SynopsisSince this is another short passage—and since I like the way that Moses worded it—I’m just going to quote it verbatim again. (I’m going to get so sued, one of these days…)
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
ThoughtsIt’s easy to get caught up in the details of the LORD’s law, and forget to see the big picture. He wanted the Israelites to obey His law out of love for Him; he wanted them to obey His law because it was for their own good. Circumcision wasn’t just to be circumcision of the flesh, but of the heart; a spiritual thing. In addition to the physical act of circumcision, all Israelites—men and women, children and adults—were to be spiritually circumcized; their hearts were to be committed to obeying God.
Modern-day Christians might be caught up on the term “fear the LORD,” since it’s not a way that we’re used to talking these days. It was tempting, when I first became a Christian, to consider this an “Old Testament” way of thinking, but the term is actually used in numerous places in the New Testament, as well. For example:
- In Luke 12:4–6, Jesus tells his listeners that they shouldn’t fear men, but that they should fear God.
- In numerous places, people who believed in God are called “God-fearing,” or variations thereof. (See, for example, Acts 2:4–6; 10:21–22; numerous places in Acts 13)
- In Acts 9:31, the church is strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, and grows in numbers, “living in the fear of the Lord.”
- In Acts 10:34–36, Peter comes to the realization that salvation is not just for the Jews, but that God will accept people from every nation who “fear him and do what is right.”
- In Romans 3:9–20, when Paul is showing that no one is righteous, one of the things he points out is that there is “no fear of God before their eyes” (verse 18). (Although this is actually an Old Testament quote, of Psalm 36:1, Paul is using it in a New Testament context, in a way that indicates that it’s still valid.)
- In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul says that since we “know what it is to fear the Lord,” we should try to persuade others as well.
So “fearing the Lord” is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. On the other hand, does this mean that we are to be afraid of God? Well, in Romans 8:15, Paul says that we received a spirit of sonship, not a spirit that makes us a slave to fear. And in Luke 1:67–79, which is Zechariah’s song, we are told that God will rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and “enable us to serve him without fear” (verse 74). So we are to fear Him but not fear Him?
I think that context is important here; I think that the word “fear” is being used in a couple of different ways. (So, in a way, we are to fear the Lord without fearing Him, where I’m using the word “fear” differently in those two places…)
The usage of “fear” that we’re probably more familiar with is the way it’s used in Romans 8:15 and Luke 1:74. As Christians, we are not to “fear” the Lord in the sense that we are not to be afraid of Him. It’s true, at one time God was against us—as some versions of the Bible put it, we were at enmity with Him. (See, for example, the NKJV of Ephesians 2:14–18, which mentions that Christ put that enmity to death.) But now that He has saved us, there is no need to be afraid of Him; Jesus has paid the price for our sins, and when we stand before God the Father, at the end of our earthly lives, all He will see is Christ’s righteousness, not our sinfulness.
But the other usage of the word “fear” is the usage we’re not overly familiar with, in the 21st Century. And this is where I’m probably going to have to start splitting hairs, because there are, I think, subtle shades of meaning happening here, that aren’t fully being translated into English. Basically, this word is incorporating aspects of awe, reverence, devotion—and fear. I don’t have to be afraid of God, because I know that my sins are forgiven, but at the same time, I also have to recognize who God is—He is not someone to be treated lightly! The Creator of the entire universe, who could, if He chose, wipe it away with a swipe of His hand. And that does entail an amount of fear.
I mentioned this concept of “fearing the Lord but not fearing Him” to my pastor the other day, and he said that “fearing the Lord” also includes the concept of being afraid of disappointing Him; I know that He’s not going to punish me for my sins, because His Son took the punishment for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I fail Him on a regular basis.
I decided to go online and try and find websites/articles/whatever that talked about the concept of “fearing the Lord,” and didn’t find a lot. (Which surprised me, because this seems, to me, like one of those “big can of worms” type of issues), but I did find a couple. First, an article that claims that “fear” is really a bad translation; the guy who wrote this believes that the phrase “fear the Lord” could be better translated as “delight in honouring the Lord,” or something similar.
However, this other article is having none of that, and believes that the phrase “fear of the Lord” really does include fear. But the article also goes off into a strange tangent about the Wizard of Oz.
So, when the Bible talks about “fearing the Lord,” is it really talking about fear? Well… not exactly, but yes, sort of.