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Are we supposed to fear God?

The most frequent command in the Bible is ‘do not fear’ yet there are also commands which say fear God.  The book of Proverbs, describing the path to the good life, begins by saying ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge’ (Proverbs 1:7).  If we are told not to fear, if fear is a negative thing, why then are we also commanded to fear God? 

To help us answer that question we’re going to look briefly at a passage from a book called Isaiah.  This passage is from around 700BC and is a prophecy about Jesus, speaking about a future delivering king. 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1,3)

Notice how the fear of the LORD is presented as something that is delightful. Strange as it might initially seem to us, the fear of the LORD is actually a desirable thing. 

When we are filled with fear we are overwhelmed by something.  We often think of fear in terms of being overwhelmed by something neutral or negative.  We might fear things that are neutral.  I have a friend who has a fear of cotton wool, let’s face it, cotton wool is not going to harm anyone!  These sorts of fears might be classed as phobias, an overwhelming irrational fear of something that is often neutral.  We can also be overwhelmed by things that are clearly negative such as violence or death.  When we are filled with fear the object of our fear takes over.  You might be someone with a deep-seated fear of spiders.  If in reading this a spider suddenly drops from the ceiling onto your lap what will happen?  I imagine you would leap up from where you are sitting, regardless of whether you are holding a drink or not, forgetting everything else, focusing only on getting away from that spider.  Perhaps your fear of spiders is such that even the mention of them has distracted your thoughts from reading.  That is what fear does, it overwhelms us so that the object of our fear becomes our sole focus, affecting what we do. 

We often think of fear in terms of being overwhelmed by something neutral or negative, but the Bible presents a third category – the fear of the LORD.  To fear God is to be overwhelmed by the One who alone is good – in the previous article we considered something of the goodness and desirability of God – that is why the fear of the LORD is a desirable thing.  Jesus came that we might share in the fear of the LORD.  Jesus died to take away our sins, so that through trusting in Him, we might be freed from the fear that causes us to flee from God and instead share in the delightful fear that causes us to drop everything and run to Him, the God in whom is life. 

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