The phrase, “the fear of the LORD” – which appears fourteen times in Proverbs – is a major theme of the book. The theme verse is found in Proverbs 1: 7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” True wisdom begins with a reverential fear of God. Thus, the fear of the Lord is our basis for living wisely and circumspectly.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament, refers repeatedly to this important theme. In the book of Leviticus alone, the phrase is used four times to remind the Israelites to “fear thy God” in all their dealings (Lev. 19: 14; 19: 32; 25: 36; 25: 43). When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the command to fear the Lord was coupled with the command to obey God’s Word (Deut. 5: 29; 6: 24; 10: 20).
How do we define “the fear of the LORD”? It is not a slavish fear but a reverential awe of God – a reverence that is based on the revelation of His nature, majesty, power, glory and sovereignty. When God’s faithful servants, Moses and Isaiah, beheld visions of the Lord, they fell before His awesome majesty. Similarly, John, the beloved disciple fell at the feet of Christ as a dead man when he beheld the vision of the ascended Saviour at the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1: 10-18).
To fear God is to have a proper regard for His righteous judgment and wrath: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods” (I Chr. 16: 25). Those who oppose Him cannot resist His anger: “Thou, even Thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry?” (Ps. 76: 7 cf. Rom. 2: 5-6). “Who indeed? The angels fell when their rebellion provoked His justice; Adam lost his place in Paradise in the same manner; Pharaoh and other proud monarchs passed away at His frown; neither is there in earth or hell any who can abide the terror of His wrath. How blest are they who are sheltered in the atonement of Jesus, and hence have no cause to fear the righteous anger of the Judge of all the earth” (Treasury of David).
A fitting summary of the fear of God is found in Deuteronomy 10: 12-13: “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, 13 To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” Thus, the fear of the LORD encompasses a right conduct, loving and serving God with whole-hearted devotion and obeying His Word. It includes an understanding of God’s abhorrence of sin and a fear of His judgment.
Let us look at some Biblical examples of Old Testament saints who conducted themselves according to the fear of God:
The patriarch was commended for his fear of God when he willingly obeyed God’s command to sacrifice the son of his old age, Isaac: “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22: 12).
In his attempt to allay the fear of his brothers who were expecting Joseph to treat them harshly for their wrongdoing, Joseph told them: “I fear God” (Gen. 42: 18). Though Joseph was in a position to punish them for their wicked deed, he spared their lives and dealt graciously with them because he feared God.
Unlike his predecessors, Nehemiah, the governor did not abuse his high office by oppressing the people: “But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God” (Neh. 5: 15).
The fear of God should characterise the life of every born-again believer. He who fears God has a deep love and reverence for Him and will not sin against Him lightly or habitually. He is conscious of God’s eye upon Him, watching his every action and weighing his every motive and thought. Such a one will not live carelessly or seek his own will. He will love what God loves and hate what He hates: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8: 13).
Brethren, let us fear and reverence God for His holiness, majesty, glory and power. Let us be mindful of His attributes – His omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. May our lives reflect the fear of the Lord in our words and deeds. (… to be continued)