Fear is a strong emotion with a fairly negative connotation. It’s generally not a good thing. Psychology Today gives advice about how to overcome fear. Therefore, “fear God” could leave the secular thinker with a negative definition of a basic Scriptural tenant. And how can one fear God and also love God at the same time? The apostle John points this out in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Looking at the Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) word for fear doesn’t really help. Look those up and you will find definitions like “alarm”, “dread”, “terror”. We can also find “revere” or “awe” – something relatable to God to be sure – but is fearing God more than just an emotional reaction?

How Scripture answers "What is the fear of the Lord?"

To fear God means to revere Him1,2,9,14, but ultimately to fear God is much more than raw emotion.  To fear God is not an emotional reaction11,16, but a learned behavior3,6,8,13,17,18,19 – a choice10,12,14,15,16,20. It can be quantified and taught to others3,7,8,15,17,20. Specifically, it means to obey2,3,4,5,14,18 God’s words3,6,7,13,15,19,20 in order not to sin5,6,16,17 — the perfect example of this being Jesus20.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.
If the God of my fathers, the God of Abraham and Fear [God] of Isaac, had not been with me, surely you would have sent me away empty-handed.  God saw my suffering and all that I had done and judged you last night.

Jacob is confronting Laban after keeping him effectively hostage for twenty years (vs 38) in order to win his daughter Rachel for his wife.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jacob uses “Fear” as a metonymy for God, seemingly to show his father’s reverence and obedience to God over the course of their lives.

And the Lord said to Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Does Job fear God for no reason?
God said to Satan, “Have you thought about Job?  That there is none like him on earth – righteous and without blame – fearing God and turning from evil?  Satan answered, “Does Job fear God for no reason?”

The opening discourse of the book of Job between God and Satan, a fallen angel.  Satan’s question back to God is rhetorical as he believes Job obeys God since God has materially blessed him (vs 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Job’s fear of God is manifested by the fact that he is “a blameless and upright man” that “turns away from evil“. He is, in other words, obedient to God’s commands.

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.
Be careful to not forget the things that you’ve seen or you will stray away.  Teach to your children and their children how you stood before God at Horeb, when God told me to gather you together so that you would hear God’s words and learn to fear him for all their generations on earth.

The re-telling of the law of Moses to a new generation of people before entering into the Promised Land.

Scripture-block application to this question

Hearing God’s words is how they would learn to obey God.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?
Israel, hear what God requires: that you fear Him, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve Him with all your being and keep His commandments which you are hearing today for righteousness.

The re-telling of the law of Moses to a new generation of people before entering into the Promised Land. Throughout these several immediate chapters, Moses is reminding them that they must keep God’s commandments in order to enjoy the blessings of the land, including driving out the enemies and crops, children, etc.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing God means to walk in all His ways.

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Don’t be wise in your own eyes, but fear God and turn from evil.

A collection of wise sayings primarily collected from Solomon, the wisest to live.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing God means to turn away from evil.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

When the king sits on his throne, he will write a personal copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  He shall keep it with him and read it all the days of his life.  By doing this, he will learn to obey God by adhering to the words and doing them.  It will also keep him humble, not thinking better of himself over others, keeping on the narrow path and living long in his kingdom.

Moses is re-telling the law to the people before they enter in to the Promised Land.

Scripture-block application to this question

The king was to “learn to fear” God by reading and doing His word all of his life.

when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law,
When everyone comes before God [to worship] at the place He will choose, you shall read this law for everyone to hear.  Assemble all people – men, women, children, and the foreigner – that they may hear and learn to obey God, being careful to do all the words of this law.

Moses is re-telling the law of God to the people before entering the Promised Land. Here, he is giving this instruction of public reading to occur every seven years when they are together for the Feast of Booths.

Scripture-block application to this question

The “fear of the Lord” is His word that we hear, learn and do.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.
We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ in order to receive what is due from our works, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of God, we teach others.  God knows those who are His, and I hope you also know.

Paul is speaking of the temporary state the Christian finds themself in – yearning to be “further clothed” but still in this “tent” in which we “groan” to be with Him (vss 1-4).

Scripture-block application to this question

The “fear of the Lord” is something that is known and taught to others.

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
Let all the earth fear God; let them stand in awe of Him.
A song of Asaph declaring the wonders of creation and the sovereignty of God, the Creator.
Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing God is standing in awe of Him.

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
Because they rejected knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord,

The opening of Proverbs and the importance of obtaining the wisdom from above.  This verse is in the midst of the personification of wisdom (vs 20) and its contrast to the foolish and those that don’t head the counsel of God.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing God is a choice that stands opposed to a rejection of obtaining Godly knowledge.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love.

There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear since fear is associated with punishment.  If one fears punishment he has not been perfected in love.

John is arguing that Christians are to love each other since “God is love” (vs 15) and He “loved us first” (vs 19).  He goes on to say that we know we love our brethren “whenever we love God and obey his commandments” (5:2).

Scripture-block application to this question

John is speaking to the emotion of fear, contrasting it to the love we are to have for our brethren “whenever we love God and obey his commandments.” (aka “fear God”).

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

The one that conceals his sin will not succeed; instead he should confess and turn from them to receive mercy.  Fortunate is he that consistently fears the Lord, but whoever resists will find evil.

