One of the most impressive concepts in the Bible is that of walking in the fear of God. The more I study and see how that expression ("the fear of God") is used, the more determined I am to encourage others to walk in the fear of the Lord.
Fear has to be taught (Deut. 4:10; 14:23; Psa. 34:11). It is not casually absorbed. If one fears God, he has been taught to fear. Thus, if our children are going to walk in the fear of God, it will be because we have taught them.
I find myself using that expression more and more to describe those who are truly dedicated to God. I am very selective in my use of that expression. I do not use it to describe everyone who has been baptized or attends church all of the time. Not all of those who are members where we worship are walking in the fear of God. Sometimes when we are trying to figure out why someone doesn't live as they should and do better than they are doing, it would do us well to not make excuses and simply conclude that they don't fear God!
Our objective in this study is two-fold: (1) Help us to walk in the fear of God, (2) to challenge us to deeper study on the concept of fear.
Some in the Bible either described themselves or were described by God as standing in fear of God. When Abraham was about to slay his son as God had instructed, he was stopped by an angel saying, "now I know that you fear God" (Gen. 22:12). Joseph told his brothers, "Do this and live, for I fear God" (Gen. 42:18). Jonah told those aboard the ship he was on, "I fear the Lord" (Jonah 1:9). Nehemiah described the remnant that returned as "Your servants who desire to fear Your name" (Neh. 1:11). Later in the book he describes Hananiah the leader of the citadel as "a faithful man and feared God more than many" (Neh. 7:2).
This does not mean that only those whose names are associated with the term "fear" are those that feared God. The Bible is filled with examples of those who feared God, but other terms were used to describe their faithfulness.
Solomon sought the answer to the question of the purpose of life. After finding the emptiness of wealth, pleasure and wisdom, he concluded, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all" (Ecc. 12:13). The same writer said that we should be in the fear of God all day long (Prov. 23:17). God placed man on earth to fear him and keep his commandments. That means everything else is secondary to that. Our purpose and function in life is not to work and make a living. We work and make a living so we can live and serve God with fear.
Since the above is true, then if we fail to fear God we have failed in life. If fearing God is our purpose in life, then when we don't fear our life has no purpose. If we don't teach our children to fear God then we have failed miserably as parents.
Peter said, "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:35). The familiar promise that the Lord's eyes are over the righteous and his ear are open to their prayers (1 Pet. 3:12) was quoted from Psa. 34:15 which is a description of the blessing that those who fear God (v. 9) receive.
Some have a limited concept of the fear of God. Some may think that fear only involves being afraid of God. Others may think that sense of fear has no part in the service of God. However, the fear of God is like a coin: it has two sides. While those two sides are different, they also are inseparable. It involves:
1. Being afraid of displeasing God. When Saul and Samuel were gathering men to go to battle, they toke a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent messengers out, each carrying a bloody piece of meat. Their message was, "Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen." What reaction would you have had? I would have been afraid not to. The text says, "And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with once consent" (1 Sam. 11:7). Thus, they feared God in the sense that they were afraid not to what they were told.
The Lord says that he will look on the one who "trembles at My word" (Isa. 66:2). David said, "My flesh trembles for fear of You, And I am afraid of Your judgments" (Psa. 119:120). We ought to tremble in our boots at the thought of doing the things that displease God.
Paul said that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). The reason is "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29).
One who can knowingly do wrong and not be bothered at all obviously doesn't fear God.
2. Respect and awe of God. When Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, fear came upon the people (Luke 7:16). There is no indication that they were afraid of anything. Rather, "They glorified God, saying, ''A great prophet has risen up among us'', and ''God has visited His people''" (v. 16). Their fear was that of awe, homage and respect.
When Jonah said he feared God explained saying, "I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land" (Jonah 1:9). He stood in awe and wonder of God.
Moses instructed the people to "fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD..." (Deut. 28:58).
Let''s consider now what that fear will cause us to do.
1. Do what God says. While we do not live under the OT law (Gal. 3:24-25; 2 Cor. 3), books like Deuteronomy, which emphasize obedience to the law, serve to demonstrate the relationship of the fear of God to obedience. Notice that connection in the following passages:
"that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you..." (Deut. 6:2).
"Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him" (Deut. 8:6).
"You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and shall keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him" (Deut. 13:4).
"And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statues..." (Deut. 17:19).
"If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord...." (1 Sam. 12:14).
The one fears God, will obey to the utmost as Abraham did in his attempt to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:12). When God saw he was willing to go that far in obedience, he said, "Now I know that you fear God". This is obedience with no excuses, question or doubt.
