[With this editorial, we bid farewell to Rev. Koole. As he says toward the end of this article: “As I take my leave as an editor of the Standard Bearer, I can state forthrightly it is this truth, ‘The fear of the Lord,’ that has governed this magazine (and those who have written in it) as a motto since its inception.”]
We are all familiar with the phrase “the fear of the Lord.” And well we should be. It is a phrase, along with its parallel, “the fear of God,” that runs like a thread through the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament.
The first biblical use of the phrase is found in Genesis 20:11 in reference to a place where this fear was absent. Here Abraham tells Abimelech the reason he lied about Sarah being his sister rather than his wife was that “I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place.” The fear of God being absent, Abraham reasoned that Abimelech would not be afraid to have him murdered to take Sarah for his own.
Where there is no fear of God, lawlessness and immorality are sure to abound.
Scripture’s first application of this phrase to an individual is God’s own statement concerning Abraham following his willingness to slay Isaac, his only son, in obedience to God: “[F]or now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12).
It is significant that Abraham, the father of all believers, should be the first to be explicitly labeled as such.
To be sure, believers who lived prior to Abraham were also “God-fearing,” but it is a phrase first attached to father Abraham. It is a vital characteristic that was to set all his true children, his spiritual seed, apart. Is this fellow or that maid of the seed of Abraham? Well, is there ‘family’ resemblance? Does he, does she, do you, do I, fear the Lord?
The phrase is also applied in a striking way to Job. God Himself commends Job (one could say “boasts” of Job) to Satan and all “the sons of God” gathered before Him by use of that phrase. “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth; a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and esheweth evil?” (1:8)
High commendation indeed. A sinner-saint held up before the angels themselves as worthy of such high commendation, the focus of which is his being described as “one that feareth God.”
High commendation indeed. I can think of no greater “eulogy” than friends and acquaintances at the end of one’s life say, “He was a God-fearing man,” or “She was a God-fearing woman.” It makes crystal clear who and what was at the center of that sinner-saint’s life. A remarkable specimen of grace, as were Abraham, Daniel, and Ruth the Moabitess, among others.
The phrase is found scattered most widely through the Old Testament, which is not to say it is absent from the New.
It is found, for instance, in reference to Cornelius the centurion, who was described to Peter as “[A] just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among
all the nation of the Jews…” (Acts 10:22). Cornelius evidently having become a proselyte.
But the phrase is most commonly found in the Old Testament. The passages are numerous. We are all familiar with the statement, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is not surprising. This is stated a number of times in Scripture. Psalm 111:10 comes to mind: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments.” Proverbs 9:10 states the same truth. And there is Job 28:28 where Job himself states “And unto man he [God] said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”
What is this fear of the Lord?
We commonly describe it in terms of awe and reverence. The God-fearing man holds the Lord, Jehovah God, in highest esteem. One magnifies His works and name. One is a “Calvinist.” That is, God is acknowledged as the Sovereign One, sovereign in His works and ways.
Jehovah is sovereign in His creation, not only when He declared “Let there be light!” and all the creation wonders followed, thereby showing His almighty power and the splendor of His mind and understanding, but also sovereign in His determination of the purpose of that creation and of all the events of the creation through history and time. As God declared to Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? …When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted together?” (Job 38:6, 7).
The God-fearing stand in awe of His sovereignty in salvation, determining who shall be saved, and His accomplishing that in an astonishing manner. He who spared Abraham from offering up his only son, gave His Only Begotten as a sacrifice for sinners and rebels, redeeming those ordained to eternal life at greatest cost.
And that I should be numbered with them, and you? Staggering, filling the redeemed with adoration and awe, with holy reverence and fear. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).
But there is more to being numbered with the God-fearing than awe and adoration. Often when the phrase “the fear of God” is explained, it is stated that it does not mean one is afraid of God.
Not true in every sense.
If by that one means we as believers do not and are not to stand in terror (dread-fear) of God, I heartily agree. The wicked better stand in dread of the Lord, that most righteous Judge, but that is not true of the God-fearing believer.
Nonetheless, there is a reason why the translation reads “fear of the Lord” rather than “awe” or “reverence.”
The Hebrew word translated “fear” commonly means “to be afraid of.”
There is a sense in which the child of God is and should be afraid of God, namely, of His disapproval and anger, of being dealt with in His chastising anger. And do not imagine God, as a Father, cannot become angry with His children. He can and sometimes is. As Moses himself declared to Israel after smiting the rock in disobedience to God, “Also the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither” (Deut. 1:37). So displeased was God with Moses for losing all patience with complaining Israel and being ready to have God Himself smite them, destroying them all, that Moses was forbidden to enter the promised land.
The child of God fears this anger. He should. Why? Because he, which is to say we, love God and desire His approval and fellowship. When this anger is expressed, these are disrupted and absent.
This is parallel to the earthly relationship. A child who loves his earthly father is filled with a fear, and properly so, when his father is angry because his son has disobeyed him. The disobedient child knows his father’s anger is justified, and with the anger comes a cutting off of the fellowship, of the experience of his father’s love and approval. There are consequences of discipline.
