What Does The Fear Of The LORD Mean For The Believer Today?

By Alfred Bouter

The exact phrase “[the] fear of the LORD” – transcribed from the Hebrew as Yirath YHWH – occurs fourteen times* in the Hebrew Bible, of which ten are found in Proverbs. Including other forms, we have 14 occurrences in Proverbs. Remarkably, the same book mentions the fear of man only once: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (29:25). The Hebrew uses a different word here, for trembling or anxiety instead of true fear. Indirectly, this verse gives an important key to understand Proverbs, for the fear of the LORD is linked with faith in Him, trusting Him.

After the fall, Adam said, “I was afraid” (Gen. 3:10) – from the same Hebrew root “fear.” “The fear of the LORD” does not mean to be afraid of God, but it is to have a reverential awe in view of His greatness. It implies respect, confidence, dependence, trust and a walk in fellowship with the Lord.

Reading verses about the fear of the Lord brings great comfort and encouragement while challenging us to continue in His ways according to the perfect example of our blessed Lord. This kind of fear is embedded in, or an essential part of, a close relationship between God and His own. It is marked by respect, love and obedience with the desire of pleasing Him.

Psalm 19:9 indicates that the fear of the Lord is “clean” or “pure,” in perfect harmony with God and with what is right, true and just. This psalm links the wonders of God’s creation to the wonders of His written Word. It then connects them to the psalmist’s desire to be in tune with God – in a personal, transparent relationship with his great God. The fear of the Lord is part of an intimate relationship between the Creator God, who is the Redeemer, and His redeemed ones whom He loves. God’s Word produces a harmonious bond between Him and His own. Such fellowship needs to be well nurtured, as expressed in David’s prayer, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14 KJV). Consider Job’s comment: “To man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28). Surely this is wise counsel, from what is probably the oldest book in the Bible!

The Fear Of The Lord In Proverbs
As we consider the fourteen verses in Proverbs about the fear of the Lord we see that they are usually built on the concept of parallels, the second part elaborating on the first part of the verse. “And” indicates a similarity between the first and the second part of the verse, whereas “But” indicates a contrast. Sometimes a comparison or connection between the parts of the verse is of a different nature, communicated through other means, for instance in Proverbs 14:27.

We should note that the expression “Be not afraid” or “Fear not” is from the same Hebrew root and occurs 40 times in the singular, addressed to one individual or group. It is found 38 more times in the plural addressing two or more individuals. All different forms, derived from the same Hebrew root, occur 437 times in the Old Testament, besides other words and terms not discussed in this article. In the Greek New Testament, the equivalent noun phobos and its related verb-forms occur 77 times in the Gospels, 21 times in Acts and 60 times in the other books. Of this total of 158, about 47 are linked with the admonition not to be afraid.

A Few New Testament Examples Of The Fear Of The Lord
“The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears” (Isa. 11:2-3). This Old Testament prediction was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus as He walked on this earth, even after His death and resurrection. We see this quality in the many saved ones, taken from among Jews and Gentiles, who now represent Him in this scene, waiting for His return (1 Th. 4:14-18). The New Testament speaks of the fear of the Lord first in relation to the Lord Jesus, as in the quote from Isaiah, and secondly in connection with the believers who follow the footsteps of Christ. Despite tremendous opposition from various sides, the work directed by the glorified and exalted Lord Jesus in heaven continued irresistibly – and does so today.

Luke provided seven reports in Acts describing and summarizing this progress, of which the third is found in 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.” It gives the conclusion about the remarkable increase that took place despite all kinds of opposition, and it follows the dramatic conversion of the persecutor Saul of Tarsus. The mention of the fear of the Lord and the believers walking in it shows that they were closely following Jesus’ example. It also explains the secret of the progress they made, both numerically and spiritually. The greatest opponent of this progress, Saul of Tarsus, became a devout follower of the despised Jesus of Nazareth even though the Jewish majority still rejected Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God – like today. The believers to whom Saul was joined represented all kinds of differences, but they were kept in unity as they walked in the fear of the Lord. At the same time, God the Holy Spirit was working on earth in happy harmony with the Lord Jesus Christ, who was directing this work from heaven – something He continues to do now.

Let’s conclude with James 3 and the wisdom from above (v.17). In James 1:17 we read about the Father of lights and the resources believers have in their relationship with Him as they walk in the fear of the Lord. James 2 shows that the Lord Jesus in heaven is the Lord of Glory and that the believers are to represent Him here on earth. We learn that Abraham, who loved God, was ready to give Him his own son. The same chapter shows that Rahab abandoned idolatry and prostitution, for she came to love God and His people. Because of this love, she was ready to denounce her own people. The resources needed to do this, in the fear of the Lord, are described in James 3:17: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” The Lord Jesus used this wisdom as He walked here on earth in the fear of the LORD, displaying these seven wonderful qualities. Those who walk in the fear of the Lord can learn them, but only in the school of God. These seven things are to be displayed for His delight in a world still opposed to Him – the same world that crucified Him.

May our eyes be turned on the Lord Jesus to follow His example! Indeed, may we walk in the fear of the Lord while waiting for His promised return.

* In Ps. 19:9, 34:11, 111:10; Prov. 1:7, 2:5, 8:13, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:33, 19:23, 22:4, 31:30; Isa. 33:6.

Author: Sebastien

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