2. Be dedicated. The one who fears God is devoted and dedicated with all his heart. There is no place for half-hearted service among those who fear God. Again, consider some passages from Deuteronomy.
"And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12).
"You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to him you shall hold fast..." (Deut. 10:20).
This dedication means that one will be careful in his obedience (in contrast to a hap-hazard or careless approach to the Christian life) (Deut. 17:19). Consider some other passages from Deuteronomy:
"...that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law" (Deut. 31:12).
"If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD" (Deut. 28:58).
3. Hate sin. Because of the love and respect one has for God, he will develop a hatred for sin. He not only will hate sin, but will cease the practice of it. The Proverb writer said, "Fear the Lord and depart from evil" (Prov. 3:7). Again he wrote, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Prov. 8:13, see also 16:6).
Moses told God''s people at Sinai that God''s presence on the mount (the display of thundering, lightening, sounding of the trumpet and the smoke on the mountain) was to test them "that his fear may be before you, so that you may not sin" (Exo. 20:20). Thus, if one fears God, he will hate sin and cease the practice of it.
The Psalmist said, "Because they do not change, therefore they do not fear God" (Psa. 55:19). When people persist in sin and never change (whether an alien in the world or a supposed "Christian") the problem is they do not fear God.
4. Honor God. Nehemiah described himself as one of the people who "desire to fear Your Name" (Neh. 1:11). That desire caused him to view God with the highest respect. He described God as the "great and awesome God" (Neh. 1:5; 4:14).
Our view of God ought not be a casual one that thinks of God as our "buddy". In attitude, words and action we should praise him as the Almighty (Rev. 4:11), the creator of the world (Gen. 1:1), the one who holds the world in the palm of his hands (Isa. 40), the one who caused the sun and the moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12-14), the one who delivered his people from the hand of the Egyptians with wonders and signs (Exo. 7-14), and the one who raised his Son from the dead (John 20).
5. Respect for the word of God. If one honors God, he will have the utmost respect for his word. Remember that Nehemiah described those among whom he worked (as he did himself) as those "who desire to fear...." Because of that fear they were attentive to Ezra as he read and explained the law (Neh. 8:2). They stood when Ezra opened the book in their presence (v. 5).
If we fear God we too will hold the word in high esteem. We should view the Bible as the inspired word that came from the mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 9:13). We should never forget that this is the book by which we will be judged in the last day (John 12:48). The way we refer to the word and the way we respond to it will reflect whether we respect it or not.
6. Respect and treat others right. Respect for God means that we will respect fellowman. Moses thought that Abimelech would not treat him or Sarah right because he did not fear God. He said, "Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife" (Gen. 20:11).
Nehemiah rebuked some who were mistreating their brethren by exacting usury from them saying, "What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?" (Neh. 5:9). Notice the contrast in the fear of God and the mistreatment of others. David said that those who role over others should do so in the fear of God (2 Sam. 23:3).
Many of the laws given on Sinai that dealt with how Israel was to treat others put walking in the fear of God in contrast to mistreatment of others. For example, "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:14; see also Lev. 19:32; 25:17, 36, 43).
Walking in the fear of God involves more than being baptized. It involves more than going to church. May this study challenge us to be more dedicated, more devoted and sacrifice more for the cause of the Lord.
Psalm 34 is a Psalm of David. It is an acrostic (Alphabetic) Psalm where in Hebrew each line begins with the successive Hebrew alphabet. However, it is irregular. One letter (vau) is missing and another (pe) is repeated. It is the second such Psalm. The twenty-fifth Psalm is one also.
The title of the Psalm says, "A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed." This refers to the events of 1 Sam. 21:10-15 where David, because he was afraid, acted like he was crazy before Achish, the king of Gath. The Psalm does not indicate any attempt to vindicate David''s action. In fact, in the Psalm, David makes no reference to his conduct. He makes no comment upon it. He merely recalls his feelings at the time of his deliverance. We are not to assume that this was necessarily written at the time of the events of 1 Sam. 21.
A quick reading of this Psalm suggests there are two divisions: (1) vv. 1-10 and (2) vv. 11-22. Charles Spurgeon calls the first part a hymn and the second a sermon. The first ten verses deal with thanksgiving and praise for deliverance. The last twelve deal with instruction.
The point of the Psalm is that Jehovah is our provider, protector and deliverer. Albert Barnes wrote, "The general purport and bearing of the Psalm, therefore, is to furnish an argument for trusting in God in the time of trouble, and for leading such a life that we may confidently trust him as our Protector and Friend" (Barnes Notes, Psalms, Vol. I, P. 286).
We also learn some lessons about the fear of God and the blessings that those who fear receive.
