Job said it. “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
David said it. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (Psalm 111:10)
Solomon said it, a lot. A total of 14 times in fact. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
The Books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs are all part of what are known as the “Wisdom Books” and almost exclusively the domain of the phrase, “The Fear of the Lord”. Here we find that fear is usually equaled to wisdom and knowledge. But is this wisdom advocating it is smart to be scared of God? The world is scary enough place does this mean we have to be frightened of God too? The answer to that question is Yes! And No!
The Fear of the Lord
The Geneva Bible and the King James Bible (The two Bibles in which most English versions of scripture are derived) use the word “fear” for different Hebrew words of the Old Testament. To add to the confusion, words can have multiple and overlapping meanings. But we’ll try to keep things clear cut.
Asa retaliates against the Ethiopians and overthrows them as “They smote all the cities round about Gerar; for the fear of the Lord came upon them: and they spoiled all the cities; for there was exceeding much spoil in them” (2 Chronicles 14:14).
The word fear used here comes from the word, “Pachad” which means terror or dread at its extreme.
In the three examples of, “The fear of the Lord” given at the beginning of this article, the word for fear is, “Yir’ah”. This has its meaning rooted in reverence, respect and piety.
The commonality between “Pachad” and “Yir’ah” is that they both involve fear of and for life. Pachad is about ending life. Yir’ah is about continuing life eternal. Whenever life is in the balance, man will fear and rightfully so.
The fear (Yir’ah) of the Lord is the realization of absolute power, control, truth and righteousness of the one true God. It is the realization and awe of all of life, a daunting fact that shocks everyone into reality.
“No man can rightly handle the doctrine of godliness, unless the fear of God reign and bear the chief sway in him” (John Calvin).
“Those know enough who know how to fear God, who are careful in every thing to please him and fearful of offending him in any thing; this is the Alpha and Omega of knowledge” (Matthew Henry).
Fear of the Lord has been called the expression of all of religion.
“The fear of the Lord….implies all the graces and all the virtues of Christianity; in short, all that holiness of heart and life which is necessary to the enjoyment of everlasting happiness” (Samuel Davies).
“The fear of the Lord signifies that religious reverence which every intelligent being owes to his Creator; and is often used to express the whole of religion, as we have frequently had occasion to remark in different places. But what is religion? The love of God, and the love of man; the former producing all obedience to the Divine will; the latter, every act of benevolence to one‘s fellows” (Adam Clarke).
“The fear of God is the corner stone of all blessedness. We must reverence the ever blessed God before we can be blessed ourselves….Let us cultivate that holy filial fear of Jehovah which is the essence of all true religion;—the fear of reverence, of dread to offend, of anxiety to please, and of entire submission and obedience. This fear of the Lord is the fit fountain of holy living: we look in vain for holiness apart from it: none but those who fear the Lord will ever walk in his ways” (Charles Spurgeon).
Now we do have to be careful with the words of the Bible. As mentioned earlier, a word can have multiple and overlapping meanings. A case in point is with the following verse from Isaiah:
“To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isaiah 2:21).
The word fear used here is “Pachad” meaning terror.
We’ve been concentrating on the multiple meanings of the word, “fear” in the phrase, “The fear of the Lord”. But the word “Lord” also has multiple meanings.
“The fear of the Lord” mentioned above in Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 1:7 the word “Lord” is “Jehovah”. It is the name of God and means, “The existing one”.
When Job says, ““The fear of the Lord” the word “Lord” is transliterated from, “Adonay”. This is a Jewish title of the highest reverence used instead of the name Jehovah.
In Proverbs we are told to “Get Knowledge” and to “Get wisdom”. Hosea said that, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”. The devil himself attempted to fool Jesus by misusing, misapplying and contorting the word. We all need to study our Bibles. This goes beyond merely reading them, but digging into the word and words and understanding what is being said, who is saying it and why.
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