10 November 2011

The fear of Yahweh involves revelation (excerpt from God's Wisdom in Proverbs)

by Dan Phillips

When we think of fear, our first thought is probably of the emotion—that paralyzing, mouth-drying, stomach-clenching dread that seizes hold of us in the face of an imminent threat. This connotation is not altogether absent. Anyone who can think of God and shrug is not thinking of the God of Scripture.

However, a primary and basic element in the fear of Yahweh is revelation. Read Deuteronomy 4:1–15, a passage with which Solomon would have been intimately familiar. The chapter opens with a call to Israel to hold tight to the words of God (vv. 1–3), which is equivalent to clinging to God Himself (v. 4–5). Moses stresses that it is the possession of this verbal revelation which is both their national wisdom and their point of distinction on the international scene (vv. 6–8). So they must hold fast the words and the memory of their encounter with God (vv. 9–10).

Of particular interest to us is Deuteronomy 4:10, where Moses recalls
“…the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’”
From this verse and the larger context I isolate two observations:
1. “Fear” here clearly is not merely an emotion—or else I think that the fire and all (v. 11) would have done the trick.

2. “Fear” here is something that must be learned, and that requires revelation from God. God commanded that the people hear His words “so that they may learn to fear” Him, and that they might teach the fear of Yahweh their children.
And then we see in verses 12–14 where Yahweh Himself directs the spotlight in that entire encounter. So many today pine and yearn for anything remotely supernatural—and here it is, on bold display. Darkness, clouds, fire, the very voice of God. Is that where Yahweh fixes their attention?

No. In fact, Yahweh expressly says, “You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (v. 12b). He goes on to relate at length the fact that He revealed and inscribed the Ten Commandments (v. 13) and commanded Moses to teach them “statutes and rules” that they might do them (v. 14). There was no form, only the word of God (v. 15). God emphasizes His word, and specifically stresses that He spoke to them, that He rendered Himself quotable.Therefore, if anyone wishes to learn to fear God today, he will not chase off after reports of supernatural outbreaks here and there. Instead, he will open his Bible, and he will pray that God open his heart to hear His voice speaking through it, and will teach him to fear God thereby (cf. Psa. 119:18; Heb. 3:7ff.).

The point comes up again in Deuteronomy 31:9–13, where Moses commanded the Levites to read the Word of God to the people at their national assembly “in order that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law” (v. 12 NAS, emphases added), and that their children may also hear, and learn to fear Yahweh (v. 13).

The soul of national worship, then, was not music or dances or entertainment or emotions. If those elements were present, they were not what Yahweh stressed. What He stresses is the reading of His Word as essential to Israelites coming to fear Him.

Deuteronomy 31:13 is worth further emphasis, in that God expressly declares that this is how the children “who have not known” would learn to fear Him. “Have not known” what? In context, they have not known His miraculous deeds (cf. 11:2). By saying this, God is indicating that the truth and power of His Word are sufficient. Unlike some late-arrivers who have attempted to make the case that supernatural “special effects” are necessary for vital Christian faith, God says that His Word is not only sufficient, but superior.

(Excerpt from Chapter Three, "The Foundation of Wisdom," in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 71-72)

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John Dunn said...

This post is pure glory!! It cuts clean through the confusion of our unclear notions of fear as it relates to worship to discover God's standard . . . the revelation of himself.

We supremely fear God when we glory in Jesus Christ, the full and final revelation of himself.

huauqui said...

Thanks Dan,
I love your biblical emphasis on the superiority of Scripture and its place in how we learn to fear God. Thanks for opening His word and clearly teaching us from it. We just can't get enough of that. Simply wonderful post.

On a side note I really wish this type of post drew as many comments and as much deep discussion as the more controversial do.

As one who is in ministry in a single pastoral staff church I appreciate this type of post deeply. Your words were used this morning! Thank you


DJP said...

Gary: thanks very much. You too, John.

The subject of what posts are going to provoke much comment remains, after however-many-years, a matter of ongoing bafflement to me. Really, I don't even hardly have a theory. I've posted some that I thought (and think I told my partners) "Wow, that's really going to start a lively storm!"

And then... nothing.

The reverse has also happened.

I've got two sitting over at my blog right now that I thought would stir up a lively discussion. Nope!

So... you know, you shrug, you smile, you know you truly have no idea what the hundreds of silent readers (not said pejoratively in any way, please believe me), you're grateful anyone reads, period, and you leave it to God.

donsands said...

Good teaching on fear. It's not a word much of the Church likes to employ in our day, as well as other words that may cause some contention.

I try and relate the fear of my Lord with the fear I had of my Dad as a young lad. Though it falls short, it does help a bit.

But thou art right Dan, the Word needs to reveal how we need to, and must fear our Lord.

If we understand this truth, perhaps we will live a more consecrated life. Of course, love for our Father, and for our Savior are never void in our heart as we learn to fear in the right way.

