20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. 21 He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen.
God is our Creator with the full power to un-make us at His will. He is also the righteous dispenser of judgment; but as He is most well known for His lovingkindness, I did not consider the “fear of God” to be a positive concept as a young Christian. I thought “respect” was surely the term the translators were seeking to convey. Yet, after a lifetime of experiencing the manner in which fear has actually protected me from many foolish actions and words, I now disagree with my younger self.
I have come to understand that the Lord is also the One who ordained the sure principle of reaping-what-is-sown, a principle that is further reinforced by the biblical concept of “practice makes perfect.” Fear has proven itself to be my friend as it restrained my “sowing” when I had no wisdom. I currently view fear as one of the most useful of all our emotions, and in an unexpected way it was a huge contributor to the success of my marriage to Steve. Let me explain:
My husband has told me that I was a good wife from the beginning, and that I still am. This is not because I was a particularly wise or good young woman. We were baby Christians (only one year old) and knew only a very few of the Biblical basics of marriage, but I was very motivated - - by fear, of course.
Steve had strong concerns about marrying at such a young age, yet certain that I was the right girl for him, he was afraid he would lose me if he waited several more years. It was thus, that he proposed. Along with his reticence to marry, there was also the chorus of his college buddies who would mock marriage at every turn. These circumstances caused me to be deeply fearful that Steve would grow to regret his decision and that marriage would make him feel like a man in bondage. (Also, like all women reared in the 1950’s, the desire to please is deeply ingrained in me, so I just really wanted to please him.)
As it turned out, those fears were just the thing to take my focus off of myself and to set it squarely upon my husband’s happiness. As we all know, and as simplistic as it may sound, the less we dwell upon ourselves, the happier we are. Thus, Steve and I have experienced happiness together, and all because of healthy fear.
Around the seventh year of our marriage, this fear for Steve’s potential regret was supplanted by a new fear in my heart. It was a growing fear of the Lord that began forming when I finally began reading the Bible for myself.
At the time, I was operating my little day care in my home, so I wasn’t able to attend a women’s Bible study, or even listen to teachings on CD, because the children required my full attention. I believe that God arranged these circumstances because He wanted me to spend time alone with Him. It was His intention that I listen to His voice only with no interference from others.
During the children’s naptime, I embarked on my plan to read through the Bible by using a popular one-year plan and reading its commentary. Soon, however, I began to notice that what I was reading in the Word did not match the commentary, probably because the author had a particular theological viewpoint into which he was trying to shoehorn the scripture. This conflict over the meaning continued to occur throughout the first month of reading and resulted in my loss of faith - - in the commentator. I chucked the book at that point, but kept its very accommodating reading schedule. Every day thereafter, I would confess to the Lord that my dark mind wasn’t able to understand spiritual things, and I asked Him to be my teacher and to protect me from error. I didn’t use any commentaries or other books about the Bible. I just read slowly, carefully, and attentively for about 30 minutes each day while the children slept. From this first experience so many years ago, I have remained convinced that the Holy Spirit alone is sufficient to lead His people in truth.
At the end of the first year, I knew something of God at last, and interestingly, He wasn’t much like the God about whom I had been taught. I don’t fault my teachers or pastors for this. The Lord is just too fierce and large for human to convey adequately. His love is too consuming, His anger too searing. His will is unalterable and insistent. He is not at all like us. For instance, He can be wildly jealous and it’s completely appropriate and righteous. Only the Lord alone can express the fullness of His being.”
This first read through the entire Bible also made it abundantly clear to me that the Lord’s “love language” is obedience. No one had ever pointed that out to me before, even though He plainly says, “If you love Me, keep My Word,” (John 14:15). Our obedience is the very particular worship the Lord seeks. It praises His wisdom. It expresses maximum trust in His sovereignty. It is the highest complement to His good will.
Another thing I learned is that the consequences for not obeying the Lord’s wise will can be quite harsh and costly. (The entire Old Testament is a long string of testimonies to that truth.) The Lord is well aware of this. He loves His children, so He is concerned for their protection. It’s massively important to Father that we obey Him; and like any loving father, the Lord will discipline His children effectively for disobeying His training. We are wise children, if we seek to avoid the correction by following Him with trust.
