Just one word makes all the difference

Continuing on my year-long Bible study, I find that my thoughts are so full of ideas that it is difficult to isolate a clear statement. Today, it took me all week to locate what I had read and find a way to state what I learned. I pray that it makes a difference for you, too.

How often does one’s Bible reading reveal the phrase “fear the Lord” or “fear God”?  I always struggle with the word choice of ‘fear.’  

During my reading, I may have unlocked the mystery of the word ‘fear.’  I may no longer fear understanding why that is used over and over in human’s relationship with God.

What I uncovered during my study time came in the study notes in the Wesley Study Bible(p. 762) connected to Proverbs 1:

“In Proverbs 1:7 (and in 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; 31:30), the fear of the Lord refers to moral obedience, the acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord refers to the trembling of the human being in the presence of the divine (Isaiah 6) and the covenant loyalty the nation needs to show the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:20).  Theologically, each of these three biblical postures before God—the obedience of Proverbs, the awe of Isaiah, and the loyalty of Deuteronomy—is a response to God’s prior, gracious activity. . . . “

The term fear in today’s culture typically does not conjure up those images:  obedience, awe and loyalty.  Instead, fear has extremely negative connotations.  Therefore, as I read through the study notes and found this paragraph, I had to stop and reread the earlier note:

“We today do not like the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” assuming it means a fear of imminent punishment.  But, though there are several meanings ascribed to the term in the Old Testament, none of them refers to fear of imminent divine punishment.”

Wow!  For years I have struggled to fully comprehend why the Bible uses “fear of God” if God is love.  My tendency is to read scripture replacing the word ‘fear’ with the word ‘respect’ and move on.

The explanation in the Wesley Study Biblethat I have inserted makes more sense to me than any other word or analysis I have found. 

By looking up the word ‘fear’ in the Oxford Dictionary On-line [accessed on April 5, 2019 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fear] , I can see why the meaning of fear has evolved into the negative connotations that cause me problems:

As a noun:  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

As a verb:  Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.

No where in these definitions is any reference to ‘awe,’ ‘obedience,’ or ‘loyalty’.  Even when I checked the origin of the word, I could not find a connection to these Biblical definitions of ‘fear’:

Old English fǣr ‘calamity, danger’, fǣran ‘frighten’, also ‘revere’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gevaar and German Gefahr ‘danger’.

Granted the word ‘revere’ shows up, but that does not lessen the negative connotations of the words ‘calamity,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘frighten.’

Thank goodness the study notes has introduced this new viewpoint of the word ‘fear.’  I can read the Biblical use of ‘fear’ differently now.  I can stop feeling guilty because I do not ‘fear the Lord.’  I now can see that fear is awe, obedience, and loyaltyto the Lord.

Please  join me in prayer:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the wisdom of Biblical scholars

who can translate your words in ways

to clarify ancient literature for me today.

Thank you for the sense of awe, 

the desire to be obedient, and

the sense of loyalty my faith provides.

Thank you for your unending presence

through the power of the Holy Spirit,

so I may continue to grow in faith.  –Amen.


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