A collection of wise sayings primarily collected from Solomon, the wisest to live.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing the Lord is the opposite of hardening your heart.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
My son, if you do these things then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge [wisdom] of God: (a) receive my words and value my commandments with an attentive ear and a mind to learn them, (b) seek their insight and ask for understanding, (c) search for it as if you were searching for hidden, valuable treasure.

A collection of wise sayings primarily collected from Solomon, the wisest to live.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fear of the Lord is an understanding one comes to through a desire and decision to diligently search for it.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith, Abraham obeyed the command to go out from where he was to receive an inheritance.  He went not knowing where he was going.  It was by faith that he went to live in the land of promise – a foreign land where he lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, his sons and heirs with him of the same promise.

The Hebrews writer accounting many of the “heroes of faith.”  The account of Noah building the ark is from Genesis 6, where the last verse sums up his building, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”

Scripture-block application to this question

Noah’s “reverent fear” led him to construct the ark exactly as God had instructed. Scripture tells us he obeyed “all that God commanded him”.

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

As a result, Zerubbabel [the governor] and Joshua the high priest, along with all the remnant that had returned, obeyed God’s voice as expressed through His prophet Haggai. And so, the people feared God.

Haggai is prophesying to those that returned to the land from Babylonian captivity.  Released by Cyrus the Great of Persia, they returned to their home [promised] land and had to rebuild their lives. Haggai [and Zechariah his contemporary] encouraged them in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem – sometimes referred to by historians as “Zerubbabel’s temple” (verses “Solomon’s” prior and “Herod’s” later in the first century).
Scripture-block application to this question

“Obeyed the voice of the Lord” and “feared the Lord” are synonymous in describing the changed behavior of the people after hearing God’s words (through Haggai).

Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin. The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Moses told the people not to be afraid of God, but that God was testing them for their obedience so that they would not sin. So the people stayed away while Moses drew near into the darkness in the presence of God.

The people of Israel have departed Egypt and having escaped their threat after the Red Sea crossing, have begun to receive the law from God.

Scripture-block application to this question

Moses tells the people not to fear God, but yet to fear Him in the sense of obeying, specifically, so that they “may not sin.”

Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Godly people should fear God. Unlike babes in nature that can suffer want and starvation, God will provide all good things to those that fear Him by seeking after Him. Listen to me, for I can teach you to fear God.

A psalm of David.

Scripture-block application to this question

Fearing God is the same as “seeking the Lord” and is something that is taught.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

David goes on to instruct that the fear of the Lord includes not speaking evil or deceit (vs 13) and turning away from evil to do good (vs 14).

So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

So he [Saul/Paul] went in and out among the brethren in Jerusalem (in Judea), boldly preaching by the authority of God and confronting the Hellenists’ teaching.  So they sought to kill him, and the brethren helped him to escape to Caesarea (in Galilee) and then to Tarsus.  As a result, the church spread throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, having peace and being built up.  By walking in the obedience of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the church multiplied.

Saul (e.g. Paul) has just been converted after being blinded on his way to Damascus, praying for three days, and meeting Ananias who baptized him. The church required a recommendation from Barnabas (vs 27) before having fellowship with him.

Scripture-block application to this question

The first-century Christians were “walking in the fear of the Lord” – it was an action, something they consciously did.

And the Lord said: Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.

God said the people of Isaiah’s day were only giving Him lip service and were actually obeying commands taught by men. But He would to a “wonderful thing” with the people that would expose their false “wisdom” and destroy those teaching it.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, is speaking of the judgement that is coming against Judah for their disobedience.  Their stubbornness and pride has led God to close the eyes of the prophets/seers (vs 10) – like giving a book to someone that cannot read and asking them to read it (vs 11).

Verse 13 is quoted by Jesus (

Matthew 15:7-9
), applying it to the Pharisees’ heardness of heart and verse 14 is qutoed by Paul (
1 Corinthians 1:18-19
) applying it to the reaction of the so-called “wise” to the gospel message.

Scripture-block application to this question

In this case, the people’s “fear” (e.g. obedience) was based on the teaching of men instead of God.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

God’s Spirit will be upon Him [Jesus per Rom 12:15], giving Him wisdom and understanding, judgment and power, knowledge for obeying the Father — which will be His joy. He won’t judge by His own human standard, but in righteousness  He will just all mankind of the earth. His words will execute punishment for the wicked, girded about in perfect righteousness and faithfulness [to His Father].

Isaiah chapters 11-12 serve as a near continuous vision of things/events/signs “in that day”. Importantly, chapter 11 vss 1 and 10 speak of the “stump/root of Jesse” that Paul pulls forward to interpret to be speaking of Jesus in Romans 15:12.

Qualifiers that jump out as familiar New Testament themes include:

  • descendent of David to emerge (11:1),
  • God’s Spirit will be on Him (11:2),
  • He will judge the world (11:3-4),
  • He will be a “signal” to the nations/Gentiles that gathers to Him along with the Jews (11:12),
  • The people “will draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:1-3),
  • God will be in their midst (12:6)
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus’ delight would be “in the fear of the Lord” (e.g. obeying His Father).

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The inspired writing of Paul (Romans 15:12) allows us to know for certain that “He” in this passage is Jesus.

Leave your comment below…

…and if you’re wondering more about what we’re doing and why, here are some links we hope can help explain it (and maybe even get you excited about contributing):

what do you think?

related to 'What is the fear of the Lord?'

lend your own study to the discussion

PUBLIC COMMENT POLICY: While your email is required, it will not be posted publically.
All comments are vetted for potential spam before being published, but will not be restricted otherwise.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments