What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The biblical fear of God runs the gamut from a mild respect through a deep, abiding, and reverential awe to sheer terror—a terror that causes the skin to crawl, the hair to stand on end, the throat to release a scream, the bowels to move, or the body to faint or collapse, groveling on the ground in a vain attempt to disappear, as Isaiah did (Isaiah 6:5). Fear can be an extremely effective motivator. Many of us have seen, heard, or experienced something so fearsome that the "fight or flight" response kicked in. The terror moved us to take immediate steps to defend ourselves physically or seek protection by running from the danger.
However, fear can also be a two-edged sword. Though it undoubtedly motivates, it can also paralyze us into doing nothing but rolling ourselves into a fetal position. In relation to God, a most subtle and deceptive problem is that, because we cannot literally see Him, we do not feel that responding to Him is of immediate concern. In this way, fearing God is not like our reaction to a lion suddenly jumping out of the jungle and confronting us on the path.
The result, though, can be just as deadly! The major difference is timing. Because of God's patience, the end comes more slowly if our reaction is not correct and no repentance occurs. Nonetheless, our relationship with God may die because not having the proper fear invites apathy and procrastination. Our fear must have enough of an "edge" that we are motivated to act correctly—but not so much that we are paralyzed into inaction. That "edge" grows as true knowledge of Him increases.
Some may think that God does not require of us this level of fear. However, for "trembles" in Isaiah 66:2, the Septuagint uses a Greek word that means a reverential awe that has an "edge" to it. God will "look on" a person who has this kind of fear. Without the proper fear of God in us, there will be precious little reciprocation of His love shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
Romans 12:1 makes it clear that overcoming in this way of life requires sacrifice. We all know how costly sacrifice is sometimes. Our apprehension of making sacrifices required to submit to God's will stops us on occasions, motivating us to draw back from obeying. In this case, the problem is fearing the wrong thing! Sometimes, the degree of the fear of God we need comes close to sheer terror because we are often so difficult to convince!
However, what is necessary as a matter of course is an abiding reverential awe.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
What does "the fear of the LORD" entail? Another proverb, Proverbs 9:10, helps us to understand: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." While Proverbs 8:13 defines what the fear of the Lord is, Proverbs 9:10 shows what it produces. Understanding the effect of the fear of the Lord will help us to understand the cause.
This verse uses a Hebraism in which the two clauses are written in parallel. The "fear of the LORD" in the first clause is linked to "knowledge of the Holy One" in the second, while the "beginning of wisdom" corresponds to "understanding." Most translations hide the fact that the Hebrew word rendered as "Holy One" is actually plural. It refers to both holy, divine Beings—the Father and the Son. We can more fully grasp this in conjunction with John 17:3, where Jesus says that knowing the Father and the Son—having personal, intimate knowledge ofthe Holy Ones—is eternal life.
In tying these things together, we see that the wisdom and understanding in Proverbs 9:10 are not abstract concepts but are related to eternal life. They are foundational to being able to live eternally. The reverential awe and respect—fear—of God is what produces wisdom in making sound choices, in having good judgment, in understanding cause and effect. The fear of God makes for a good life—not just for the self, but also for everyone for all time.
James describes such "wisdom from above" as "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). These elements produce a good life, a life of spiritual wisdom. All of them are opposites of evil, of causing harm. Godly fear causes a man to evaluate properly and to arrive at the correct conclusion about what he should or should not do. Ultimately, the fear of the Lord teaches us to live eternally—to live with the skill that the Father and the Son have in living.
Returning to Proverbs 8:13, we can see how hating evil fits into this. When we are vehemently opposed to all that does harm to life and liveliness, and our lives reflect this, we are beginning to live as God does. However, we have to put wisdom in the context of eternity. What may seem "harmless" in the short term may bear evil fruit in the long term. Unless we are able—and willing—to look as far forward as possible to see the outcome, we may not be able to see the harm.
