The Fear of the Lord (Study from Proverbs)
One of the marks of living in the last days is a disdain for authority (2 Tim 3:2). Men love to proclaim that they live by “no rules”. How essential it is for us as believers in Christ to live in submissive ways, under the “Fear of the Lord”, as an essential attitude of the Gospel.
While many Christians talk about “Fearing the Lord”, most don t know what it means, besides some vague notions. A working, biblical definition would look like this:
The Fear of the Lord (for the Christian), is to be so undone by His holiness, that we would live by his grace alone, and thus experience great blessing in life.
Let s unpack this definition in it s parts and look at various Scriptures, particularly in Proverbs, that give weight to these ideas. There are three aspects to this definition:
1. To Fear the Lord is to be undone by his absolute holiness
The book of Proverbs is undergirded by the importance of this truth. In fact, the “fear of God” is alluded to 16 times in the book of proverbs. The most memorable occurrence of course, is Prov.1:7 where it is found as a capstone to the whole book. We learn here that our fear must have the Lord as it s object. It is in contemplation of Him that fear is produced in our hearts. Solomon does not spend much time unpacking this idea for us. He almost assumes that we would know what it means.
A careful survey of the OT shows us that Solomon was not inventing this truth for the first time. The foundational incident in Jewish history that taught this truth was found in Exodus 20:18 -20, which states:
And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”
The amazing, almost contradictory, truth found here (v.20) is that Israel was asked not to fear (from threat of judgement) because God s purpose was to make them afraid (like Job did – from a sense of God s holiness). God wanted Israel to come close to Him and not run away (in fear) so that they may be afraid in another permanent way. The fear that was produced in their hearts was a fear that made them tremble like trees in the wind (v.18).
Initially we may fear God because of the wrath that He is sure to express on sinners. But the ultimate reason God wants us to fear Him is out of a sense of how holy He is – that should make us tremble constantly. Listen to what is said in Jeremiah 32:38- 40:
“And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
As we know God more deeply – we fear Him! and that is the root of holiness in our lives Why does Solomon say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Because it is only by virtue of this quality that men would be drawn to know Him more. We tremble in knowing Him who is totally other than us. And as we see Him work in ways in our lives beyond our imaginations, we are invited to experience more of this holy fear. This is a terror that does not kill the saint, but purifies Him.
“The beginning of wisdom” is not just in the sense of the most important thing, but the chronological starting point without which no wisdom can be gained. And it is only the saint who is humbled in this way that can sense his need for more of this. We cannot grow in the Christian life without this fear. Proverbs teaches another aspect of fearing this Holy God…
2. To Fear God is to live by His grace alone
It s interesting to trace the roots of Solomon s understanding of this cornerstone of wisdom to his father David (Ps. 19:9). David saw the fear of the Lord as synonymous with knowing the Law of God. In other words, to fear the Lord is practically linked with reflecting the holiness found in the Law.In his book of wisdom, Solomon spends much time developing for us how we can cultivate holiness in the Fear of God.
i. It cultivates humilty
Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, And the perverted mouth, I hate.
Pride and arrogance are first noted as the fundamental attitudes that cause us to not submit to God s authority. “Pride” is a word that refers to becoming high or tall like a plant that shoots up. Our heads rise up in assertion of our opinions. “Arrogance” is the idea of self confident disobedience to God, unafraid of the consequences – often involving a perverted (God mocking) mouth. The fear of the Lord causes us to “hate”, to kill these actions and attitudes. We are aware of God s hatred for sin, we are awestruck by his passion for holiness – and we cannot rise up against Him.
ii. It creates a hunger for God’s Word
Proverbs 13:13 The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.
The warning in this proverb is to not „despise” or treat as worthless the Word of God. How many times do you see a Christian home with multiple Bibles on the shelf, covered in dust because they lie mostly unused? Instead of this apathy we are to fear (dread, tremble) an encounter with God s Word. When we encounter the Word of God, we encounter the Living God!
iii. It gives the Christian great Spiritual benefit
Proverbs 23:17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, But live in the fear of the LORD always.
The Fear of the Lord may not always give us much in this life, in fact it may bring trials. At times this causes us to grow envious and discontent with holiness, but we must live in counting the spiritual over the physical. Proverbs 15:16, encourages us with:
Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure and turmoil with it.
This proverb reminds us that with riches come great “turmoil” that is like a war effort in the getting and maintaining of that treasure. How much more peaceful is the saint who s treasure is in Heaven!
Proverbs teaches us one more encouraging aspect of fearing the Lord:
3. To Fear God is to experience blessing beyond measure
The fear of the Lord is not just an abstract ideology. It has impact on us spiritually, mentally and physically;
i. It produces safety in our trials
Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.
“Life” in this verse is in the plural, signifying the fullness or fatness of life. This live is further defined as one that is untouched by the evil effects of trials. A life that makes it through any storm.
Proverbs 14:26-27 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. 27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death.
This verse demonstrates that a life lived in the fear of the Lord gives a sense of confidence and hope in trials. So much so that you can become a fountain and support to others around you. In your relationship with God you become an abundant resource to those going through trials.
ii. It provides sustenance in life
Proverbs 22:4 The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life.
At first glance this promise seems to claim something impossible or even impractical. But when we interpret this in light of other NT texts we see an encouraging truth emerge. When we value our relationship with God above all else – He will give us what we need and even wealth. God will give us earthly provisions (Matt.6:33); respectability and integrity; and abundance of life to enjoy all of this.
iii. It gives sweetness to life
Proverbs 10:27 The fear of the LORD prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.
The idea is of life in this verse that of one that is qualitatively long. One may live long without enjoying or even remembering life. But in fearing the Lord, time is sweet and life is savored rather than rushed by.God gives the grace to experience life in this full manner. Listen to what he did to Job:
Job 1:1 There was a man in theland of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man wasblameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. 2 And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. And, Job 42:17 And Job died, an old man and full of days.
In conclusion, can we pray like Nehemiah:
Neh 1:11 “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
The person who delights to fear His name is one who experiences life and life abundantly!