“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” – Psalm 111:10
There are many passages in the Bible enjoining fear of the Lord. In Revelation we read, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”
The angel bearing this message is the third angel whom John saw in vision. The Bible narrative is nearing its close, the judgment is nearly finished, and the messages are becoming more definite and clear. This third angel is declared to have “the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.”
The “everlasting gospel” which the angel preached was “Fear God, and give glory unto him.”
This message that the angel brings is not a new message. Moses and the prophets had declared it to the people time and time again. Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, knew this command, for when he went into Philistia and saw the life of the people there, he said, “Surely the fear of God is not in this place.” And one of the familiar passages where the fear of God is mentioned is found in Deuteronomy 6:24: “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day.”
It is sometimes thought that the evil should fear the Lord, but that the righteous, who have gained dominion over evil, need no longer fear. They have advanced into love for the Lord and the neighbor, and “love taketh away fear.” And to some, to many perhaps, the thought of fear is repellant; they think of it as a sign of weakness. Some like to boast that they fear neither God, man, or the devil. It is possible that a person may come into such a state – like the unjust judge in the parable who “feared not God, neither regarded man.” It is, however, not a desirable state. Even on the natural plane one may pass through dangers without exercising any courage if he is ignorant of any attending danger. We should regard courage as a virtue and not try to harden our hearts so as to destroy the possibility of developing this virtue.
It is not to the evil or to the ignorant alone that this command is directed, for it is written, “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord,” And this fear is to endure forever, for Jeremiah writes, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”
Even in the heavens this fear is declared to exist: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.” And of the Lord Himself it is written, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 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 of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.”
Yet there is another set of passages which seem to teach the opposite of the above: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” “Fear not, neither be afraid; have I not told thee?” Obviously there are two kinds of fear mentioned in the Bible, one which is good and desirable and brings a blessing, a fear of the Lord which “is clean and endureth forever,” and the other that which is described in the words “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” This latter fear we can and should overcome, but there is a very practical lesson for us in the command, “Fear God,” and it was for this reason that the angel declared that the everlasting gospel was “Fear God, and give glory unto him.” We should not desire to hear it said, “There is no fear of God in this place.”
We learn the commandments. We are not born regenerate. At first we keep the commandments from fear of the consequences if we break them. The evil may be led to keep the laws of external conduct from fear. That is why threats and warnings are a part of the Scriptures. And indeed we all at times need the harsh command. Fear involves many things, in worldly things the loss of life, of reputation, honor, and gain, but in heavenly things the loss of heaven. There is a modern tendency to make a comedy of heaven and a farce of hell, but the fear of the consequences of evil has kept many from doing evil, and thus out of hell. So even in this external form fear is not to be denounced.
Yet we should in time pass beyond this kind of fear. The fear which a good man has is different from the fear which possesses an unregenerate man. We should outgrow the latter, but the former is a holy fear and comes from the Lord. It is a part of true love. If parents love their children, they have this fear, for without it their love would have no concern, in true love there is the fear lest the Lord should be injured by us in any way; fear lest in ignorance or from selfish desires, we may do something wrong. Where there is love of the Lord, where there is love of good and truth, there is this holy fear. They who have this fear understand what is meant by the words “I know that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” They realize their limitations, and look to the Lord for light and strength. They are not thinking of worldly ambitions. They have the things of spiritual life in mind. They seek to follow the Lord regardless of external consequences. To speak the truth, to judge righteous judgment may cause the loss of honor among men, of position, of wealth, or even of life, but they do not fear the loss of these things.
In a marvelous way the commandment to fear the Lord serves a common bond for both the upright and the evil. Those who are in evil ought by all means to fear God, for if they have no love of God in their hearts, they can do what is good only from fear of God, and gradually the Lord can operate in them and gift them with the love of good. Thus their fear becomes transformed, and becomes such as is that of little children toward their parents whom they love.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is a sign of trust in the Lord. It is the sign of spirituality. “Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” Does the world trust in the Lord? For that is what genuine fear of the Lord means. Does it go to the Word for the light of life? Or does it wave aside belief in spiritual things as of no account? Are these new powers which have been recently discovered thought to make belief in God, in His incarnation in Jesus Christ, in the Redemption, in the Divine providence and the future life of no account for the modern man?
The facts of the world of nature are always true. Look into them deeply enough and they are of absorbing interest. The Lord never put a ban on the study of these things. The progress in the development of the sciences in these days has been so marvelous that it has made possible the temptation to be carried away with it and to put our dependence upon it. We perhaps hardly realize how far this has gone. If we are so carried away, we shall not seek to find out what the Lord is trying to say to us about the most vital problems of daily life. Isaiah pictures this state in these words, “Now the Egyptians are men, and not God: and their horses flesh, and not spirit.” Egypt stands for trust in natural knowledges. And the Psalmist writes, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” The difference between those who fear God and those who do not is expressed in these verses. One trusts in spiritual facts, and looks to the Lord and the power of His Word to gift him with love, wisdom, and strength. The other trusts in self and in his knowledge of natural facts. God is not in all his thoughts.
If one wishes to go down into Egypt for help, he will do so. But in the end he will be disappointed. From the Lord through the Word is the only power which can enable us to go through life believingly and righteously, and in the end bless us.
“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.
“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”