Funny, I was quoting to myself yesterdya that famous quote from FDR: "We have no fear, but fear itself."
I thought, "Wrong Mr. Pres. We need to fear the Lord."

Have a great day brother.

Daren Redekopp said...

Psalm 34:9-10 illustrates your point beautifully when presents the very man who fears the LORD as he who seeks refuge with him.

romans923 said...

Dear Sir,

That was a very helpful post, thank you.

Do you think you guys can do another series like the Titus one where you take us through a book of the Bible a section at a time? Those are very helpful too.

Blessings in Christ Alone...

lee n. field said...

Is a complimentary post on "there was no fear of God before their eyes", how that relates to Proverbs in particular and Godly wisdom in general, and how that manifests now, in the works?

DJP said...

Better still! There's a whole chapter on that in the book. It's 50% off right now. Do you have one yet?


Gordan said...


Please forgive me if I'm asking a question that is thoroughly covered in your destined-for-timelessness work on Proverbs.

But here: Since true fear of God is a response to revelation, and if we accept that the same is true of faith itself, how would you distinguish qualitatively between faith and "fear of the Lord?" Or would you?

DJP said...

Nothing to forgive. It's a good question, and I do talk about that — indeed, specifically about the relationship of the fear of Yahweh to faith in Christ in the NT. I'd ask you to read the chapter for the development, but to answer your question, I think they're the same gem viewed from different facets. Fear is faith as it submits in awe to His revealed word.

Unknown said...

Reminds me of John Newton's words:

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved!

We so need the grace to fear God in order to appreciate Him as Savior!

DJP said...

Perfect, apposite, exactly!

Cathy said...

Ahh Dan, but "America's pastor" says this:

"It’s interesting to note that there are 365 verses in the Bible that say, “Fear not.” God provided us with one ‘fear not’ message for every day of the year! Don’t you think God is saying, “Get the message. Don't be afraid.” It's interesting that almost every time God talks to someone in the Bible, the first thing He says is, "Don't be afraid!"

Just trying to stir the pot...

DJP said...

Oh! you're... killing me here.

< facepalm >

Cathy said...

Sorry- couldn't help myself.

DJP said...

Oh I know, but good heavens. How do you be a professedly Bible-believing pastor and say something like that without even nodding at Proverbs 1:7? I mean, sure, bringing the Word to bear on the misery of living in fear is a perfectly good thing to do. But why not say that the fear of God is the fear that eliminates other fears, or something like that?


donsands said...

"How do you be a professedly Bible-believing pastor and say something like that ..."

We have lots of this here in Mary-land I'm afraid. And when i have challenged this view, especially on WRBS, our "Christian" local station, they simply do not want to hear it. I have been unfriended, deleted, and ignored as the bad guy who only wants to make problems.

It is very frustrating. But I do what i can to share the truth in this shallow pool of truth here in Baltimore, and the surrounding counties. Keep on dan.

Cathy said...

How indeed!
Here's how- you start at point A--
Same pastor:
" A manmade theological system is to biblical Christianity what paint-by-numbers is to art. Reducing beauty to a formula."
And then you quickly arrive at Point B (or points C-Z , or wherever; because hey, it's art.)

I'm sure said pastor knows Pro 1:7 - it just didn't fit into this particular picture.

So - he sees God's Word as tools to create his own little masterpieces, rather than as binding authoritative revelation. (I really am trying to stay on topic.)

Aaron said...

Dr. Robert Morey wrote an excellent book on this subject, Fearing God. Great book on how foundational this issue is.

Sorry to pitch somebody else's book, Dan...although I heartily recommend yours too.

And why are you guys being coy about Billy Graham? It's not like his theology hasn't been suspect, especially in the last few years.

Stefan Ewing said...

Very, very good words.

The very words from Amazing Grace came to mind that Debbie Lynne has already quoted:

"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved...."

I know we should prefer the primary source (Scripture) to secondary sources (our own testimonies), but to corroborate your point...

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what fearing God meant until after I'd come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and reading through His Word revealed the full gravity of the fact that God in His holiness cannot abide sin, and that we can only be in His presence—or even have our prayers heard!—by His forbearance and mercy in the forgiveness of sins through the suffering of His Son Jesus Christ upon the Cross, bearing the Father's wrath for our sins.

Stefan Ewing said...

...And that then becomes the underlying principle that informs our lives: that we are undeservingly forgiven sinners who must walk in the light of the knowledge of that truth, and share the Good News of salvation with others.

DJP said...

Cathy: reader/editor Kerry James Allen observed that Charles Spurgeon, of course, already said it, and said it better:

"The fear of God is the death of every other fear; like a mighty lion, it chases all other fears before it."

It is from the book of Spurgeon quotations that Kerry put together; or sermon #748, volume 13, page 250 "Self-Humbling."