Dear Beloved in Messiah,
The Lord spoke clearly: The fear of the LORD is the need of the hour. So I researched, and now attempt to write on this most crucial subject. Pages could be filled with the myriad of references to the fear of the Lord throughout the Holy Scriptures. Many are found in the Book of Proverbs. May we glean some precious truths from this month’s condensed teaching on a vast topic.
By way of clarification, there are two major types of fear in the Bible, fear-dread and fear-revere. The fear that includes dread or terror is a bad kind of fear, in Hebrew, pachad (pa-KHAD). It is a fear that brings torment, a fear that is cast out by the perfect love of God (1 Jn. 4:18), a destructive fear. The other type of fear is a good kind of fear, yir’ah (yeer-AH), in Hebrew, a wholesome fear. This fear can also be translated as reverence, respect, honor, devotion, or awe. Yir’ah is only found in the Bible in reference to God and parents (Lev. 19:3). This clarifies the idea of “honoring” one’s mother and father (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Matt. 15:4), the first commandment with promise (Eph. 6:2).
The phrase “fear of the Lord” has at least six renderings in Hebrew. They all begin with a form of yir’ah which is yirat (yeer-AHT): Yirat Adonai (Fear of the LORD), Yirat HaShem (Fear of God’s Name), Yirat Elohim (Fear of God), Yirat Yahweh (Fear of יהוה), Yirat Shaddai (Fear of the Almighty), and Yirat Shamayim (Fear of Heaven). Each of these ways of expressing the “fear of the Lord” includes the idea of revering God, not being afraid of Him, as if He were a cruel, abusive father. Mean and cruel? No. Holy? Yes.
“The fear of the LORD (יהוה יראת) Yir-AHT Yahweh, is clean enduring forever…” (Ps. 19:9). In the Brit HaDasha, believers in Messiah, as bondservants of God, are given the following exhortation: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor. Revere. Respect.
Those who fear the Lord are called “happy” or “blessed,” in Hebrew ashrey (ahsh-RAY) (Prov. 28:14). This verse is translated in an interesting way in the New Living Translation: “Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble.” This aspect of the fear of the Lord—being afraid to do evil—would help explain why the Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” (Ps. 111:10). The fear of the Lord has the power to put the brakes on the evil inclination.
AWE and the Fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord centers on the awesomeness of God. We use the word awesome casually today, but there is only One who is truly AWESOME: God! Moses and the children of Israel sang about our Awesome God after He miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s army: “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful, awesome (no-RAH) in praises, doing wonders?”
When we fear the Lord of the Universe in the proper sense, we stand in AWE of Him. Neil and I were more and more in awe of God as the years passed. We spoke of this daily. We marveled at His creativity, His sunrises and sunsets, the variety and beauty of His plants and animals, the development of speech in a child, how quickly our skin healed after a cut, and the amazing personal care and attention to detail that we both experienced on a daily basis. How awesome that the Creator of All would still be aware and involved in our individual lives—with such love!
I read an article recently on the “Psychology of Awe.” A study was done to see what the sense of awe does to the brain. It was conducted by Cirque du Soleil with help from a neuroscience research group. Scientists recorded and studied neural responses to the show’s most captivating moments. The results were dramatic: “Experiencing awe can increase tolerance to risk, boost creativity, and combat stress by putting the brain in a state of bliss. It can even reshape our feelings about the future—a finding the study authors hope will lead to using awe to help people heal psychologically” (AAA Magazine). Imagine the healing potential of experiencing the AWE of the ALMIGHTY!
With awe of the Lord comes deep reverence and respect. In many synagogues throughout the world, the same words are displayed over the ark containing the Torah scrolls: “Know Before Whom You Stand” (Da Lifnei Mi Atah Omed, dah leaf-NAY Me Ah-TAH Oh-MED). These words call to mind Moses and the Burning Bush and remind congregants that they stand before a HOLY GOD.
We too need to take off our shoes, and take to heart the words found in Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” Here is the balance. He is a consuming fire, but the fire that longs to consume us is the fire of His love!
Engage in worshipful wonder this month. Enter the Presence of the Lord with godly fear. The two are definitely connected. No reverence, no Presence. We must not approach God’s throne carelessly or irreverentially, but be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit of a Holy God.
PROMISES and the Fear of the Lord
There are dozens of promises in the Bible about the fear of the Lord for those who walk in it. Just a few: “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death” (Prov. 14:26-27). “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil” (Prov. 19:23). “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life” [Note: Humility accompanies Yir’at Adonai] (Prov. 22:4). “Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. He himself shall dwell in prosperity, and his descendants shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” [I want this; don’t you?] (Ps. 25:12-14).
