Once when asked to speak before a large crowd of people, as I looked out across the audience, I was at first unable to utter a sound. After what seemed like a long, awkward few moments, which was actually just a moment in time, I blurted out, “I’d rather face an angry teenage grizzly than you all!” Then I had more experience with grizzly bears than with public speaking, so I meant it. Some things don’t change. Fear has many faces; and stage fright is just one. And fear causes many responses – some are good for us, but many are not.
I would like to share some thoughts about fear. Specifically, the form of the fear of God. Solomon tells us that it is the beginning of wisdom. So what does it mean – to fear God? While I am a big fan of word-studies, that is not how I would like to approach this topic. Instead I prefer to explore some Biblical stories, trying to “walk a mile” in the shoes of those who have gone before us. To try to understand what the fear of God meant to them. My belief is that fearing God is a step on the path to not being fearful in general.
In Exodus 20, we find God through Moses giving the Ten Commandments to Israel:
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
Here the people feared God, with that being defined exactly as we generally understand it today. Their fear caused them to tremble – to want to get as far away from the presence of God as possible. But even as we might wonder, Moses states that though natural, this was not the correct response; and then he told them explicitly “not to fear.”
Whatever God is looking for when he asks us to fear him is more complicated than our merely trembling and getting ready to run. So what is “fear of God”? Here Moses states that obedience would be evidence of it, so that the fear of God should set a resolve within us, “…that you may not sin.”
(This series is based on notes from a lesson given by Dan Richardson, with his permission. RV)