The Old Testament speaks quite frequently about the fear of God, that we should fear him! Preachers regularly preach fiery sermons about the fear of the Lord and the wrath of GOD AND HIS PUNISHMENT. There is very little discussed about the love of God and even less that God likes all of us. Parents quite often use the fear of God to control their children. My question is, “How many references are there in the Old Testament about fearing the Lord and where are they?” And how does this balance out with the good news in the New Testament?
The phrase “fear of the Lord” occurs twenty-five times in the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The phrase occurs twenty-three times in the Old Testament and two times in the New Testament. The phrase first appears in 2 Chronicles 19:7 and then again two verses later. The other references are as follows: Job 28:28; Ps. 19:9; 34:11; 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:26-27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; Isaiah 11:2-3; 33:6; Acts 9:31; and 2 Corinthians 5:11. The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears more times in the book of Proverbs than in any other book in the NASB.
Meaning of the Fear of the Lord
The word “fear” in the phrase “fear of the Lord” is translated from two Hebrew words pahad and yira. Pahad means “dread” and yira means “frighten” (Jonah 1:10, “fear” (Ezekiel 30:13) and “reverence” (Job 15:4). The “fear of the Lord” is the reverence one would pay to a king because he is the majesty. But if one has offended the king, punishment could be expected.
Another Hebrew word, yare, for “fear” is used in the phrase “fear the Lord.” Yare is the verb form of the noun yira. Yare occurs 31 times in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 10:20 is just one of the places in which this word is used.
You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. Deuteronomy 10:20 (NASB)
This means that the phrase “fear of the Lord” can range from the sense of fear to reverence or respect.
Application of the Fear of the Lord
Now what is the meaning of the “fear of the Lord” in Scripture? The books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs tell us that those who fear the Lord gain knowledge and wisdom. Job 28:28 helps us understand that when we turn away from evil we finally have understanding. Read these three passage carefully.
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom . . . Job 28:28a (NASB)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom . . . Psalm 111:10 (NASB)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 (NASB)
What is the fear of the Lord? Proverbs answers the question by telling us that the fear of the Lord is to hate evil.
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. Proverbs 8:13 (NASB)
. . . And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evill. Proverbs 16:6 (NASB)
That is, one who fears the Lord will flee evil. This helps us understand that the fear of the Lord primarily means to in fear of the Lord. In fact, of the forty-four times the Hebrew word for fear, yira, is used, thirty-eight times it is translated as “fear, frightened or feared.” That is, it means to be afraid. The fear of the Lord is like a cleaning agent. It motivates us to not sin.
Therefore, he or she who fears God will receive wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Some may think that fearing the Lord will rob them of pleasure and fun, but such thinking forgets the benefits they will lose by not fearing the Lord. Notice the benefits of fearing God that are mentioned in Proverbs.
The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
But the years of the wicked will be shortened. Proverbs 10:27 (NASB)
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
That one may avoid the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27 (NASB)
The fear of the LORD leads to life,
So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil. Proverbs 19:23 (NASB)
The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD
Are riches, honor and life. Proverbs 22:4 (NASB)
The blessings of the Lord are better than a few minutes of sinful enjoyment (Hebrews 11:25). But sadly sin is so enticing and the sinful fun that others have seems to be so enjoyable. Therefore, God encourages us with Proverbs 23:17.
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But live in the fear of the LORD always. Proverbs 23:17 (NASB)
We must remember that God loves us (John 3:16), and that is why He will discipline Christians when they continue sinning.
MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES. Hebrews 12:5-6 (NASB)
God wants us to be holy like Himself (1 Peter 1:16). Christ promises that if we are obedient He will let us know Him (John 14:21). Holy living is also the proof that one is a Christian (Romans 8:13-14).
In the New Testament the “fear of the Lord” can be found in Acts 9:31 and 2 Corinthians 5:11.
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Acts 9:31 (NASB)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men. 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (NASB)
These two verses teach us that the fear of the Lord is a theme of all Scriptures. In Acts 9:31 is was fundamental to the growth of the early church and 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 warns Christians that some day we will stand before the bema seat judgment and give account for what we have done. Therefore, the apostle Paul urges us to fear the Lord.