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Fear and Reverence

Many people know that fear and reverence are not necessarily synonyms. Context dictates usage and meaning. Prudence directs the learner to identify dread or apprehension in some places and a form of subjection and humility in others. Sometimes of late, there seems to have been a blending of the two as any distinction is no longer drawn. When we only want it our way, and will have only kind and gentle characteristics to enter into our ever softening lives, then we might be tempted to merge the two concepts into one where there may exist no license to do so. The modern use of the word awesome in slang comes to mind immediately.

First, let’s look at an example where the words are translated as to render reverence in a subjected inspiring attitude. My favorite is located in Psalms 111 verse 9.

He sent redemption unto his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.

By the way, this is the only place I know where the word reverend, now often used exclusively as a title for men in robes, occurs in an English Bible (only two versions: KJV and ASV). Note what is described as being reverend. Now most versions have displaced the word reverend with awesome, terrifying, or some other seemingly reasonable synonym. Yet somehow these words may not do an adequate job of relating the characteristics.

Terror is not what had inspired the psalmist here; holiness and meekness directed toward the Lord God Almighty is what is being described and enjoined.

Terror, however, is exactly what you’ll find identified in the second chosen reference, found in Daniel five. There you will find the inspiring history of the last days of Belshazzar, the son of Nabonidas, second in command of the Chaldeans. You may remember Belshazzar had decided to party it up with his buddies and drank wine using and profaning the golden vessels that had been taken from the Temple. During the proceedings, the fingers of a hand appeared and began writing into the plaster on the far wall, in the ultimate party stopper.

We could rightly say that Belshazzar came to know fear that night.

The record says, “…the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.” He was thinking he should run for the exit, and he would have soon slipped into a heap on the floor, scared out of his wits. You’d have to be out cold, drunk or a seriously dim bulb not to be terrified. “Run Forrest run.”

Daniel said this to him, “O King; the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your ancestor a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him.”

Guess what was in store next for Belshazzar.

Trembling and fear is exactly what was described – not subjection and meekness, although there is some serious blend of the two in there. It was indeed awesome, but not in the sense some take that today.

In one place reverence and humility is scripted, while in the other serious terror. The end product for anyone paying attention is that God, The Lord of Hosts, demands reverence – that we should mind our manners, noting his position, the honor due to him, and the glory that surrounds him. To not recognize this will bring home fear and trepidation – “For you will surely die.” The same would certainly hold true if we do not respect the Son of God and the Word of God (is that redundant?).

W. E. Vine wrote that reverence is “used of a person in an exalted position, yare’ connotes ‘standing in awe.’ This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God; the angel of the Lord told Abraham: ‘…I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me’ (Gen. 22:12). The verb can be used absolutely to refer to the heavenly and holy attributes of something or someone. Yare’ can be used absolutely (with no direct object), meaning ‘to be afraid.’ Adam told God: ‘…I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself’ (Gen. 3:10, the first occurrence). One may be ‘afraid’ to do something, as when Lot ‘feared to dwell in Zoar’ (Gen. 19:30).

Reverence and fear are then different things. In the first of the usages people are suggested that they should render to God a proper attitude and disposition. The second is related to the fear, terror and panic which follows as a result of not possessing and displaying the first. It is indeed awesome; and it should be awe inspiring.