How do you explain the fear of YHWH? I have been asked and really don’t know how to answer it properly. My mind is not a safe anymore and more live a sieve. Also, I would really like to understand it better myself. I’m on my 3rd round of the reading cycle, but like I said not everything sticks anymore. Thank you.

This is an awesome question. It’s a concept that sounds so simple and yet it can take years/decades to truly understand it. When you first hear the term ‘the fear of YHWH’ it can be easy to take it at face value and see ‘fear’ as merely something which makes you scared. That’s how I used to think of it, at least. And while it’s true that God is all-powerful and it’s healthy to have a trembling respect for his all-encompassing holiness, it’s also true that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7).

So, what’s the difference? How can it be true that we are not supposed to have a spirit of fear and yet we’re also supposed to fear YHWH? Well, this all comes down to what kind of fear you’re talking about. That verse in 2 Timothy, in context, is talking about the kind of fear which makes you tuck back into your shell and not act righteously for God out of fear of running up against something like a societal reprisal. I’m reminded of a song I used to sing when I was a kid: “This Little Light of Mine”. Honestly, even though this is a kid’s song, the lyrics are a battle hymn. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” “Won’t let satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine.” “Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine!” This is the kind of life Paul was talking about when he wrote to Timothy that we are not supposed to have a spirit of fear; we, Christians, should not live with our tails tucked between our legs when it comes to being ambassadors for the Kingdom of the Lord and promoting the loving vision of his Kingdom.

When we see that the fear spoken of in 2 Timothy can be better described as timidity, we can see that fear can have more than one meaning. That being said, fear of YHWH isn’t the same type of fear that you would get when you go bungy jumping or skydiving. In Gen 17:1-3 we see God appear to Abraham and Abraham’s reaction is to fall on his face. He did this because of a fear which can also be described as the extreme respect a subject has for his king.

Living in the United States, a country built on rejecting a king, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the kind of respectful relationship between subject and sovereign that the Bible describes. God is all-powerful, but he also has your best interest in mind, as a good king would, and it’s through this lens that you get a good vision of what fear of YHWH really is.

This is a big topic, and there are so many awesome rabbit trails to go down, so I hope this has provided some good jumping-off points for you.

Grace and Peace,

From Matt:
This is such a powerful question and one that I think has been misused in a lot of ways.  Many ask the question, “Why should we have to fear a loving God?” or “How can the Word say, “Do not be afraid,” but also say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?”  I think the answer is rooted in an understanding of the Word “fear” and the knowledge of who God is. 

We know fear.  We are familiar with it.  We’ve met.  We’re afraid of what the world is going to look like.  We’re afraid of things that might happen.  We’re afraid of mice and snakes and spiders.  This is not the type of fear we’re talking about when we discuss the fear of YHWH.  The fear that we have of the Father is a reverential fear, born out of an understanding of just how infinitely far above us He is.  He does not simply define what is “good” and “right.”  He IS “good” and “right.”  He is Holy and as a result cannot abide “sin.”  This causes us to measure our approach, bridle our tongues, and make certain that we come repentant before the throne.  

This is too much for me, though; too much for my brain to understand.  I have to get it down on my level so I can process it, and for me, that usually means looking at it in light of my understanding as a father.  Most of the time, you can find me and my girls curled up in my chair, laughing, smiling, snuggling.  But there are times in their lives, probably more than they or I would care to admit, where they fear that big guy that tucks them in at night.  Am I ever going to hurt them?  Absolutely not! Am I going to let them do wrong and get by with it?  Again, absolutely not.  It’s not me, then, that they fear, but my position, my authority, my responsibility to correct them when they stray from the right path.  

As we complete the circle, then, we understand that we fear the Father for many of the same reasons:  His position, His absolute authority, His ability to correct. That fear of His correction prevents many foolish acts in the life of the believer.  But with the Father, we must take this a step further.  Unrepentant, uncovered, high-handed sin bears the weight of eternal separation from YHWH because He is holy.  Here is the beginning of wisdom.  We fear to disobey our earthly parents because we can lose privileges or the ability to sit comfortably.  How much more should reverential fear guide our actions when the repercussions could be eternal?  While He is infinitely loving, infinitely kind, and full of eternal grace, we must never lose sight of the fact that YHWH is also infinitely holy and in the presence of that holiness, sin has no place.  

About the Seeking Scripture Team: We are a group of believers from all walks of the faith, saved by grace alone through faith in our Messiah. While we are of one accord in many things, we are all works in progress and lifelong learners. Therefore the opinions of one may not always represent the opinions of all.

Aaron and Matt
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