I. David's Praise Toward God (vv. 1-10)
A. Pledge to praise God always (vv. 1-3).
B. David''s experience: The Lord heard and delivered (vv. 4-7).
C. God blesses those who trust and fear (vv. 8-11).
II. Instructions To Fear (vv. 11-22)
A. How to fear God (vv. 11-14).
B. The blessings of those who fear (vv. 15-22).
David begins with a pledge to praise God at all times (vv. 1-3). In every circumstance and situation whether in trails and darkness or calmness when all is bright. In this, he makes a statement of his dedication and devotion of which he is not ashamed (v. 2). He stirs other to magnify God''s name with him (v. 3).
In the next four verses David tells of how he cried to the Lord and the Lord heard and delivered him from his enemies. He shows his confidence in the Lord. It is in this section that he introduces us to the fear of the Lord (v. 7). His point is that the Lord protects and delivers those who fear God.
Verses 8-10 describe how God blesses those who trust him and fear his name. He said, "Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear him" (v. 9). He concludes the first part of this Psalm saying, "But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (v. 10).
The second part of the Psalm (vv. 11-22) is instructions to fear God. First, he invites all to come and learn about the fear of God (v. 11). In the next verse he tells us that those who fear God are the ones who truly enjoy life and see good days (v. 12). The writer then tells us how to see those good days (thus telling us how to fear God): (1) Control the tongue (v. 13). (2) Depart from evil (v. 14). (3) Do good (v. 14). (4) Seek peace, and pursue it (v. 14).
Verses 15-22 tell of the blessings that those who fear God receive. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous (those who fear) and his ears are open to their prayer (v. 15, cf. 1 Pet. 3:12). The Lord delivers his people from their troubles (vv. 17, 19). He redeems the soul of his servants (v. 22).
There are several practical lessons we learn from this Psalm about the fear of God.
1. Fear must be taught (v. 11). If we fear God, we have been taught to fear God. If we want our children to fear God, we must teach them to fear God. When we wonder why some of our children have no use for God or his word, we would do well to consider that maybe we didn''t teach them to fear God.
2. What it means to fear God. The term "fear" is equated with several other expressions in the context. These terms serve as a commentary on what is involved in fearing God. What verses 7, 9 and 11 refer to as one who "fears", v. 8 describes as one who "trusts in him". Verse 10 says "seek the Lord". Verse 15 calls this one "righteous". Verse 22 say he is a servant.
3. The Lord protects those who fear him (vv. 7, 15, 17, 19). The Lord cares about his people. He delivers them from their troubles.
4. The Lord blesses those who fear him (vv. 8-10). God gives us all that we need (2 Pet. 1:3). There is no promise that the Lord would give us all we want. He did promise that he would grant all we need. While the young lion may hunger, his people will not lack any good thing (v. 10).
5. Those who fear God are those who really enjoy life (v. 12). Those who seek pleasure from life without the fear of God, have no idea what real joy is. In fact, they don''t really understand what life itself is all about.
6. God''s listens to those who fear him (vv. 15-22). What a privilege to have God''s ear tuned to our request! Such an honor is not granted to just anyone. It is an honor bestowed only on those who fear God.
The story of Nehemiah is that of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem following their return from captivity. In this book we see a people who feared God. Nehemiah described the people to God as those who "desire to fear Your name" (Neh. 1:11). Later in the book he rebuked some for not walking in the fear of God (Neh. 5:9). He also cited the fear of God as the cause for his own behavior (Neh. 5:15). Nehemiah describes Hanani (who was given charge of the city after the walls were completed) as "a faithful man and feared God more than many" (Neh. 7:2).
Remember, as we have studied in an earlier article, that fear involves: (1) awe and respect, and (2) being afraid of displeasing God. We shall see both of these concepts as we look at the book of Nehemiah.
With the above references as a backdrop, let's consider what the fear of God would prompt these people to do. Likewise, if we are walking in the fear of God, we will do the same.
1. Concerned about the things of God. When Nehemiah learned that the walls were torn down and burned, he "wept and mourned for many days". He said, "I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Neh. 1:4). Nehemiah was so bothered that the city of God was in total ruins that he cried. His concern was so great that he couldn't eat.
Our concern about spiritual things (the church, a soul in danger, what is being taught, development of an apostasy and our worship) should cause us to be greatly disturbed when we see that things are not as they should be. Too often apathy allows the problems to go unchallenged (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2).
2. View God as great and awesome. As Nehemiah prayed, he addressed God as, "O great and awesome God..." (Neh. 1:5). Later, when urging the people to resist their opposition, he reminded them that the "great and awesome God" would fight for them (Neh. 4:14).
