Troublesome Topic: What Does it Mean to “Fear the Lord”?

Lesson 6 of 7

In the last lesson we read Deuteronomy 31:12 which tells us that the purpose of the Torah was “that they may learn to fear” the Lord their God. But what does it mean to “fear the Lord”? For the answer we will look at Proverbs 1:7.

Proverbs 1:7


The fear of YHVH (read Adonai) is the foremost

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part of discernment, but a fool has contempt for wisdom and correction.


To fear THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD is the most important part of discernment, but a fool has contempt for wisdom and correction.

The Hebrew word “fear” can also be translated “to revere, to respect,  “to honor” someone. Some translations of the Bible use the word “honor” instead of “fear.” I like that because our idea of “fear” is totally negative, while their use of “fear” included positive and negative aspects wrapped up together.

I must add that the idea of fearing the Lord also includes:

Remembering who our covenant Lord is,

Submitting to His will,

Obeying His commands,

Fearing punishment for disobedience.

The best way I can think of to express the phrase “Fear the Lord” is: To honor God with humble obedience.

When I came to understand that God’s relationship with His people is a covenant relationship in which He is the sovereign and we are the subjects, I understood better the Old Testament emphasis on fear. In the context of a covenant relationship, fear is a very appropriate response for those in submission. This means that they recognize who has established a covenant with them, grant Him the respect and honor He deserves by obeying His conditions, fearing for their lives if they do not please Him. In those days, to be in a covenant relationship under a conquering king was to live on pins and needles while walking on eggshells. It meant knowing that even “small” mistakes could get them all wiped out. After all, blood had been used by those under the covenant (or many of their leaders) to pronounce a curse on themselves (and those with them) if they failed to abide by the covenant conditions. For that reason fear was a very appropriate part of a covenantal relationship.

We no longer need to live on pins and needles in fear of displeasing God, because, unlike the kings of ancient times, our God is characterized by both holiness and grace. It is not only the New Testament that is full of God’s grace, but the Old Testament is also full of God’s grace as well.

Do you take your relationship with God seriously enough?

Many believers today take their relationship with God far too lightly. There does not appear to be an adequate recognition of who God really is, or a submission to Him as the maximum authority in their lives. I see many who claim to be following God but whose time and energies are consumed by the satisfying of self. Honestly, we need more Old Testament style fear of God in our lives, not because He is not as loving and forgiving as we have been told, but because we are so self-centered.

The next lesson is: The Law Teaches Three Key Principles.



“foremost” usually means “head,” but it can also mean “chief, first, foremost, or the choicest part.” The idea expressed here is one of importance or prominence, not order or timing.