will look at how genuine, biblical fear is to be informed by God's infinite quality of love.
Prayer for the week: Heavenly Father, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, may I approach You appropriately and reverently as One of omnipotent power and infinite holiness. May I come to understand how to fear You rightly as a starting point for true wisdom. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Andy Lauer is senior pastor of South Bend First Church of the Nazarene in South Bend, Indiana, USA.
Written for Coffee Break.