Yir'at Adonai
The Fear of the Lord

(This is the full version of the article. To read an edited version click here)

There is a picture which I have seen hanging in a few homes in Italy which has made a real impression on me¹. In fact, I think it is profound, and, assuming such a classification is meaningful, it is currently my favourite piece of Christian art. The subject of the painting is an elderly man, hands clasped together in prayer whilst saying grace over some simple bread and soup, which are in front of a large closed Bible also on the table. There is a great strength visible in this man. He is simple and uncomplicated. Yet, you are drawn in admiration to him, for in your heart of hearts you desire to be like him. Although the pressure of life is etched onto his face – and this man has clearly lived a full life – he has a simple but pervasive trust in the provision of his creator. This is a man who really does fear the Lord, not because he sees God as a tyrant, but because he acknowledges who the Lord is in such a way that it determines his thoughts and conduct. His whole life is focused on serving and obeying his Lord.

The fear of the Lord is a necessary prerequisite for the life of a believer, yet I have rarely heard teaching on this subject. However, throughout the Wisdom Literature of the Bible² the fear of the Lord contributes significantly to critical areas of human life. Firstly, it is the basis of the believer’s security and protection. King Solomon asserted that, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have a place of refuge” (Proverbs 14:26). Solomon, a military ruler, compares the fear of the Lord with a defence that has the capacity to completely frustrate any external attacker. In a treacherous world full of danger and destruction our fortress cannot be broken down for, within the boundaries of the Lord’s protection, the humble man is safe.

The Basis of Life

The fear of the Lord is the basis of life. “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27). This illustration of a fountain has strong nuances of abundance and continuity, for there are implications of an extravagant water flow bubbling up from a limitless source. In the context of the ancient Middle East, this fountain could be an effective oasis surrounded by a parched desert. The quality of life is transformed for those who fear the Lord, particularly those whose life gets into the right pattern whilst they are young and have time on their side. The Psalmist says, “Come, you children, listen to me ... Who is the man who desires life? … Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:11-14). It appears that the moral choices that someone who fears the Lord makes actually reduce stress and add longevity! “The fear of the LORD prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Proverbs 10:27).

The Beginning of Wisdom

King Solomon states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). When we look beyond the humanistic philosophy that is so prevalent in our society, this is so obvious! God made all and knows all; he is the ultimate source of wisdom. The fear of the Lord also drives out the need to fear the world, for if “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1-2). The most practical and effective way of fearing people less is by fearing God more!

The fear of the Lord is a precious, though neglected, subject. Those who fear him find protection and security, have an abundance of life, become wise, and discover the capacity to fear man less, and to do the right thing more often. I want to be more like the man in the painting! Through this article, I hope not only to honour God but also to thank some Italian brothers who have recently challenged the nonsense that my life became when I lost my fear of the Lord. In gratitude to our creator, we need to learn to fear him, to serve him and to please him above all others.

¹Grace by Enstrom
²Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs

An edited version of this article first appeared in the September 2006 edition of the Herald

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