The Fear of God

Long ago, the children of Israel were given the opportunity to hear the very words of God. The Lord God Almighty spoke to them and declared to them his commandments. The mountain shook, the lightning flashed, the voice of the Lord boomed out as smoke billowed from the mountain that the people surrounded. All the people were filled with awe and they cried out to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die”(Exodus 20:19).

This reaction is a normal reaction, an expected reaction. In the face of the glory and power of God, these people wanted a protective barrier between them and Him. That barrier was Moses. And this very divide was immortalized by Moses having to wear a veil whenever he would come before the people, and then by the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the Tabernacle. From this point forward, God was always set apart from his people.

This attitude is a normal human reaction. We often react badly to authority figures, especially when there is the possibility of punishment. It is not unusual for my children to become very unhappy and to want to leave my presence. Job was aware of this difficulty as well, for he recognized that a man can’t stand before God. Job actually says, “If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times”(Job 9:3).

This is an absolute truth. We cannot justify ourselves before God, because he does know everything that we have done, and everything we are going to do, and everything will come into judgment on the last day. Knowing all this, it is right and proper for us to fear God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”(Hebrews 10:31).

Fear of God can be a wonderful thing, motivating us to do the right thing. However, it should be noted that our fear should not cause us to become inactive. Excessive fear can do that! This is one of the reasons that fear is not always the best motivator. Fear can get things started, but then fear can cause inaction. It is a problem if you don’t know what the right thing is, and you become afraid of doing anything because you are uncertain of what is right and what is wrong. 

In this light, we consider Moses, the man in the middle. Moses was a man with whom God spoke face to face. His reaction to God’s presence was very different from the rest of the people. While they are still at Mount Sinai, Moses turns to the Lord and requests, “Please show me your glory”(Exodus 33:18). The very thing that most of the world wants to avoid, Moses desires. Even when God warns Moses that he cannot see him and live, Moses still presses forward. Moses would rather die in the presence of the Lord than to live apart from him.

Job, too, expressed this desire to be in the presence of God, even though he knew it would consume him. Just shortly after declaring that he was not, and could not be innocent before God, he then says, “Let Him take His rod away from me, and do not let dread of Him terrify me. Then I would speak and not fear him, but it is not so with me”(Job 9:34-35).

Job did not want the fear of God to overwhelm him, and Moses did not let fear stop him. Rather, they both desired to come to the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the one who fashioned it all. This is an attitude that we should seek to emulate. It is a reminder that though God is a truly fearsome being, he is the one thing that we should be seeking the most in this world and the next. We should not let our fear of death prevent us from going after a relationship with him.

We need to be like Moses and Job and many other of the heroes of the Bible and seek after a relationship with God. To this end, Job desired someone to stand between him and God, someone who would take the rod of God away from man (see Job 9:32-33). God knew of this need and made a plan from the very beginning to provide just such a person. However, this person would need to be special. He would have to be a man, so he could understand what it means to be a man, and he would need to be a God, so that they could understand what it means to be God.

To have a person who combines these two attributes seems impossible to the world and even to many who are aware of Jesus. Yet that is one of the great mysteries of who Jesus is. Jesus is man and Jesus is God. He was made human so that he could be a merciful and faithful High Priest giving aid to those who are being tempted, because he shared in their weakness (Hebrews 2:14-18). Yet, in doing this, it was Jesus giving up his divine nature to become human (Philippians 2:5-7). So then, Jesus managed to combine the two natures into one. 

In this we have an opportunity of hope. We desire to be with God and now we have someone who will be able to help us stand before God and he is one who will help us in our weakness. Even more than that, he also helps to remove that fear that has prevented so many from coming before the throne of God. 

In sending Jesus to us, God reminded us that he isn’t just a fearsome deity, but also a God of love. We know what love is, because Jesus came for us and was willing to die so that we could have hope. And here’s the kicker: love drives out fear (1 John 4:16-18). This means that we can freely approach the one who created the universe, who made the stars and who keeps everything running, and we can call him, “Father.” Instead of being motivated by fear, we can be motivated by our love for him and do the things that will please him, not worrying about punishment, but rejoicing in the great gift that he has given to us.

Moses and Job would have rejoiced to hear the promise that Jesus has given to us:“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne”(Revelation 3:21). We can not only come into his presence, but we may sit with our Father, and there may be no greater reward than that.