3. See a need and act upon it. After Nehemiah was informed of the situation in Jerusalem, he went to see for himself (Neh. 2:1-10). He went out by night and surveyed the damage the city had suffered. It is interesting to note what Nehemiah didn't do. He didn't think, "Somebody ought to do something about this." Rather, he immediately made a plea for the people of God to rise up and build (Neh. 2:17-18). His plea included himself in the plan.
When we see a need in the Lord's work (someone to be visited, someone to be taught, a problem to be handled or encouragement to be offered), the fear of God will cause us to jump in and do what we can.
4. Diligently work. Chapter three shows who worked and where in the reconstruction of the wall. In this chapter we also see the attitude and manner with which they worked. Baruch "diligently repaired the other section" (Neh. 3:20). There was no time for workers who didn't get with it (Neh. 3:5). Those who fear God will put their whole heart into their work.
5. Have a mind to work. The reason they finished the wall in such a short time (52 days, 6:15) was that the "people had a mind to work" (Neh. 4:6). They were willing to work. They responded to Nehemiah''s pleas by saying, "Let us rise up and build" (Neh. 2:18).This is a far cry from those who have to begged and coached and still don't carry their load.
6. Press on in spite of trouble, opposition or the fear of man. Sanballat (from the north) and Tobiah (from the south) did all they could to hinder the work on the wall (Neh. 4). They ridiculed their work and tried to confuse the workers besides planning an attack. However, that didn't stop those who feared God. They returned the their work (v. 15) while some stood guard with spears (v. 21). They didn't buckle under pressure.
7. Work long and hard for the Lord's cause. Under Nehemiah's leadership the people worked on the wall "from daybreak until the stars appeared" (Neh. 4:21). They literally worked from sun-up to sun-down. What could explain their drive and motivation to give so much to their work? It must be their desire to fear God (1:11). Churches that have members that fear God, will have members who work long and hard for the cause of the Lord.
8. Treat one another right. When Nehemiah learned that some of the people were exacting usury (charging unreasonable interest) from their brethren, he rebuked them saying, "What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God...?" (Neh. 5:9).
The fear of God will cause us to treat others fair and right. That is the very motive cited by Nehemiah for his own conduct being different from the former governors (v. 15).
9. Respect for the word. In the eighth chapter Ezra reads the law before the people. Because of their respect for God (fear) they a) listened with the intent of understanding (vv. 2,3,7,8). b) They took time for the hearing of the word (v. 3; 9:3). c) When Ezra opened the book the people stood (v. 5). d) They were willing to do what they found lacking in their own lives (vv. 13-18). e) As they listened, they viewed the speaker as a spokesman from God (9:26, 29).
10. Make great changes. After reading the law, the people confessed their sins (Neh. 9). The feast of the tabernacles was not being observed as the law commanded. So, they changed! They also separated themselves from the mixed multitude (13:1-3).
After all, that is the purpose of the preaching of God''s word (Neh. 9:26,29). Those who fear God will make any changes necessary (no matter how painful) to fit their lives to the plan of God.
11. Recognize that God's wrath is just. The confession that is recorded in Neh. 9 said to God, "You are just in all that has befallen us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly" (v. 33). This is a recognition that God''s wrath, rebuke and punishment is fair.
12. Promise to be faithful. Once the people confessed their sins, they make a covenant that they would "walk in God''s law...and do all the commandments of the Lord..." (10:29). Those who fear God make a promise to the Lord by their confession and baptism that they will serve the Lord faithfully. Those who would think of doing otherwise do not fear God.
13. Exercise righteous indignation. There is such a thing as righteous indignation. There is a time to be upset and angry. While we must control ourselves properly at all times, there is a time and place to demonstrate our displeasure over things that do not harmonize with the fear of God. Nehemiah did.
While Nehemiah had left Jerusalem to return to the king, Eliashib, the priest, had compromised with Tobiah "preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God" (Neh. 13:7). Nehemiah said, "it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room" (v. 8).
Later, when Nehemiah learned that some of the people had married people of the land, he said, "So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ''You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves''" (Neh. 13:25).
When we fear God we will be upset when we see God''s will being transgressed.
14. Aware of danger. As Nehemiah dealt with the matter of their marriage to the strangers of the land, he cited Solomon as an example of what could happen. He said, "Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin" (Neh. 13:26). If that happened to Solomon, it could and would happen to those of Nehemiah''s day. The point is that those who fear God have their eyes open to the danger of things that could lead them away from the Lord.
It is my prayer that this study will challenge you to do more thinking and study on the concept of the fear of God.