June 21, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Brian Merritt
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." – Proverbs 1:7
The Bible uses the word "fear" to describe emotions as different as terror and reverence. The term "the fear of the Lord" is used 17 times in the Book of Proverbs, the concept being vital to the understanding and context of the book. Yet, for many modern readers, the term is confusing or brings up thoughts or emotions entirely at odds with the original meaning.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fear as 1) an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger, 2) an anxious concern, 3) profound reverence and awe, especially toward God, and 4) reason for alarm. Most of us would probably agree with the first definition that fear is a strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. We have all probably experienced this emotion at some point in our lives. But how does this definition of fear fit with our relationship to God?
The times in my life that I have felt fear involved the threat of physical harm, pain, and even the possibility of death. My overpowering emotions created a physical response in me known as "fight or flight." But that has nothing to do with how the Bible describes the relationship of a child of God to his Heavenly Father. I am fearful of what an all-powerful, just, and sovereign God can do to me. I am afraid of God's wrath directed toward me. Such fear causes me to recoil, to turn away and flee from God. In Revelation 6:15-17, we read about those seeking to hide from the wrath of God, "…and everyone…hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."
My trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, his death, burial, and resurrection has removed the guilt of sin from me, so I no longer fear the wrath of God. The fear that would drive me to hide has been transformed into a fear that causes me to worship. My fear of danger has become an overwhelming awe and reverence for the power, majesty, beauty, and compassion of a God who Himself paid the price for my sins. I have gone from being an enemy of God to being His child, an heir to the kingdom and a recipient of God's amazing grace.
So then, the fear of the Lord, as stated in Proverbs, and throughout scripture, is the profound reverence and awe toward God brought about by the recognition and experience of His divine attributes. Reverence and awe grounded in love for the one who loved us first. 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."
As you read through Proverbs, pay close attention to how the author uses the term, "the fear of the Lord." It involves knowledge, wisdom, and the rejection of evil. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life that provides satisfaction and security and may even bring riches. Those who fear the Lord do not envy sinners but have a hatred of evil and turn from it. The phrase is always presented in terms of the consequence of your choice.
It is not unusual to find people who lack any sense of fear of the Lord in the secular, post-Christian culture in which we live. Such persons are proud of their defiance and are not shy to proclaim it. Proverbs 24:21-22 warns, "My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?"
In contrast to this, the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience." As born-again believers, we recognize the authority of Christ and the severity of sin. We have no fear of final judgment leading to a second death, but a profound reverence for the King of kings' power and glory.
In Luke 2, we read about the appearance of an angel of the Lord to a group of shepherds. It was but a solitary angel surrounded by the glory of the Lord, and yet the shepherds were filled with fear. Likewise, in Revelation 1:17-19, John tells of his encounter with the glorified Christ by writing, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one." Both passages show fear, a profound awe and reverence for God. If terrified, the shepherds would not have gone into Bethlehem to see the Christ child, and John may not have been able to record Jesus' words to the seven churches with such clarity.
J.A. Spender, a late nineteenth-century journalist, wrote, "Fear God, yes, but don't be afraid of Him." It is right for us to fear God because of all He is—Creator, Judge, and Savior—through our reverence, awe, and worship.