Thursday, May 08, 2008

What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor. Real wrath of God type stuff!

The “Fear of the LORD” in the book of Proverbs

Introduction

A theme that seems to be emphasized often in the Bible in general, and in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in particular, is the fear of the Lord. In Ecclesiastes 12:13, as a concluding statement of that book, the author writes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” The purpose of this study is to understand what the concept of the fear of the Lord means theologically and then to examine the practical ramifications of this idea in daily life.

There has been much discussion and dissension over the significance of the fear of the Lord and there is a lack of consensus on what it means to fear God. This concept of the fear of the Lord is especially prevalent in the book of Proverbs, which will be the main source of our discussion on the topic. As it seems to be critical to the “whole duty of man,” it will be time well spent to investigate further what this entails.

Meaning of “the Fear of the Lord”

There seem to be two aspects of this fear. It entails a reverential awe and respect of God as well as a psychological fear of God. Some would like to drop that second aspect as it seems inconsistent with a god of love, but that seems unbiblical. When discussing whom to fear, whom not to fear, and why, Jesus gives these words: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5). To deny this aspect of the fear of the Lord would be tragically close to worshiping another God, if it is not already.

First, although it should seem obvious, it is important to note that the fear of the Lord is not a fear that is God’s fear, but rather fear that humans manifest. They are to fear Him. Upon examination of the references to the fear of the Lord in the book of Proverbs it appears that the verses can be divided into three categories based on the message they portray about the fear one should have of God. The first category of usage seems to link the fear of the Lord with the possession of wisdom and/ or knowledge. The second category entails action and shows those that fear the Lord as abstaining from evil practices and living righteously before God. The third use of the concept of the fear of the Lord in Proverbs gives the benefits associated with fearing God. While all three seem to have a persuasive intent, to motivate one to fear God, this category is most overt in the reasons given for fearing God.

The first category of usage associates the fear of the Lord with having wisdom or knowledge. The first reference to the fear of the Lord in Proverbs is 1:7, which states that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” This verse deals with both wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is stated to be the beginning of knowledge. As knowledge and wisdom are so closely linked, it is no surprise to see Proverbs 9:10 note that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We are also told that a wise man fears the Lord (14:16) and that the fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom (15:33).

The second category of usage deals with actions. Specifically, this aspect shows that those fearing the Lord will exhibit it through their lifestyles. We see that, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil” (8:13). Also, note that we should be able to spot someone who fears the Lord as his “walk is upright” (14:2). Through the fear of the Lord one avoids (16:6) and shuns evil (3:7 & 14:16). One that is zealous for the fear of the Lord should not envy those who do wickedness (23:17) nor should they be rebellious to God or those in authority (24:21). The fear of the Lord should motivate one to live righteously. It would appear that one’s life can be a good indicator of the presence or absence of the fear of the Lord. The litmus test for that fear will be the actions of the individual.

The third category that seems to be represented in the book of Proverbs lays out the rationale for fearing God. It is as though the writer is answering the question, “Why should I fear God?” The benefits of fearing the Lord are manifold and are laid out clearly. Fearing God will add length to one’s life (10:27) as well as bringing the fearer wealth, honor, and life (22:4). That sub-theme of the fear of the Lord bringing life is often stated. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life (14:27) and leads to life (19:23). Other benefits promise contentment (19:23), security in a “secure fortress” (14:26), and God’s blessing (28:14). We note that more important than charm or beauty is fearing the Lord and that such a fearer ought to be praised (31:30). Finally, a general statement about fearing God notes, “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (15:16).

Application

There is a general lack of reverence for God in Christianity today. The Lord Jesus Christ is commonly referred to as, “J. C.”, and praying to God is often called, “Rappin’ with God.” God is not seen as the Almighty Creator of the Universe, but rather as a buddy who is there when we need something. The caviler attitude many take into prayer or worship is shameful. It is so contrary to Scripture that one would think they were worshipping another deity entirely. Perhaps they are, if they assume that God wants to be approached in such a fashion. Although we are His children (John 1:12) and are, thus, encouraged to come to Him, we come boldly, but politely. With common mortals we will say, “Please,” and, “thank you,” but those common manners are rarely displayed when dealing with God.

What is the biblical notion of entering God’s presence? Moses had to remove his sandals as the ground was holy because of God’s presence (Exodus 3:5). Isaiah’s entrance into the presence of God caused him to curse himself as he saw his unholiness in contrast to God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:5). When John saw the risen Lord Jesus on the Isle of Patmos, he fell at His feet as if dead (Revelation 1:17).

A fear of God will motivate one to take prayer and worship seriously. Our prayer should be that of the Psalmist, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name” (Psalm 86:11, KJV). In worship, we should be less worried about what worship styles we like and focus more on what He likes. After all, worship is for His benefit, not ours.

As was seen in the discourse on the meaning of the fear of the Lord, this lack of reverence and fear demonstrates a corresponding lack of wisdom and knowledge. We should strive to demonstrate our fear of the Lord by our actions. We must abstain from sinful practice to avoid punishment and to demonstrate our loyalty and subordination to God. There were many motivating factors given as incentives to fear God. They are merely the icing on the cake. Even if there were no benefits for individuals in fearing God, they ought to do it as it is their duty. He is worthy of that reverential awe and respect. The Lord our God is still a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24).

The need for a return to the fear of the Lord is obvious. Christian churches have lost sight of the fact that our priority in life is worship. We plan to spend an eternity in heaven worshiping God, but we have no motivation to do it now. In a current worship service, the service looks nothing like true worship that is described in Revelation 4-5. The way Christians treat God must send a message to the heathen. Surely they see Him as a god who is more of a puppet or bell hop for us than the sovereign Lord before whom every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:10). The grace of God has been turned into a license for sin (Jude 4) and we are content with a Christianity that mirrors the lifestyles of the world. The only potential difference between the average professing Christian and a pagan is seen on Sundays at 11 o’clock in the morning where we sacrifice a whole hour to our God.

We are not a people characterized as servants of God, yet that is our calling. May God be gracious with His church and grant us the prayer of Psalm 86:11, that He would unite our hearts to fear His name. Only then will a watching world see that we have a God who is worthy of worship, adoration, and service. May God grant us the wisdom to fear Him. May we never be content with our sinfulness, but rather hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). A holy God deserves obedient servants. May we fear God and keep His commandments, as that is our whole duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

7 Comments:

At 08 May, 2008 08:55, Anonymous Lance said...

Co-incidentally (or "providentially," as you would say), I came across Job 28:28 this morning:

"And [God] said to man,'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.'"

I think I'll call it the 28:28 rule.

 
At 08 May, 2008 09:21, Blogger Timothy said...

Ghost Busters!

 
At 08 May, 2008 09:22, Blogger Timothy said...

And wasn't there a part in there about cats sleeping with dogs???

 
At 08 May, 2008 10:20, Blogger Lance said...

Let's be fair here, there was no direct mention of canine-feline fornication; only the statement of dogs and cats living together.

 
At 08 May, 2008 14:48, Blogger samurai said...

This is an entirely unpopular concept within most (North) American churches today... and yet it is something that should really be communicated.

A healthy fear of God is good for the soul.

 
At 08 May, 2008 20:27, Blogger Rev. said...

Stupendous!

 
At 10 May, 2008 09:52, Blogger Jesus Girl said...

Thank you for the edification. I really enjoy your blog. I enjoy reading the comments that your preacher buddies write too.
Thanks for the mini-sermon. I like the "litmus paper" analogy. Good one.

 

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