Quite a few years ago, I was leading worship every three weeks in my former church. Casey Corum of Vineyard Music had written a song about "The Fear of the Lord." The chorus was very simple, "Teach me the fear, the fear of the Lord..."
My wife and I really liked the song and did it a couple of times at church. One week we were rehearsing the song with the band for Sunday. I sensed a less than enthusiastic response from the rest of the band when we worked on it. So I asked what they thought of the song and all of them said that they didn't like it. I was shocked. I thought it was deep, profound and the tune was good.
But the band members did not like the idea of singing about the "fear" of the Lord. To them, it was too much of a bummer to think of being afraid of God.
But is that what this phrase really means?
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Pro. 9:10).
One of the ways we can understand the meaning of various Hebrew words is to see how they are used in poetry. You can tell you are reading poetry because the phrases are given a separate line in most of our translations, instead of being written in prose paragraphs. For instance, all of Psalms and Proverbs are poetic. And Hebrew poetry is constructed around the concept of "parallelism." That is, two lines are conveying parallel thoughts and often the words and phrases in the first line are mirrored in the second line.
The two lines can be either restating the same idea or contrasting that idea with an opposite. And sometimes the parallelism becomes more subtle and sophisticated. The purpose of this blog is not to give an exhaustive teaching on Hebrew poetry, but to show the meaning of "The Fear of the Lord."
For instance, in Proverbs 9:10 quoted above, the first line is parallel in meaning to the second line. "wisdom" and "understanding" are both in the same position and therefore are referring to the same concept. "The fear of the Lord" is in the same position as "knowledge of the Holy One." To know God is to understand that He is awesome in power and to be treated with respect.
In other places, fear of the Lord is in parallel to the ideas of "honor, respect, reverence."
To enter the presence of God is to enter the presence of the Highest Power in the Universe. Someone who recognizes that will be mindful of their humble and weak state relative to God's glory. One might tremble in the presence of such power. One of the little discussed names of God is related to this concept: "The Fear of Isaac" (Gen. 31:53).
If I were invited to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, no matter who is currently holding that office, I would prepare myself beforehand and would be mindful of my lowly position. I would be respectful, full of honor and reverence for the office. Should we not also act that way when approaching the Creator of the Universe?