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 experienced something so fearsome that the "fight or flight" response kicked in. Our terror moved us to take immediate steps to defend ourselves physically or seek protection by running from the danger.
However, fear can 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 what our reaction would be 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 it motivates us to act correctly—but not so much that it paralyzes us into inaction. That "edge" grows as true knowledge of Him increases.
Some may think God does not require of us this level of fear. However, for "trembles" in Isaiah 66:2, the Septuagint uses a Greek word that describes reverential awe with an "edge." 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 asserts that overcoming in this way of life requires sacrifice—a living sacrifice. We all know how costly sacrifice can be. Our apprehension of making sacrifices required to submit to God's will stops us on occasion, motivating us to draw back from obeying. Here, the problem is fearing the wrong thing! Sometimes, the degree of the fear of God we need approaches 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
Only one saw this, and the others fled in terror—but even they were aware of a presence. They knew something was there. Perhaps the hair on the back of their heads stood up on end, and their skin felt creepy. Maybe they had a feeling of dread as though they knew they were in the presence of an awesome power of great magnitude but could not see or feel it. But it was there. A presence frightened them, but they could not clearly identify it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Three)
The circumstance prophesied in Daniel 11:32 is gradually taking shape on the horizon. Those who know Him and "see" Him are those who so respect and revere Him that they never want to be out of His presence nor disappoint Him. The Bible describes such people as "fearing Him." Fear is generally defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by exposure to danger or expectation of lack or pain. Its synonyms include "dread," "terror," "panic," "alarm," and "fright." Though it contains elements of these characteristics, the fear of God is most certainly not dominated by them. This particular quality of fear is not abject terror.
The fear of God centers on worshipful admiration and appreciation. It is a wonder, awe, delight, pleasure, and warm approval of all He is in His Person. It esteems Him above all others because of the awesome, loving mixture of His intelligence, creativity, generosity, wisdom, kindness, patience, and mercy, all within an aura of overwhelming and yet subdued power. These qualities are not ones that a person immediately recognizes, but rather ones that an individual comes to know as the result of experience with Him. His qualities draw a person to God rather than repel him in cringing terror.
Psalm 34:11, a psalm of David, a man after God's own heart, makes a telling statement regarding this fear: "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." This fear is not natural to man; it is not built into the carnal mind. Human nature will reject it because the carnal mind is enmity with God (Romans 8:7).
Godly fear is a quality of reverence and respect of God that must be learned, and only those whom God calls and converts can learn it, because doing so requires a relationship with Him to come to know Him. The unconverted do not have this relationship. Those who fear God will do great exploits regardless of their human status, great or small. To be in that position, we must make the best use of the relationship that He enables by His calling. We have to respond by seeking Him to remain in His spiritual presence, or we will never learn the fear of God nor have it as part of our characters.
The fear of the Lord is a necessary, foundational plank supporting a life lived in faith. It is a strong influence that drives us toward God and His way, not one that incites us to flee from Him. It is not only foundational to this way of life, but it is also a fruit of it, learned and strengthened in the character of those who pay the costs of living by faith. The sons of God live in the present yet always look to the future in the Kingdom of God, humbly accepting His judgments on their lives. They strive to make good, daily use of His Word. Such people will receive God's spiritual blessings and do exploits.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits
Obadiah 10 had named the Edomites' great sin: "violence against your brother Jacob." The four subsequent verses tick off a number of illustrations of the Edomites' violence toward Israel, providing an expanded description of their transgression.
The prophet's first example (in verse 11), the only one requiring explanation, is that they "stood on the other side." This Hebraism indicates they "stood aloof," a description of their haughtiness. God is emphasizing their attitude here. Literally, the phrase reads, "stood from in front of them," a roundabout way of saying that the Edomites considered themselves too good to stand with them. In other words, because of their pride, they stood off to the side or in front of them, effectively separating themselves from their brother.
Their action reflected their hearts, saying, in effect, "Do not confuse us with them!" It indicates an attitude of great superiority, of haughty pride and separation. Thus, instead of standing with Israel in her defense, they stood aside and let the enemy do what it would. Edom did not behave as a brother nation should have. Even had the Edomites not been directly engaged in the hostilities against Israel, this act alone reveals that their loyalties were solidly with Israel's enemy.
The New King James Version poorly translates verses 12-14, rendering them in the past tense, when the Hebrew text relates this story in the future tense. The difference in tense transforms a castigating historical narrative into a more appropriate and stern warning against future activity:
But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. Do not enter the gate of My people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress. (English Standard Version)
Specifically, what is the day of Israel's calamity? Jeremiah 30:5-7 provides the answer:
For thus says the LORD: "We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it."