Perhaps the most famous verses concerning the fear of the LORD are found in Psalm 34. King David authored this psalm at a peculiar time in his life, when he pretended madness before Abimelech. In great humility of spirit he wrote, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them…Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him…Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord…The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Ps. 34:7, 9, 11, 17).
It has been rightly said that while the fear of man or of satan brings a snare or torment, the fear of God brings blessing. God promised.
EVIL and the Fear of the Lord
Evil is all around us. How do we escape it? What do we do about it? What does it have to do with the fear of the Lord? We must realize, first of all, that the ungodly, the “wicked” as the Bible says, have no fear of the Lord. “There is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes, when he finds out his iniquity and when he hates” (Ps. 36:1-2). Expect to see this more and more as 2020 elections draw nearer. Much prayer needed!
Believers in the Messiah Yeshua, on the other hand, are admonished concerning evil. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones” (Prov. 3:7-8). “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Prov. 8:13). Note: We hate what God hates—evil—but we do not hate the ones who do evil. Also, humility is usually implied when the fear of the LORD is mentioned.
God sees all and knows all, even our innermost thoughts (Ps. 139:4). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). This reality should inspire each of us to walk in the fear of the Lord, choosing good over evil. May we take heed to the exhortation found in 2 Corinthians 7:1: “…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This is surely part of the bride making herself ready for the soon coming of the Bridegroom (Rev. 19:7)!
No compromise with evil. It is fruitless and unwise. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Prov. 9:10). “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). Unfortunately, in the U.S.A. we have not departed from evil, but have departed from the fear of the Lord. I recently found a manila folder in Neil’s desk at Jewish Jewels. He titled it: “Too Good to Throw Away.” Neil saved very little, less than a dozen articles over the years, so I was curious about the contents of the folder. One paper was a speech given by Pastor Joe Wright at the opening of the 1999 session of the Kansas Senate. I am including it in its entirety sensing that Neil was stirred by it, probably praying, “Oh, Holy God, please forgive us for embracing so much evil!” The speech began with Pastor Wright’s prayer:
“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ‘Woe on those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We confess that:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn children and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts: cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
This was in 1999. Could it still be spoken at the opening session of a State Senate today?
LOVE and the Fear of the Lord
Until I researched this month’s topic, I was unaware that the fear of the Lord (Yir’at Elohim) and the love of God (Ahavat Elohim) are considered twin concepts in traditional Judaism. This fascinated me since, in preparing for Neil’s memorial service, I thought about his motivation for always seeking to obey God. I came to the conclusion that there were two motivating factors—His love of God and His fear of God. What I discovered was a confirmation. What an Awesome God!
Jewish tradition says that ahavah (love) and yir’ah (fear) are the two wings on which the Torah soars through the heavens. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and bodies, yet at the same time to fear (revere) Him, humbly submitting to His sovereignty. The basis for the twin concept of love and fear is found in Deuteronomy 10:12, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…”
We are to obey and serve our God out of reverence and love. I like a thought, saved from a 1984 Last Days Newsletter: “The fear of God is caring more about what the Lord thinks than anything else, and the source of this is a true and deep love for Him. One who fears God has a sense of the overwhelming greatness of the Lord and His constant presence.”
How does God feel about those who fear Him? “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him…As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him” (Ps.103:11, 13). “The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in his mercy” (Ps. 147:11).
CHOOSING and the Fear of the Lord
The Scriptures indicate that we can choose the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:29). It is His treasure: “Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation; the fear of the Lord is His treasure” (Is. 33:6). Yeshua, our Messiah, chose the fear of the Lord. This was prophesied by Isaiah even before the Messiah came to earth. Isaiah said of the Rod from the stem of Jesse, “His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…” (Isa. 11:3-4).
Yeshua’s delight in Yir’at Elohim, as well as His Ahavat Elohim, caused Him to always do those things that pleased the Father (Jn. 8:29). May we do likewise, seeking to please our Heavenly Father by doing things God’s way, living by the principles found in His Word, and obeying Him at all times, even though it means going contrary to our natural inclinations.
Lois Tverberg, in her excellent little book Listening to the Language of the Bible, sums up Yir’at Adonai succinctly: “To fear the Lord is the ultimate expression of knowing that we stand in the presence of a holy God. It does mean to dread his disapproval of our sin, but the emphasis is on a positive, reverential relationship with God, not on being terrified by Him. If having an awe of the Lord causes us to live with integrity and obedience to him, it will ultimately transform us.”
May each one of us be numbered in the group of JEWELS mentioned in Malachi chapter 3: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him”” (Mal. 3:16-17).
In the Love and Fear of Adonai, praying to be one of His jewels,
P.S. I taught from Lois Tverberg’s book for 61 weeks as a Hebraic roots Bible study. Fascinating! Try it. Offered this month.