And that—for a child who loves his father—is a fearful thing.
I feared my father. Not living in dread of him, but fearing to arouse his anger and disapproval due to foolish, disobedient behavior. He was of the old school. He was not one to spare for our crying if we had behaved with willful disobedience or done injury to others. Ours was a proper fear. What we learned to desire was his approval. Things were much more enjoyable around the table when it was so. And the approval of a father who loves his children is of paramount importance to a child, is it not? That is how we are created.
And so with God and us as His dear children. In that connection, read Hebrews 12:5-11.
But what must be emphasized is that “the fear of the Lord” stands in stark contrast to the “the fear of man.” One who fears Jehovah God does not live in the fear of man. The God-fearing man does not fear “the faces of men.” In other words, one’s life and decisions are not governed by what men say and think, but by God’s will and word.
Scripture points us in that direction: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
We live in an age when churchmen in increasing number are governed by this: “What does society think of this doctrine or that, of this biblical teaching or that?” And if the current is contrary, alter one’s course, modify one’s convictions, and do and teach nothing that our increasingly anti-Christian society might find offensive. After all, what will men think of us if we should promote this truth, or rebuke and condemn that practice?
This is not the mark of the God-fearing man or women. They fear not the faces of men. What they hold and maintain and how they live is not governed by, “What will men, what will our present society think? What will they say with what scorn, ridicule, or even outright threats?”
I was raised in a congregation governed by such men (who were also married to women of like conviction), a veritable honor role of believers whose names I will refrain from reciting, most gathered already with the “cloud of witnesses,” though a few are still with us today. But what governed their lives in raising families and in governing Christ’s church was simply, “What saith the Lord? And what, according to His holy, infallible Word, is His assessment of things, of right and wrong, of truth and error? Accordingly we will make decisions, raise our families, and live our lives. We care not what unbelieving men may say.”
They as officebearers and heads of homes were not numbered with those who trimmed their sails to the winds of the spirit of the age.
Such believers are firmly convinced of the truth of Proverbs 14:11, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.”
It is as one walks and lives in the fear of God, living consciously before His face, that one is blessed with that which nurtures and sustains life, spiritual life, and keeps the power of death, of evil, at bay.
What our spiritual forbearers, fathers and mothers, well understood was that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
And wisdom, according to Scripture, is the principal thing, that is, the thing of central, vital importance when it comes to a life worth living.
Wisdom has everything to do with the Word of God as it is to govern doctrine and life. To ignore the Word of God and its precepts both with respect to faith (what one is to believe and in whom) and to one’s walk of life is sheer folly. Such foolish dismissal of the wisdom of God’s Word can only tend to injury and loss and, in the end, to death itself.
As Psalm 111:10 declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”
What is wisdom?
It can be described in many ways. In the interests of brevity, we will simply state, wisdom is the ability to make the right choice as need arises, the right decision, one that tends to life and blessing, one that has a longrange view of things. Foolishness never does. Whenever the fool comes to a fork in the road, he is bound to take the wrong path, the one that leads to loss and injury to self and to damage to relationships and others. The fool chooses that which leads to spiritual impoverishment without fail. The fool is always looking for immediate gratification. He will not “eshew” (say “no” to) that which feeds the carnal appetite, though it is bound to bring him “sad reward.” And he will not bridle his tongue of animosity.
Wisdom heeds the exhortation of Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
Note well, the mark of folly is, “pride, and arrogancy… and the froward mouth.” May the Lord keep us from such.
As Scripture states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Consider what being devoid of the fear of the Lord means.
It means one is not going to be governed by what pleases God and has His approval, but what brings recognition amongst men and garners society’s approval. One plays for the audience, seeking man’s applause. That true, one will not make the right choices. One will not be committed heart and soul through thick and thin to what is right and true, what is biblical and having God’s approval. That may bring reproach and scorn. In fear of men, they modify and corrupt biblical, Reformed truth and practice. Sheer folly.
But where the fear of the Lord is found, one will make choices and decisions based on God’s Word, regardless of what men may say. As we sing in Psalter #407, one will “go forth in His service, and strong in His might, to conquer all evil, and stand for the right.”
As I take my leave as an editor of the Standard Bearer, I can state forthrightly it is this truth, “The fear of the Lord,” that has governed this magazine (and those who have written in it) as a motto since its inception. Governed not by what men in high places of scholar-ship and reputation think these days, and what should we maintain if we want this magazine to be recognized as contributing to “the on-going dialogue of modern scholarship and revision of sacred history.” Governed rather by what is scriptural and historically Reformed? What does God’s infallible and inerrant Word teach and require of those who would confess Jesus’ name in the New Testament age and live as His disciples, as Christians, not in name only, but in very truth?
Governed by the fear of the Lord, and not by any fear of men.
Let men say what they will. The question is, what is truth according to God’s inspired and all-wise Word? Such is to be maintained and defended and preserved.
That has been the history of this magazine and its faithful testimony.
May those who serve as new editors be as faithful as our predecessors.