The topic of, “fearing God” from texts of the Old Testament are a puzzle to many of us for many reasons chief among which is the tendency to pick and choose what we like and we confuse the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.
Preference not objective truth is often our guiding “compass”.
What I mean is that many professing believers happily embrace a God of love but one of fear and judgment they utterly reject. If that’s you, friend, then how do you make sense out of the Gospel of Christ?
Why then was he brutally murdered on that bloody cross? Is it not because God’s love and justice demanded it? Is it not because the first Adam rebelled against the Holy One of Israel and plunged mankind into an eternal death sentence where the Creator became our enemy? And was it not necessary for the last Adam to rectify this mess (which the first Adam plunged humanity into) to redeem us from God’s holy just wrath?
To fear God, among other things, means that we rightly relate to Him as Creator and understand that we are the creature (i.e., contingent, needy, and therefore dependent). The pride in humanity pushes back and says, “I will be god, I’m self-sufficient”. That’s the reason for wrath and the reason for judgment.
Moreover, to fear God means that those redeemed by His great mercy live according to His revealed truth because of His great love. His word is their delight (even when it’s hard to understand and reconcile with life’s tragic experiences which are real). Again, according to Solomon, the fear of the LORD is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom (See the proverbs). But who is this one we are commanded to fear?
He is the changeless One (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the perfections of His being. God’s attributes of being (self-existent, omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, holy, loving, etc.) are simultaneously held. This means that because God is holy and just, the judge will rightly deal with all wrongs and make them right. Thus, when we His followers “pigeon hole” Him and reduce the Holy One to a one-dimensional being (God is love, which He is) we miss it and misrepresent the Savior. He is the God of love, but He is also the Holy One who will judge the living and the dead.
Misunderstanding the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments also plagues believers.
We also have difficulty with the topic of fearing God because of a gross disconnect believers have between the Old Testament and New Testament. What for example applied to God’s people under the old covenant that now does not apply under the new covenant?
Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary did away with the sacrificial system. From the book of Hebrews we know that the sacrifices once performed under the old covenant are now obsolete because they pointed to the reality which is Christ our “Passover Lamb”, the “Lamb of God”. Yet, as the Law of Moses forbade adultery, God still forbids it today. And yes for His people. To fear the LORD under the new covenant, the keeping of said law is evidence that we love God and fear His name (in word and deed). It is not a yoke of bondage under the “letter of the law which kills” instead it’s the way human flourishing was designed to occur.
For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah
Both supply and support, the whole supply of bread
And the whole supply of water;
2 The mighty man and the warrior,
The judge and the prophet,
The diviner and the elder,
3 The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the expert artisan,
And the skillful enchanter.
4 And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
5 And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor;
The youth will storm against the elder
And the inferior against the honorable.
6 When a man lays hold of his brother in his father’s house, saying,
“You have a cloak, you shall be our ruler,
And these ruins will be under your charge,”
7 He will protest on that day, saying,
“I will not be your healer,
For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
8 For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen,
Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord,
To rebel against His glorious presence. (vvs.1-8)
When we cease to fear the LORD God of hosts, we put ourselves in a position to bear his wrath generally and his discipline specifically. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. In this passage God’s opposition is weighty seen through His removal of supply for sustenance (bread & water), His removal of support for safety (the warrior and mighty man), His removal of guidance (prophet and judge), and His removal of industry (the counselor and expert artisan) is simply devastating.
Solomon says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and understanding and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” yet God’s people lacked both and the consequences were ruinous. Brazen rebellion will always result in the Creator being against the creature. In verses (16-24) God declares to the gorgeous women who seduce their prey that their beauty He will reduce to an ugliness that reflects their hearts toward Him:
Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, And go along with mincing steps And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”
18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils,20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses,23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.
24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; Instead of a belt, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.
While we’re not Israel in America, we nevertheless reflect the bold rebellion of Jerusalem and Judah in our age. So when the supplies run out and our support is no more and our humiliation is realized, will God act to bring His people back to Himself? Absolutely He will but not before a severe administration of His discipline.
LORD be merciful to us, grant your people repentance, renew our love for You so that our character, holiness, love, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, judgments, compassion, ingenuity, etc. may find their true expression, the purpose for why we exist.