Knowledge of the fear of the Lord is like a coin whose sides are distinctly engraved with differing images. On one side, we find the consequences of sin and the attending discipline. On the other side, we see that the Lord views our obedience as worship because it is through our obedience that we acknowledge His holiness. While it can include them, true worship is not the songs, or the tithing, or the liturgy. It is obedience based upon the knowledge that God is holy.
The history of Saul and the Agag is an excellent example of how important obedience is to God. In this story, God tells King Saul that he is to be God’s instrument of judgment on the Amalekites for persecuting His people:
I Samuel 15:1-3
The prophet, Samuel, said to King Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people Israel; listen therefore to the Lord’s message. The Lord of hosts says: ‘I have in mind what Amalek did to Israel; how he waylaid him when he came up from Egypt. Now then, you go and strike down Amalek; destroy all he has; spare none. Slay man and woman, cattle and sheep, camel and donkey.”
(For God to act in retributive judgment on a people is righteous because His justice is always perfect.)
Unfortunately, Saul does not fully obey the Lord, but spares not only the best of the flocks, but also the king of the Amalekites whose name is Agag.
I Samuel 15:7-9
Saul struck down Amalek from Havilah to the Shur approach east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the Amalek king, alive; but he doomed all the people to complete destruction with the sword. However, Saul and the people spared Agag; also the choicest sheep and cattle and the fattest lambs - everything of high value they did not doom to destruction; only the lesser quality cattle and the worthless they utterly destroyed.
Not only did King Saul not fully obey, he also appears to lie about sparing the flocks by pretending they were spared for later sacrifice, something God did not ask. Read the Lord’s reaction to Saul’s behavior:
I Samuel 15:10-11; 22-23; 28-29
10-11 Then came the Lord’s message to Samuel: “I am grieved ever to have made Saul king; for he has quit following Me and has not carried out My orders.”. . .22-23 Samuel then said, “Does the Lord delight as much in burnt offerings and in sacrifices as in obeying the Lord’s voice. See! Obedience is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of fortunetelling, and stubbornness as wickedness and idol worship. Because you have rejected the Lord’s word, He has rejected you from being king.”. . . 28-29 Samuel further said to Saul, “Today the Lord has torn the kingship of Israel from you and has given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you, and the Everlasting of Israel doe not lie or repent; for He is not a man to change His mind.”
Apart from losing the kingship, there was another serious consequence for Israel which was set in motion because of Saul’s disobedience.
Following these events (Esther being made queen), King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He advanced him and seated him higher than all his fellow princes. . . Then Haman told the King, “There is a race scattered and dispersed among all the peoples in the provinces of your realm, wholse laws differ from those of all other nations, and they do not observe the king’s laws, that that it is not expedient for your majesty to tolerate them. If it is agreeable to your majesty, let an ordinance be written to destroy them, and I will pay twenty million silver dollars into the hands of those in charge of the royal treasury.” (Haman is offering to personally cover the expense of the genocide.) The king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jew-hater.
Haman is a descendent of Agag, the king who Saul failed to kill as God had told him to do. If Saul had obeyed the Lord, if he had feared the Lord, the story of Esther would not have had to happen.
Let’s look at another famous act of disobedience that concerns Nadab and Abihu, the priestly sons of Aaron. As shown below, the Lord had given the priestly order very precise directions on the proper way to approach Him in the tabernacle.
And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil.
Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun.”
Nadab and Abihu disregarded these instructions and brought fire from another source.
But Nabab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, took each his censer, put some fire in it, laid incense on it, and offered strange fire before the Lord, such as He had not ordered them.
Because it violated His command, and therefore, His holiness, the Lord reacted strongly to their use of fire that was not taken from the altar as He had instructed.
Then fire issued forth from the presence of the Lord and consumed them; they died before the Lord. Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD meant when He said, ‘Among those in My presence I will be hallowed, and in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”
Father, please build in us a holy fear of You and a true desire for wisdom.