Fearing God the Father

“Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!”
(Psalm 112:1, ESV)

There used to be a time when people would speak in reverential tones of certain men and women as “God fearing.” This person was known for living a life that was pleasing to God, and was utterly trustworthy and faithful. You would not find a God-fearing man or woman in the company of certain people, or involved in sinful activities and conversation.

God-fearing people were thought of this way because society in general knew what the Bible said. They knew what God expected of men, but they knew that most people only paid lip-service to what the Bible said. But a God-fearing man or woman was different.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the fear of the Lord like this: “It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not slavish dread, but rather filial [fatherly] reverence.”

We notice here a mixture of fear and love, and it is connected to a fatherly love which is co-mingled with respect. Charles Bridges defined fear of the Lord in a similar manner. He wrote, “[The fear of the Lord is] that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.”[1]

Bridges, like Easton’s definition, uses the Father and child imagery to help define the fear of the Lord, writing of the child of God and his heavenly Father. This image of God as Father is replete throughout the Bible.

Fear the Father as Creator

In Deut. 32:6 it says, “Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (ESV). Just as a father provides, protects, and leads his family, so too the Lord had done the same for Israel. But shockingly, Moses’ words reveal that Israel was acting like an ungrateful and rebellious child that has no fear of breaking his rules nor of disrespecting him before the watching world.

The prophet Isaiah also testified against this lack of the fear of the Lord in Israel at a much later time. In Isaiah 1:2 the prophet brought the Word of the Lord saying, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.” (ESV). Notice what the Lord says here—he has reared and brought them up. This reality should have brought him that fear we are looking at. They should have loved and respected him, but they did not.

In Isaiah 64:8,the prophet used the father metaphor alongside another picture of God as a Potter. In this passage, it says, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (ESV). This text looks forward to the coming Millennial Kingdom when the heart’s of God’s people shall turn and embrace the Messiah that they have rejected.

We see in these words the recognition that the Lord has made them and he is free to do with them as he sees fit. One day Israel will humble itself before the Lord in national contrition and joyful submission. God can do what he wants because he is not only Father, but he is Potter, who has made the clay into whatever he sees fit.

Fearing the Father as Wisdom

Probably most familiar to us is this aspect of the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (ESV). When we consider the fear of the Lord as Father and Creator, we can better see why to reject the Lord and His commands is foolish. A child, who has little strength, wisdom, experience, power, and influence is foolish to put off the care and counsel of a father who gives these to his children.

When the Lord spoke to Job and began prodding him to answer his questions, like a child who quickly has learned that he is over his head, he simply put his hand over his mouth. This is wisdom, knowing that the Father knows best and that our finite minds cannot begin to grasp his infinite plans for us.

Fearing the Lord as Judge

This is very different from the idea of fearing the Lord as Father and Creator. It is the fear that comes when a wayward child has been disobedient and has turned aside from the father’s ways. It is also the fear that does not come from a child of God, but from the fool that despises the Lord and his commands. It is not a true and pure reverential fear mixed with love, for there is no such love in the rebellious creature. This fear is a craven, slavish fear that the disobedient slave has when he fears his master will discover that he has been stealing from him secretly. Except our Lord is not blind to those that have offended him.

An example of the wayward who fear the Lord is found in Ezra 10, where the people have come to understand their disobedience in intermarrying with the pagan nations around them, something God had expressly forbidden Israel from doing. In verses 1-4 we read that the fear of the Lord (“trembling” in v. 3) has led to repentance and obedience. But the wicked fear the Lord in a different way, a way which is fearful of judgment to a point, but will not lead to any true changes in their lives.

Belshazzar did not repent when he saw the hand of God writing on the wall. He trembled in fear, but did not turn from his sin (Dan 5:9). When Paul preached the gospel before Felix, the Acts 24:25 says he was “alarmed” about the coming judgment, but he did not repent. And when James speaks about the demons believing and shuddering, we do not say that they have repented of their wickedness (James 2:19)!

Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (ESV). The wicked flee from a judgment that will one day overcome them. They cannot escape the Lord’s righteous judgment. But the righteous do not flee the Lord even though we fear him. He fears him with reverence as our Father and Creator.

Fear and love meet in the fear of the Lord. He is our Father, Creator, and God. These should endear him to us and motivate our hearts toward worship. If they don’t, if we need manipulation, fear of judgment or punishment, we are not children, but slaves. Children don’t have that sort of fear of a righteous Father. They love him, respect him and desire to please him.

[1] Quoted by Bruce Waltke in NICOT, Proverbs 1-15, p. 101.

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