Monday, March 9, 2009

Proverbs (4) the fear of the LORD

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (
Prov 2:1-6)
What a great picture of a young man desperately seeking wisdom!

He's learned from his father that wisdom is like a beautiful young woman, eager to grant him riches beyond price. He's heard that wisdom brings honour, power, pleasure and long life. He's been taught to value wisdom beyond gold and silver, to search for it as for buried treasure.

I can see him in my mind's eye, going to a field where he's been told this priceless treasure lies buried. Perhaps, like the young man in Jesus' parable, he's sold all he has to buy this field (Matt 13:44-46). He digs and digs, sweat stinging his eyes, hands blistered and muscles aching, until the field is a wasteland of turned earth.

Suddenly his spade hits a chest with a ringing sound. He furiously throws the dirt away, first in spadefuls and then in handfuls, until the chest is uncovered. He dusts the remaining earth from the lid with trembling fingers, and reverently raises the lid. He says to himself, "At last! Here's wisdom! Here's the treasure I've been looking for!".

But what does he find inside? He finds the words the "fear of the LORD". It's like one of those bad Sunday school activities where you expected lollies, and were given a moral lesson instead. I can picture him saying, "The fear of the LORD?! I was looking for wisdom, and you give me the fear of the LORD?! What's going on here?"

He storms home, disappointed, and shouts at his father: "You told me I'd find wisdom! You told me that wisdom will give me riches and honour and power! But all I find is the fear of the LORD! What do I need fear for? I wanted people to fear me! I don't want to fear anyone else!"

His father takes him to one side. "My son, you were looking for wisdom, because you thought that with wisdom you would win respect, power, and riches - and so you will. But the way to wisdom is not as simple as uncovering a treasure chest. You see, wisdom is hidden in God. Only he knows the way to it (Job 28:20-23). There's only one way to find wisdom, and that's by starting with the fear of the LORD:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Prov 9:10 cf 1:7)."
And so the young man begins a new search. What is this thing called "the fear of the LORD"? Where does it live, and what does it look like?

At this point our Bible study group became a little lost, and so did I! There are few concepts in the Bible more debated and harder to understand than "the fear of the LORD". We learned lots about "the fear of the LORD", but we weren't able to decide exactly what it means.

And so my own search began. I've been hunting through concordances and commentaries for weeks. I'm going to interrupt my series on pride to share what I'm learning about "the fear of the LORD". I'm no expert, so if you've got any ideas or useful resources to share on "the fear of the LORD", please tell me so we can learn from each other!

images of chest and mattock are from stock.xchng, image of boy discovering chest is from Clyde Bentley at flickr, image of "fear God" banner is from EmerandSam at everystockphoto


Hon said...

Hi Jean,

So glad you're thinking & writing about fearing the Lord. May God bless you richly as you do.

What do you reckon about the "therefore" in Psalm 130:3-4?

"If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared."

Still need to give it a good chew, but here are initial thoughts that I'd love your thoughts on:

- This Psalm is couched in terms of the Psalmist's deep longing and hope for the Lord who loves him, and judges everyone.

- He says that forgiveness is found in the Lord....[a gap]... and because of that, people fear him.

.........What's the gap?!.......

Why should we fear because forgiveness is found in God? (If I was writing, I probably would have gone with "Therefore you are praised" or "Therefore we rejoice" or something).

Is it that he:

- holds the power of forgiveness? (and can choose to not forgive)

- makes the crucial decision over a crucial life matter (forgiveness is the difference between condemnation and vindication, death and life)

- is inclined to forgive, but we shouldn't presume on God to forgive.

- has been wronged by us and therefore we should freak out that we have injured God?

Help me, Jean!

Jean said...

Hi Hon!

Wonderful, wonderful question and a verse I have also pondered long and hard.

One thing I've realised reading about the fear of the Lord is that it's not just a fear-response to God's judgement (although it is that!) but also a gob-smacked response to his incredible, terrible, awesome, fearful, powerful acts of salvation - the exodus, the giving of the law at Sinai, judgement on Israel's enemies so they can take the land, the cross. So perhaps it fits into a broader theme of "fear of God" as a response not just to judgement, but to redemption. Also "fear of God" is broader than fear, as we will see - it can be used as short-hand for the entire response of God's people to him.

But I'm still exploring and thinking about these things. No doubt some more answers will appear as I meditate more on God's word in this area. Pray for clarity of thought and wisdom as I do - it's not an easy topic, I've discovered, and far wiser men and women than I have struggled with it!

There's also "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling" (Ps 2:11) - how about that?!

I'd love to hear your further thoughts on these things.

mattnbec said...

"a gob-smacked response to his incredible, terrible, awesome, fearful, powerful acts of salvation ... a response not just to judgement, but to redemption ... short-hand for the entire response of God's people to him."

That's the closest to nailing it down I can think of. I haven't done serious, hard thinking about the 'fear of the Lord', but I've found clearly explaining it a bit like pinning a jelly-fish to a tree so far. Looking forward to hearing more.


Jean said...

Yes, Bec, I think that sums it up pretty well!! We'll see if I can make it any clearer and less wobbly than a jelly fish. I have my doubts, but I can only try! Any thoughts you have would be welcome.

Hon said...

Thanks, Jean.

Will pray indeed.

Just a short thought about wet-my-pants fear. (Sorry to be crass!) In the Bible, when people see heavenly beings they start to freak out. But they are quickly told "Don't fear!"

But when they see God and start freak out, no one says to them "Don't fear". Maybe that's implicitly saying, "Yeh, ok. That's the right response. Go on then."

Jean said...

Hi Hon!

I think you've been reading my next few posts in advance somehow. Crass pants-wetting is quite a prominant theme: something to look forward to.

Actually, we are told not to freak out when God appears in his power and glory: see Exodus 20:18-20.

Love Jean.

Hon said...


Interesting that Moses says within breaths "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" (v. 20)

Will you be posting about that?

Jean said...

Yes, it's very cool, isn't it, and even more so in the Hebrew, where the same word is used for "afraid" and "fear"!

So "Don't be afraid ... be very afraid!"

Yes, I will be posting about that. If I miss it (because there's a lot to cover) remind me! :)