Because of man's fickle and shortsighted nature, God has explicitly defined what is good and evil in His law, and the evil that is defined is sin. It may not be immediately obvious to mankind that burning incense to the Queen of Heaven causes harm because mankind is shortsighted enough not to realize that he is paying homage to a worthless substitute of the true Creator, the One who gives life. Thus, God spells out that we can have no other gods (Exodus 20:3).
Mankind may not see the harm in a "little white lie" (Exodus 20:16), but the One "who inhabits eternity" knows that truth and life are inextricably linked. When falsehood enters in, so do defilement and ultimately death.
Humanity may not be aware of the harm caused by coveting (Exodus 20:17), but the One "who knows the end from the beginning" and who created the human intellect and human heart, knows that sin begins in the heart. The best way to stop sin at its source is to help mankind to guard his heart, before any sin can be produced.
David C. Grabbe
Hating Evil, Fearing God
Except within the context of a passage, the Bible never clearly defines worship, yet understanding what it is is critical. God is even now measuring His Temple and its altar to see who worships there in truth (Revelation 11:1-2). We are the temple of God, so we are being measured to see if we are truly worshipping God or not.
The thesaurus gives these synonyms for worship: adulate, honor, glorify, edify, deify. The Greek word most often translated "worship" is proskuneo, meaning "to kiss, make obeisance, reverence." Strong's defines it as "to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively)prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore)." The picture of being prostrate or bowed down is often associated with worship.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "worship" is shachah, defined as "to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God)." This word is also translated in the Authorized Version as "bow down, crouch, fall down, humbly beseech, do obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."
Worship, then, is reverencing God, adoring, honoring, and bowing down before Him. But a deeper study of worship shows that it is more a thing of the heart and mind than a physical action or position. Jesus says worshippers worship Him in vain when "their heart is far from Me" (Matthew 15:8).
Perhaps we can say worship means havinga bowed-down head and heart as we adore and revere our Maker! It is an attitude of totally and unconditionally surrendering to the One we call our Master, our Lord, our God. Mere words are not enough! Many call Jesus "Lord, Lord," yet He will claim not to know them, for their actions are not those of one who really knows Him (Matthew 7:21-23) or has totally submitted to God and His way. This is why Paul testifies before Felix, the procurator of Palestine, "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers. . ." (Acts 24:14).
Worshipping thus becomes a relationship with our holy God, characterized by a bowed-down heart in total surrender. It reflects one poor in spirit and one who mourns as he recognizes his abject spiritual bankruptcy. As we bow our hearts and heads to God in worship, crying out for mercy and to be filled with God's attitudes, we are comforted and filled.
Bowing and worshipping go hand in hand in many verses in the Bible. Satan tries to get our Savior to "fall down and worship" him, but Jesus angrily replies, "Away with you, Satan! . . . 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'" (Matthew 4:9-10). David urges us to "worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). When Abraham's servant sees how well God has blessed his quest to find a wife for Isaac, "he worship[s] the LORD, bowing himself to the earth" (Genesis 24:52).
When Job hears the horrific news of the total loss of everything he once enjoyed, including all his children, he does what many would consider an unusual thing: "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped" (Job 1:20). What an example of faith!
After Solomon dedicates the new Temple to God in prayer, the people worship: "When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the LORD" (II Chronicles 7:3). The same acts of worship are repeated in King Hezekiah's day, as "all who were present with him bowed and worshiped" (II Chronicles 29:29).
Acts of worship like this often occur in heaven itself:"And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, 'Amen! Alleluia!'" (Revelation 19:4).
Perhaps this partly explains why worship is not deeply imbedded in our thinking. People in our independent, me-first, Western society dare not be caught on their knees in public - anywhere, anytime! Other cultures literally bow the head in deference to an older or titled person. We seldom see that here. Muslims the world over will spontaneously prostrate themselves - with foreheads on the ground - five times a day when they are called to prayer. In the Western world such demonstrations of worship are rare.
