God dropped this little gem in my lap the other day. It was the answer to a question I've often asked - just what does "fear of the Lord" really mean?
Let's start off with a definition of fear, from the glossary of William J. Morford's One New Man Bible: Revealing Jewish Roots and Power:
"Fear is the opposite of Faith. We are not to have any trace of fear, so God commands us frequently in the Hebrew text, Do not fear! More often it is Do not be in awe! In the Hebrew this is a very strong command that has no direct English translation. We are absolutely forbidden to entertain even the least speck of fear. We overcome fear by staying closer to God, worshipping, reading Scripture, making the good confession, and not dwelling on negative consequences.
"The expression, 'spirit of fear' does not appear in Scripture, though some translations have that in 2 Timothy 1:7. There the correct translation is a 'spirit of timidity' in an exhortation to Timothy to use the spiritual gifts. We are to be bold in the things of the Lord, and bold in taking authority over evil spirits attacking us, but we are not be awed [by] or afraid of them."
So then, if we fear something, we are in awe of it. It is good to hold God in awe - He is Awesome! - but nothing else. When we awe something else, we elevate it to the level of God: When we fear (awe) something, that demonstrates that we are lacking in trust, because we do not trust God to keep us safe from that which we fear. So really, fearing something is elevating it higher than God. This is not good! No wonder the Bible is full of the admonition, "do not fear" or, "do not awe." Here are supporting Scriptures, all NASB, emphasis added:
- After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.' (Genesis 15:1)
- The Lord appeared to him the same night and said, I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." (Genesis 26:24)
- But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." (Exodus 14:13)
- Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them. (Numbers 14:9)
What God showed me the other day started with the revelation that the King James Version frequently uses the word "of" to mean "from," and this has been carried forward into most English translations, even though we don't generally speak that way. Here's just one example, using Ephesians 2:8-9:
- For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (KJV)
- for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. (ASV)
- For ye are saved by grace, through faith; and this not of yourselves; it is God's gift: not on the principle of works, that no one might boast. (DNT)
- For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; Not of works, that no man may glory. (DR)
- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)
- For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)
Many preachers teach that fear of the Lord does not mean to be afraid of Him. They say it means to hold Him in high respect, honor, reverence, and awe. This is true, but incomplete.
John Bevere teaches that fear of the Lord does not mean to be scared of Him, but to be afraid - absolutely terrified! - to be without Him. This also is true, but incomplete.
For the final clue, let's look at how the Bible illustrates the process of fearing the Lord - what we do when we properly fear Him:
- "Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. (Deuteronomy 6:1,2)
- Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. (Deuteronomy 8:6)
- If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. (1 Samuel 12:14,15)
- The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him [Jesus], The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousnes He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:2-5)
- The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
- So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31)
- Therefore, knowing the fear of the LORD, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:11)
- Fearing God is holding Him in awe, honor, and reverence.
- The ability to do this is a gift from God, like faith.
- We fear God in practice by doing what He wants us to do - which is born out of loving God with our whole spirit (heart, desires), soul (mind, thoughts), and body (strength, actions).
- We can only even begin to be wise if fear God.
- When we fear God, He protects us, blesses us, and empowers us through His Presence.
- We are never to fear or awe anyone else. This is a commandment. When we fear someone else, we sin against God.
- When we sin against God, His Presence is diminished in our lives (until we bring it to Him in sorrow and repentance, whereupon He is just to forgive us). When we are terrified of losing His Presence, that helps us to fear Him; see #1 and #2.