Jesus also spoke about this distressing day in His Olivet Prophecy:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22)
"The time of Jacob's trouble," more commonly known as "the Great Tribulation," is a period of intense hardship and war for the people of Israel. It is generally thought that it will last three and a half years (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 12:14; 13:5), until Jesus Christ returns in power to defeat the Beast and his armies and to rule all nations (Revelation 19:11-21). According to Jesus' description, it is a time of global holocaust; if God did not intervene, all life on earth would cease!
The warnings in Obadiah 12-14 are directed toward the Edomites alive when that day arrives, perhaps not very long from now. We may have seen a precursor of the fulfillment of this prophecy, when, on and after September 11, 2001, television news programs broadcast images of Palestinians gloating and dancing in the streets in the West Bank, giving out candy, and shrieking in giddy celebration. Such a scene is likely to happen again when the Great Tribulation fully comes upon the nations of Israel.
At that time, the people of Edom may not have a great deal of power over the nations of Israel, and the prophecies do not indicate that they will. Today, their strength is limited to suicidal terrorist attacks, but they still have the ability to mock, to pillage, and to take advantage of any sign of weakness. God says in Obadiah 6-9 that He will remove their wealth, their wisdom, and their courage, but they will still be able to gloat when they see Israel fall.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Five): Obadiah and God's Judgment
It is not unreasonable that we should fear God. Jesus Christ Himself says that we are to fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Why? He is the only One who can revoke the judgment of Gehenna fire. The wages of sin is death in Gehenna fire. If we want to escape this punishment, we can see that it is closely connected to whether or not we actually fear God.
Why? What does the fear of God have to do with escaping a judgment that would otherwise take us into the Lake of Fire?
This series of verses in Matthew 10 contains some encouragement, indicating that, if one really fears God, then there is no need to be fearful of others. Proverbs 29:25 plainly tells us, "The fear of man is a snare." This is an attitude in which we do not want to be entrapped. It is obvious, in the context of Matthew 10:27, that He is talking about fear in the sense of "dread." We are not to fear men because the worst that they can do does not even begin to match the worst that God can do! The basis for this is what God is: omnipotent and omniscient, and in Him are the issues of life and death!
The Christian life is our calling; this is our only chance for salvation. We have been personally chosen by God. The elect are an insignificant number, and we are even more insignificant personally. Yet, He has given us this calling. The world population is somewhere in the vicinity of six billion people, and out of this huge number are a miniscule few who are truly converted and have been given the Spirit of God. This is not something that we want to pass up! The fear of God is crucial to our salvation!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God
A Christian is a person upon whom God has shown mercy, and here Luke also identifies Christians as those who fear God. In Luke 18:2, 4, Jesus reveals in a parable that it is the unconverted who do not fear God. His followers fear God.
Elsewhere, the Bible identifies Christians as those who fear God. Notice Acts 9:31: "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." Later, Luke writes: "And they said, 'Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you" (Acts 10:22). Cornelius, a Gentile prepared for baptism, is called "one who fears God."
Hebrews 5:7 describes Jesus' fear of God: ". . . who, 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." Even Jesus, who knew God better than anyone who had ever walked the face of the earth, feared God. Note the special attention paid to the fact that God answered His prayers because He did.
God is holy. He is different to a level so far above mankind that those who truly know Him do not lose that apprehension and awe that comes from the privilege of being in the presence of sheer, powerfully pure holiness. Fear plays a large part in a good relationship with God.
Genesis 3:10 is the first time a form of fear appears in Scripture, and interestingly, it is in the context of sin. Adam responds to God, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." Elsewhere, the English word "fear" and its cognates appear in many contexts and forms: "feared," "fearful," "fearfully," "fearfulness," "fearing," and "afraid." These terms appear over 720 times in Scripture.
We tend to be uncertain about fearing God because we think of fear as a negative characteristic. We feel that we should love Him rather than fear Him. However, as we study God's Word and experience life with Him, we come to understand that, at the foundation of loving God, godly fear modifies our highly variable faith in God and love for God in significant ways.
All of those forms of "fear" express a wide range of emotions. Feelings such as dread, distress, dismay, trouble, terror, horror, alarm, awe, respect, reverence, and admiration may all appear as "fear" in Scripture. The fear that God desires in us is a good, positive, motivating quality.
This fear is one that we do not naturally possess. Recall Psalm 34:11: "Come you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." How do we learn the fear of God? Psalm 33:8-9 gives insight: "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." Godly fear is one of a deep and abiding respect that grows as we learn—from within a continuing, intimate relationship—of His character, His purpose, and His powers. The unconverted do not have this relationship as a sustaining presence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
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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