Well, let's look at some of the many passages in the Bible and see if we can determine for ourselves what it means when the Bible says to "fear the Lord".
But, before we begin, you are probably wondering which Hebrew and Greek words were actually used in these passages and what they meant.
And, since you may or may not have access to the 'word tools' for looking up these words, let me briefly summarize the words used for "fear" and their meanings.
In The Old Testament, the Hebrew words most frequently used for FEAR were Strong's numbers 3372 YARE (a verb), 3373 YARE (adjective), and 3374 YIRAH (a noun). Obviously these three words are closely related as you can tell by their number sequences and the actual words. The definitions of these 3 related words are, therefore, obviously similar.
According to the Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, YARE (3372) means "to be afraid, stand in awe, fear." This word, and it's 'relatives', YARE and YIRAH, when speaking of the psychological reaction of fear can mean being afraid of someone or something. When these words are used to refer to a person of exalted position (such as God), these words connote "standing in awe". This "awe is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. ... It may (also) imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God"
Several other Hebrew words for "Fear" are also used in the Bible including ARATS (6206), GUWR (1481), and PACHAD (6242, 6243). These also have generally the same two types of meanings we just mentioned concerning YARE and YIRAH, so I won't give you those meanings. But, if you want to look them up, you may.
The GREEK words most frequently used for FEAR were the noun PHOBOS (5401) and the verb PHOBEO (5399). Again, since these words are obviously related, their definitions are similar so I will only give you one. You are smart students and can figure out the meaning of the other.
The definition of PHOBOS, the noun, according to the Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vines is: "Phobos (5401) first had the meaning of 'flight', that which is caused by being scared; then, 'that which may cause flight;..." . It can also mean "reverential fear of God, as a controlling motive of the life, in matters spiritual and moral, not a mere 'fear' of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him, a 'fear' which banishes the terror that shrinks from His presence...and which influences the disposition and attitude of one whose circumstances are guided by trust in God, ... the reverential 'fear' of God will inspire a constant carefulness in dealing with others in His fear...."
OK, now you have the 'big picture' of what the word FEAR means. Now let's look at some scriptures and see how these words were used and what these passages teach us about God and what our response to Him should be. Are we supposed to be terrified of Him and cower in His presence? Or are we to worship Him and hold Him in reverential awe? Well let's find out!
So, as we decide this, and, as you read the following scriptures, you guessed it, it is time for an assignment !
This is what you are to do. As you read the following passages,
circle every occurrence of the word FEAR. Think about what you are reading
and determine whether the use of the word, FEAR (AFRAID, FEARED, FEAREST, FEARETH,
FEARING, etc), in each passage is a "BE AFRAID" type of fear or
if it is referring to the "WORSHIP, BE IN REVERENCE AND AWE" type of
fear. When you have decided which usage is being used, write it in the
margin to the left of the verse. I will do the first 2 or 3 for you as an
example in the list below.
BE AFRAID.....Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.Gen 15:1
In this verse, I would circle the word "afraid" and write BE AFRAID in the left margin.
WORSHIP.............Abraham replied, "I said to myself, there is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife." Gen 20:11
In this verse, I would circle "fear"
BE AFRAID......Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. Gen. 32:11
In this verse, circle "afraid" and write BE AFRAID in the margin
ok... now it is your turn.... what would you do for this next passage?
On the third day, Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: ... Genesis 42:18
You are correct if you circled "fear" and wrote WORSHIP in the margin....
"It's all right", He (Joseph) said, "Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. ..." Genesis 43:23
"I am God, the God of your father," He said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. ... Genesis 46:3
Moses replied (to Pharaoh), "When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD's. But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God." Exodus 9:30
But select capable men from all the people -- men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain -- and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens...Ex.18:21
Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you , so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Ex. 20:20
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. Lev. 19:14
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere (fear) your God. I am the LORD. Lev. 19:32
Do not take advantage of each other but fear your God. I am the LORD your God. Lev. 25:17
Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God. Lev. 25:43
Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere (fear) me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." Deut. 4:10
Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always , so that it might go well with them and their children forever! Deut 5:29
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me (Moses) to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Deut. 6:1-2
Fear the LORD your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name. Deut. 6:13
The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive... Deut 6:24
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and revering (fearing) Him. Deut 8:6
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk-in in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Deut 10:12
It is the LORD your God you must follow, and Him you must revere (fear). Deut. 13:4
It (the Law) is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere (fear) the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. Deut 17:19
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. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Deut. 31:12-13
He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God. Joshua 4:24
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14
If you fear the LORD and serve and obey Him and do not rebel against His commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God -- good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against His commands, His hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. I Samuel 12:14-15
So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship (fear) the LORD. 2 Kings 17:28
The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah so that they did not make war with Jehoshaphat. 2 Chronicles 17:10 (Did you write AFRAID in the margin for this verse? You did! Great! You are correct.)
