I enjoy cooking. In fact, I do most of the cooking in our family. One of the things I love to make is chili. I make a mean chili! There is nothing like a good bowl of chili with some freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese sprinkled on top, along with some crackers or a hearty piece of bread.
I start by frying up some bacon. When the bacon is nice and crisp, I set it aside and throw about 4 cups of chopped onions and several cloves of minced garlic right into the bacon fat. Once the onions and garlic have heated up for a few minutes I start adding the ground beef (and other things that shall remain secret). Then comes the trickiest part—adding the spices.
I have a blend of spices that I have perfected over the last 20 years. One of these spices is a finely ground white chili powder in a sealed plastic container that is clearly marked, “Wrath of God: use sparingly and do not breathe!” Without it, the chili is nothing special, too much and you burn out your tongue! Get it right, and you have a meaty symphony of heat and spice in every bite! It’s a necessary ingredient, but you have to treat it with great respect.
If chili was a metaphor for love, the hot white chili powder that gives love its kick would translate as fear of the Lord.
One of the hang-ups of modern evangelicalism is its seemingly confined focus on the safe, kind, and friendly characteristics of God. For instance we are fine with Habakkuk’s description of God in 3:3-4: His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise. His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden.
That is the God we “know and love” in our American evangelical culture. But when we get to verse 5 we start to get uncomfortable real fast. Pestilence marches before him; plague follows close behind. When he stops, the earth shakes. When he looks, the nations tremble. He shatters the everlasting mountains and levels the eternal hills.
Pestilence marches before him; plague follows close behind. This doesn’t sound like the same “loving” God we hear about in most churches or in most books by Christian authors. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around the concept of fearing and loving the same thing. So our response as the Church has been to largely ignore that thorny subject.
But you can’t get far in the Bible before you start seeing that this is a major subject in the Scriptures. 18 times in the Bible we are specifically told to have a fear of the Lord or that God’s people are shown by possessing a fear of the Lord. The words that we translate as fear are pachad, which means sudden alarm, dread, great fear, or terror. Yawray, which means to fear, morally revere, to make afraid, dread, to describe something as terrible. Yawray is also the Hebrew word we translate 40 times as reverence or revere. 15 times we are told to live in awe of God. Awe is the translation of raw-gaz’ which means to quiver or tremble with any violent emotion, especially anger or fear. Or goor which means to shrink in fear, to be afraid, and to stand in awe. In the New Testament the word for fear is the word phobia which means fear, alarm, and terror.
The Bible makes it very clear in both the Old and New Testaments that one of the essential characteristics of God’s people is that they have this fear, awe, or reverence for God. Take for example Psalm 33:1-22 (NIV),
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.
Twice in this Psalm we are told to fear the Lord (yawrah: to morally revere, dread, describe as terrible), and once to revere the Lord (goor: to shrink in fear, stand in awe).
Notice who David is talking to, he is talking the righteous. Righteous people are people who fear the Lord.
Notice the context in which fear of the Lord is in. This is a Psalm of praise. Fear of the Lord is not incompatible with praise and thanksgiving.
David gives three reasons why we should fear the Lord in this Psalm:
In verses 8-11 David teaches that we should fear the Lord because He has the power to create out of nothing. All God has to do to create a world is to command that it be, and it will be. Whatever He plans happens. God has no plan B. He doesn’t need one. He is in complete control of everything He has made. His creative power is a reason He is to be feared.
Verses 12-17 say there is no power as strong as the Lord, and there is no power that can deliver out of His hand.
Verses 18-19 teach that we should fear Him because nothing can stop Him from delivering His people.
If we are honest with ourselves, the message we get from this Psalm is that there is an essential connection between the fear of the Lord and love for the Lord. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. To really love God means that you also fear Him. To fear the Lord means that you also love Him. David seems to imply in this Psalm that fear of the Lord and love for the Lord are in fact are two sides of the same coin.