I recently attended a family gathering where an old relative recalled his granny repeating often the words of the biblical sage –
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
I think one of the problems with this statement, which of course was drummed into many of us as children, is that fear, in the sense of natural human fear, was considered to be the the beginning, the present and the end in all things. So we were brought up to fear God, to fear judgment, to fear our parents, to fear the minister, to fear the elders and to fear the church. The dictionary defines fear as – “An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.” The problem is that we translate that meaning and impose it on the biblical texts which refer to fear – of which there are over 400 in the bible. But if we do that consistently – we run in to serious problems. One of the clearest statements that seems to contradict others is made by the Apostle John –
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”
1 John 4: 16 – 19
I suspect that the fear the wise man of Proverbs is referring to is different from the fear John is speaking about. And so he is. The Ancient Hebrew Research Centre makes this comment on the word “Fear” in Hebrew –
“Each Hebrew word has only one meaning but can have different applications. The literal concrete meaning of yara (fear) is a “flowing of the gut,” which can be applied to “fear” or “reverence.”
Let’s go back to Proverbs 9 again and read it in a more modern translation –
“The starting point for acquiring wisdom is to be consumed with awe as you worship Jehovah-God. To receive the revelation of the Holy One, you must come to the one who has living-understanding. Wisdom will extend your life, making every year more fruitful than the one before.”
Proverbs 9: 10&11 [TPT]
The fear of God we ought always to live in is an awe of his majesty, his glory, his transcendence and his love. So the fear of God, for the Christian, is not a fear of judgement but a respect, an awe of his majesty.
That is not to say that a natural human fear is totally abandoned! Even John, the Apostle of love who rested on Jesus chest while with him on this earth, when he saw him in his glory recorded –
“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.”
One of the scripture that amazes me in this respect is found in Hebrews 5. Jesus lived in a perfect love relationship with the Father. Yet the writer of Hebrews says this [JKV of the bible] –
“Who (Jesus) in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; (was heard because of his reverent submission – NLT). Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”
And it is this deep reverence – this deep respect for God that we are called to cultivate in our own lives. Without it we will not have heavens respect – we will not know true wisdom.
But there are things we should fear in the common meaning of the word. It is the wise sage of Proverbs that writes again –
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.”
Proverbs 29:25 (KJV)
Its obvious from the context here that the sage is writing about a natural fear – not respect. The sage of Proverbs says again –
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.”
Proverbs 29:25 (NLT)
I personally am not in to offending people. I would sooner run away than do that. But I would rather offend you than offend God. I would rather have the approval of heaven than the approval of my friends. And sometimes that is costly!
King Saul was guilty in this regard. In 1 Samuel 15: 24 – 25 we read –
“Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”
How many people and churches are in bondage and disarray because they fear a man more than God? Or a man fears the people more than he fears God! Saul’s sin was the sin of disobedience to the direct instructions of Jehovah. He was persuaded by others that they knew better – and their argument sounded so practical – so plausible. But he was wrong – for in truth he feared offending his men more that he feared offending God. So he let them have their way. The result was tragic – it was at that moment Saul lost his Kingship, lost his anointing, lost his throne and his life ended in ignominy. In 1st Samuel 15 we read these terrible words –
“Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.”
My dear friends – beware of the fear of man!
But before I finish look briefly for a moment at some of the scriptures that reveal what leads to true Godly fear – an awe of who he is and what he does. I simply leave them with you for your consideration.
First of all reverence for God is something we can develop – something we can grow in – Deuteronomy 31: 12 –
“Assemble the people men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.”
Secondly notice the importance, not only of listening and learning, but also of true worship. Supernatural God given and God honouring worship will bring an awe and fear – Psalm 40: 3 –
“And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”
And finally a reverential fear of God has major health benefits – Proverbs 10: 27 –
“The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.
And Proverbs 14: 26/27
“The fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.
And Proverbs 22: 4
By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life.”
Yes – the fear of the Lord really is the beginning of wisdom! May we all grow in the blessings that flow from it.