What would we think of a worship service where every person present bowed down so low that their faces touched the ground? Would this feel right? Would we be comfortable doing it? Would we believe this to be "overboard"? Yet that is often how our forefathers in Israel worshipped God.
When done properly, if we truly understand worship, this attitude of a bowed-down heart and head permeates everything we do. We seek to do God's will. We ask, "What would Jesus do?" in every situation. We do all for the glory of God, and in this sense, everything we do becomes either an act of worship - or of desecration.
The Bible also teaches there are specific times when God's people should worship. For example, Abraham tells his servants as he traveled the last few miles before sacrificing Isaac: "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonderand worship, and we will come back to you" (Genesis 22:5). In one sense we could say Abraham had been worshipping all along the way to Moriah, yet he states he was going to a specific point, at a specific time and place to worship. Similarly, after traveling many miles for many weeks, the magi tell King Herod they had come to worship the Child born to be King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).
Worship, then, is a constant attitude of yieldedness and humility before God, but there are certain times and occasions when we worship pointedly and in earnest.
Why are people lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (II Timothy 3:4)? Why are people so indifferent to the state of their spiritual well-being? Why has the Bible been relegated to little more than a coffee table display? Why are people so defiant toward heaven and so little concerned about sin? Romans 3:18, following a long list of sins prominent among men, says in summation, "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Do today's churches of this world teach the fear of God, or has their teaching turned Him into a divine, snugly teddy bear, a benign but doddering grandfather, or maybe an absentee landlord busy doing other things? God's Word says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7), adding later, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). These two verses, even without any other confirmation, reveal that the fear of God is very important, yet so frequently the ministry of this world tries to blunt the force of the word "fear." Nevertheless, it means in Hebrew exactly what it means in English, encompassing everything from a faint but grudging respect to outright terror.
However, neither outright terror nor faint respect produces a good relationship. Neither will win another's heart. God wants more from us, more than a mere healthy respect. He wants us to have a deep, abiding, and reverential awe for Him. Being all-powerful, holy, just, good, kind, careful, encouraging, inspiring, merciful, patient, loving, forgiving, and wise, He is far more than One we should simply respect.
Americans, especially, have been taught to be familiar and casual in our attitudes toward others, and this carries over into our attitude toward and relationship with God. It is a form of the "I'm just as good as you, and you will just have to accept me just as I am" approach. A disrespectful and sometimes even defiant attitude is born. But what is the Bible's counsel? Paul tells us that even among ourselves, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3). What about familiarity with God? Peter tells us to honor all people, love the brotherhood, and honor the king—but we are to fear God (I Peter 2:17). Do we hear much teaching that will incline us to revere God's majesty?
Do we unconsciously think that the fear of God is something only the unconverted need? Since Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," and since wisdom in its simplest form is skill or right application, who needs wisdom more than God's children? Reverential awe is wisdom's foundation, because it moves us to obedience, and God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation with fear and trembling."
We need this quality more than anybody does because our eternal life is on the line. It used to be that someone known to believe in God was referred to as "God-fearing." This was obvious to others because they knew the person obeyed God and was very concerned about what God said. It marked his relationship with God and set him apart from others. Fearing not only makes a great witness before others, it also pays great dividends, as Psalm 103:13 shows: "As a father pities His children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him." We all want God to be compassionate toward us.
In I Peter 2:21, the apostle instructs us to follow Christ's steps, suggesting that He is the model after whom we must pattern our lives. Did He fear God? "[Jesus], in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear" (Hebrews 5:7). Notice especially the link connecting His being saved from death and being heard because He feared. Christ acknowledged God's sovereignty through a deeply held reverential awe, showing that answered prayer, eternal life, and the fear of God are intertwined.
This is true because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is right application, and right application is obedience. Jesus obeyed God perfectly. His fear was not an occasional burst of deep respect—as ours so often is—but sustained and built throughout His entire life. It had to be this way because His trials intensified as He aged, and His need of godly fear became ever more urgent.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten
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