Proverbs: Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord is a mini subject of interest of mine. I’ve always loved this concept. I’ve learned some aspects of it I wasn’t aware of while starting to study Proverbs where fear of the Lord is key (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).

I think there is some true fear there but it’s not of eternal punishment (1 John 4:18) or any kind of condemnation whatsoever (Romans 8:1). There is fear of displeasing Him as our Father (filial fear) and just plain fear because of how incredibly awesome (in the classic sense) He is. If you were to come into God’s presence I can guarantee you’ll feel fear.

I read the first two quotes below in the introduction to the commentary on Proverbs by Waltke which expresses these things better than I could. I found it at Monergism so I wouldn’t have to type it out and also include a second quote found on the same page.

“fear of the Lord” cannot be understood by studying “fear” and “the Lord” in isolation from each other. The expression is compound. “Fear of the Lord[“] involves both rational and non-rational aspects at the same time.

–Bruce K. Waltke from The Book of Proverbs Volume 1, pg. 100

I suppose this is part of the reason I lament the fact that some translations have changed “fear of the Lord” to something like “reverence and awe” which just doesn’t do it. Even the NLT keeps the term because it’s both a traditional term and it explains the concept clearly which is the objective of the NLT, if I can be so bold as to put words in their mouth. Let the fear of the Lord not be diminished!

On to the quotes at Monergism:

“Fear of the Lord” entails…an emotional response of fear, love and trust. The unified psychological poles of fear and love come prominently to the fore in the surprisingly uniform way Deuteronomy treats “love of the Lord” and “fear of the Lord” (cf. Deut. 5:29 with Deut 6:2, and Deut 6:5 with Josh. 24:14; cf. Josh. 10:12; 10:20; 13:5). In Isaiah 29:13 Israel’s distorted “fear of me” is rejected precisely because it is made up only of rules taught by men. According to Proverbs 2:1-5, “the fear of the Lord” is found through heartfelt prayer and diligent seeking for the sage’s words. In Proverbs 15:33, “humility” and “fear of the Lord” are parallel terms, and in Proverbs 22:4 “humility” is defined as “the fear of the Lord sort.”

–Bruce K. Waltke from The Book of Proverbs Volume 1, pg. 101 (I added book names in places so that the hover feature will show those verses.)

The true fear of God is a child-like fear. Some of the Puritans used to call it a “filial fear.” It is a combination of holy respect and glowing love. To fear God is to have a heart that is sensitive to both His Godness and His graciousness. It means to experience great awe and a deep joy simultaneously when one begins to understand who God really is and what He has done for us.

Therefore the true fear of God is not a fear that makes a person run away and flee from God. It is a fear that drives him to God. Love for God and fear of Him are, therefore, not at all incompatible. To think that they are is to fail to see the richness of the character of the God we worship. It is to ignore the way in which knowing Him in all of His attributes, and responding appropriately to Him, stretches our emotional capacities to their limit. Scripture portrays the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord as companion emotions.

–P.J. (Flip) Buys from The Fear of God as a Central Part of Reformed Spirituality

And another angle:

“Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love!”

–J. Gresham Machen

Machen (1881-1937) was Professor of New Testament, first at Princeton Theological Seminary, and afterwards at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Published in God Transcendent (1949).
http://www.westminsterconfession.org/introduction-to-the-christian-faith/the-fear-of-god.php

(Inside joke: I get points from Esteban for that one.)

One more in part of a devotional by John Piper:

A Meditation on Psalm 2:11-12

Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

“Serve the Lord with fear…”

This command does not cancel out Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Serving the Lord with fear and serving the Lord with gladness do not contradict each other. The next phrase will make that plain (“rejoice with trembling”). There is real fear and real joy. The reason there is real fear is that there is real danger. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Yes, the elect are safe in Christ. But examine yourself, Paul says, “to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Confidence in Christ is not careless. Our security is rooted in God’s daily keeping, not our past decisions. ” is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory” (Jude 1:24). Part of how he keeps us is by awakening the vigilance to rest daily in Christ and not in ourselves.

Also see:
Quote of the Day: To Fear God (Ecclesiastes)

4 Responses to “Proverbs: Fear of the Lord”


  1. 1 Pete

    Thanks Jeff…..good stuff. You state “If you were to come into God’s presence I guarantee you’ll feel fear.” I agree but do you think we will be afraid? In other words, can you feel fear without being afraid?

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Hi Pete. That’s a good question. I think it’s like the first time you look up at a huge skyscraper. If the clouds are moving a certain way, it looks like it’s going to fall on you. But you know it isn’t. It’s scary to look at but you know it’s safe. Same with a scary movie in a theater (not that I condone using evil scenarios for entertainment).

    In the end when we are watching God’s judgment of evil I think that will also be VERY scary to see but we are safe from it.

    We (should) know why God is to be feared. Those that don’t care will feel fear in the end and have reason to be very afraid.

    That’s how I see it anyway.
    Jeff

  3. 3 Esteban Vázquez

    Actually, Jeff, you would have gotten more points from me if had linked to this:

    http://voxstefani.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/saturday-amachen-joy-in-the-fear-of-god/

    🙂

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Ah I should have thought to look. Yet another angle. Thanks.
    Jeff

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