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering (fearing) your name. ... Nehemiah 1:11
And he said to man, "the fear of the Lord -- that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." Job 28:28
The fear of the lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Psalm 19:9
The LORD confides in those who fear Him; He makes His covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14
How great is Your (GOD) goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. Psalm 31:19
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him. Psalm 33:8
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him and He delivers them. Ps. 34:7
An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked; There is no fear of God before his eyes. Psalm 36:1
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.. Psalm 103:11
The fear if the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise. Psalm 111:10
But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, "Let us fear the LORD our God, ... " Jeremiah 5:23-24
I (God) will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. Jeremiah 32:39
His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. Luke 1:50
They were filled with great awe (fear) and praised God. ... Luke 7:16
I (Jesus) tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and
after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear; Fear Him who,
after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you,
fear Him. Luke 12:4-5
Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. Acts 13:26
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence (fear) for God. 2 Cor 7:1
Submit to one another out of reverence (fear) for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2:17
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name. For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. Rev. 15:4
Well, we could go on and on. There are so many more scriptures that use the word FEAR in reference to the LORD GOD. But, you have surely been able to draw your conclusions by now. So there is no need to belabor the point.
So, let's think now about some of the conclusions you have reached.
Based on what you have read, what do you think the Bible usually means when it
says to "fear the Lord"? Write your answer in the space provided
What is the difference between "being afraid of" (fearing) the Lord and in worshiping (fearing) the Lord? Again, write your answer in the space below. Hint. You might want to reread the definitions of the the Hebrew and Greek words for "fear" before you answer this.
Is there ever any time or situation when a person should be "afraid of"
Explain your answer.
If a person "fears" (is afraid of) the Lord, how will his or her "actions"
How can a person "FEAR" (worship) the Lord? What does this mean?
If a person "fears" (worships) the Lord, how will his or her "actions"
Great thinking and reasoning.
And, I assume that you now correctly understand what it means to "Fear the Lord". As you have so correctly discovered, this usually means that we are to Worship God and to revere and honor Him and to treat Him with respect, obedience, and awe. Why? Because He is God! And, as God, He is Creator of all, over all, controls all, and is worthy of all respect and praise and worship.
Yes, there are situations in which we should be "afraid" of the Lord. For example, when we break His commandments (sin), this is very displeasing to God. And, like an earthly father, when we disobey, there are consequences and punishments. Yes, there is a penalty to pay for sin, for breaking laws, whether they be the laws of a parent, the laws of society, or the laws of God. And, for that reason, there are situations in which we should fear (be afraid of) God because He does require that the punishments (penalties) for sin be paid. Sooner or later there WILL be a reckoning, no if ands or buts about it. One way or another, EVERY sin must be atoned for!
But, there is good news! God loves us so much that He has provided a way for us to attain forgiveness. We do not have to suffer the eternal punishments of Hell.
What is this "way"? It is through the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus Christ! Jesus, God and the Son of God, came to earth to pay the penalty for sins -- yours, mine, and of anyone who will accept His offer of His life as a substitute for the death penalty that is required for sin!
If you (or I or anyone) will agree with Him that we have sinned -- and if we are sorry for those sins -- and if we are willing to turn from our sins and forsake them and accept His gift of salvation, provided by His death and resurrection -- then God will forgive our sins and will restore us to fellowship with Him.
Then we will no longer have to FEAR (BE AFRAID OF) GOD!
Instead we, as His saved and redeemed and restored people will FEAR (WORSHIP) GOD. We will want to live our lives to please Him. We will agree with Him that He is worthy of worship, praise, honor, and glory. That is the real meaning of "Fearing God".
I trust and pray that you want to "Fear (Worship) God" and let Him be your God and LORD and Master!.
If you have never accepted Jesus' forgiveness and asked Him to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord and Master, you can do it now! Just pray this prayer or one of your own words:
Oh, Father, God, I know that You alone are God! And I know that you are worthy of all praise and honor and admiration and awe and... well of just everything. You are above all and over all and Creator and Ruler of all. I have sinned! So many times I have sinned, Lord, and disobeyed your commands and ordinances. I am sorry for these sins and ask your forgiveness. I accept the free offer of salvation that you have provided for me through the death of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And I ask Him to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior now and forever. I want to worship You and not myself and not anyone or anything else. Please forgive me and let me be your child forever. I want to really "fear (worship)" You and you alone, now and forever. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus name I pray, Amen
If you prayed that prayer, you are now a child of God! Welcome to the family of God!
And now you can truly "Fear the Lord" as you worship and love Him from this day on. No longer do you have to be AFRAID of the Lord.
So, now you know what it really means to "Fear the Lord" . It means to WORSHIP the Lord in thoughts and attitudes and obedience. It means to put Him first in everything and to acknowledge Him to be your Creator, Redeemer, Lord, and Master. Yes, that is what it really means to "Fear the Lord."
PO Box 22397
Chattanooga, TN. 37422
biblestudiesnet (at) yahoo (dot) com