Fear of God

General Usages of Hebrew Words for “Fear” in the First Testament

(1) “Flee” gives the sense of a hasty retreat or getaway (Ex 12:11; Deut 16:3; Is 52:12). “Alarm” or “panic” would be additional concepts (1 Sam 23:26; 2 Kg 7:15; Ps 48:5).

(2) Fear is the motivation for right living (Lev 19:14; 25:17; Deut 17:19; 2 Kg 17:34) learned by reading The Law (Deut 31:11-12) demonstrated by kindness to foreigners (Deut 10:18-20; 25:18).

(3) Fear is interwoven with obedience to The Law and collective worship (Deut 14:22-23; 2 Kg 17:32-24).

(4) Moses was said to have performed “terrible deeds” (Deut 34:12) clearly caused by God as fear is created by His Law (Deut 4:10), “signs and wonders” (Deut 26:8; 34:12; Jer 32:21), and Yahweh’s “terrifying Name” (Deut 28:58).

(5) Israel is commanded not to have a broken spirit or become demoralized (Deut 1:21; 31:8; Josh 8:1) as they later would before Goliath (1 Sam 17:11).

(6) Quivering or trembling is the response to God’s judgment (Is 2:19, 21) but should not happen when trusting in Yahweh (Deut 1:29; 7:21; 20:3; 31:6).

(7) Concrete panic and dread resulting in quaking (Deut 28:66, 67 [twice]) by sinners before Yahweh (Isa 19:16; 33:14; Jer 33:9; 36:16).

(8) Ultimately intimidation is the result when one is confronted by superior numbers (Num 22:3), social standing (in the Hebrew, “do not fear the face of men” Deut 1:17), a prophetical message (Deut 18:22), or a taunting enemy (Deut 32:27). The noun form of this verb registers horror (Jer 6:25; 20:3, 4, 10; 46:5; 49:29).

General Usages in the First Testament with Reference to God

There is an emotional, psychological response to God, actually being afraid of Him. Terror and fear confront both the believer and unbeliever (Exodus 20:18-21; Isaiah 8:12, 13; cf. Acts 5:1-11). The fear of Yahweh includes horror or abject terror in His presence (Ps 14:5; Isa 2:10, 19; cf. Rev 11:11; 18:10, 15). Yahweh places this same dread in His enemies to protect His people (Deut 11:25; 2 Chr 20:29-30). Fear is to be “learned” (Deut 4:10; 14:23; 17:19; 31:12) and lifelong (“all the days,” 4:10; 6:2; 14:23; 31:13).

Reverence or awe on the part of humans toward God is more frequent in the First Testament (Exodus 9:20-21; Job 37:23-24; cf. Acts 9:31). In terms of the Scriptures, the believer’s reaction is one of respect (Psalm 119:120, 161). The same attitude is prevalent when speaking of the Messiah (Psalm 2:11).

However, the mood and sense of emphasis shifts to (a) right decisions based upon right ethical conduct (Deut 6:2; 8:6; 10:12-13; 13:4; 28:58; 31:12) which has as its foundation in (b) right relationship with The Only True god (Ex 14:31; Jonah 1:12-16; 2 Kings 5:13-17; Ruth 1:16-17).

General Usages in Wisdom Literature

In the wisdom literature as a whole, the fear of God has a moral orientation and is manifested by the avoidance of and hatred of evil evidenced by an upright walk. The fear of God is the basis for living in Ecclesiastes (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:14). “Fear” is actually a worship that takes place in the presence of The Holy One. God affected the Preacher’s daily living, choices, and ethical questions. Bowling states, “Fearing and proper living are so closely related as to be virtually synonymous ideas (Leviticus 19:14; 25:17; 2 Kings 17:34; Deuteronomy 17:19).” Speaking of the poetical books in general Bullock concurs,

“The phrase ‘fear of the Lord’ encapsulates the totality of man’s religious faith. It is not merely the emotion of fear, nor do the terms awe and reverence exhaust its meaning. It is a comprehensive term for the worship of the Lord or religion, the sum total of man’s relationship with God.” 

“You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord” (Psalm 115:11) certainly maintains this nuance of right relationship. The phrase in question is also a characteristic of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2, 3). Surely, Christ is not trembling before the Father; rather, the Son stands unified in purpose and stance.

Job 28:28 practically defines the term, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.” Psalm 111:10 adds the element of intimidation (#8 above) clearly saying that one stands in the presence of a superior Person (cf. Ps 19:9).

Specific Usages in Proverbs

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom (1:7; 9:10; cf. 1:29; 2:5; Ps 34:11-14; 111:10). The beginning of knowledge means the first, best, the highest in rank, supreme quality. Fearing God is the root, source, headwaters, and ultimate authority for all education. The first step in correct living is our relationship with God. As a result of man being in that right relationship, he can have a meaningful and enjoyable life—the whole point of Proverbs.


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