Words are tricky things, especially Bible words because there are eternal consequences for misunderstandings. Some words do not mean what you think they mean (like inconceivable!) and some words do not mean what they once did. This is hard to admit, but modern English is a stripped away, hollowed out version of its Elizabethan self, and frankly, despite my best efforts, I’m as dumbed down as the rest of you.
So rather than adopt an insufficient 20th century definition of the word ‘fear’, we will let the Bible define its own words. There are obviously several ways to determine the definition should it become necessary, and one way is to look at words that it associates with each other. For example, the Bible says in Hebrews 13:4, “whoremongers and adulterers God will judge”. “Whoremonger “ isn’t a common word anymore, but we all understand what an ‘adulterer’ is, and so that at least puts us in the ballpark to understanding the sentiment. Employing this principle, we will look at the words that the Bible associates with the ‘fear of the Lord’, and hopefully reintroduce the reader to a more Biblical definition. This may come across as an academic exercise, but it’s not. Deducing the definition is essential towards the comprehension of what should be our attitude towards God.
Psalm 33:8 says “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” Psalm 22:23 says “Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel”. In Rev 14:7, we are commanded, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come : and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters”. The psalmist announces to us in chapter 5 his intention to “.. come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.” Even from this small sampling, we don’t see men that fear the Lord cowering. We see them standing in awe of him. We see them praising him, glorifying him, and worshipping him because of his awe-encompassing powers of creation. The Bible is plain on this, that God made all that is, and that he sustains all that is. The wind and the sea obey him. He knows the stars and calls them by name, and for that fact alone, a man saved or lost owes the God of all glory his worship and his adoration. Out of all the things that are, the only thing deserving of any credit or praise is the one who made them. The invisible God has chosen to declare the visible firmament to show off his power and majesty to his creation. Only a fool of the first rate would stand proud and self-righteous before such majesty! A man with any sense at all would fear the maker of the sun, the driver of the hurricane, the author of his own DNA, and that fear would drive him to acknowledge his own smallness and weakness and insufficiency by comparison. Only with that acknowledgment can a man even begin to fear God.
Furthermore a man who fears God will see himself in Deuteronomy 10:20 when it says “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve , and to him shalt thou cleave , and swear by his name.” Biblical fear carries with it an obligation to serve the object of your fear, and to swear by his name. After all, that is the name that is above every other name, and if the Lord is my helper, whom shall I fear? If God be for me, who can be against me? If I fear God I will “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” .
Fear is a verb, and it’s synonyms are words like ‘awe’ , ‘glorify’, ‘worship’, ‘serve’, and ‘cleave to’. It’s not a man hiding in a corner while averting his eyes, it’s a man spending his life to bring glory and honour to the one that not only made him, but died for him. It's God getting what he deserves for all he has done, all he is doing, and all he will do. It is a life which gives God good pleasure ( Rev 4:11), a life spent fearing him.
Next we’ll tackle the benefits of fearing God.