Fear of the Lord

Fear of the Lord

What’s the greatest fear you have and what impact does this fear have on you?
Does fear help or hurt your relationship with God?
True or False: Well placed fear is astonishingly helpful and beneficial. Poorly placed fear is terribly dangerous and destructive.

Let’s talk about these in today’s lesson.

Fear is a powerful motivator, is it not? Remember the famous statement by FDR? “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Is that always the case? If there’s one thing we’ve seen in the first three books of the Bible, it’s this: There is a God who is to be feared. This is not simply an Old Testament notion. Jesus, in fact, said in Luke 12:5 after telling his disciples not to be afraid of men who can kill you. He then said these words: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

Jesus believed in the fear of the Lord, did he not? In reference to God this fear has to do with reverence and respect, but both the Old and New Testaments also speak of “Fear” or even “Terror” in relation to our response to God. Now before we get too fearful about that, let’s look into it more. I mean, what benefits are there in fearing God? Are there many? More than we might think!

First: Did you know that the ONLY FEAR that the Bible promotes as positive is the fear of the Lord? The main Hebrew word for Fear occurs 331 times in the Old Testament. While commanding Israel to fear the Lord, it also commands Israel NOT to fear nations around her or any other thing that would interfere with the fear of God. Revelation 21:8 gives a partial listing of those who are cast into the lake of fire, and the first item on the list is the “Cowardly.” Cowards are controlled by misplaced fears. We need God’s instruction on how to “fear well.” More than just instructions on fear, we need for God to BUILD that godly fear in us.

Let’s start with some instructions on this subject before considering our text about Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and how God built godly fear into the hearts of His people.

Immediately after God spoke the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20, the people were terrified. Listen to Moses words in verse 20: Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Deut. 5:22-29 are further commentary on this. (read)

Job 28:28 states it well, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to shun evil, that is understanding.” Some scholars have seen this verse as the chiastic climax of the entire book of Job. Whether or not that is the case, it is a true statement spoken by Job himself even in the midst of his own terrible suffering and at a climactic section of Job’s final words before God appears to him. Job, indeed, experienced the terrors of the Lord dealt against Job by Satan, even though Job was blameless before God. Ultimately it is only when God questions Job, even in Job’s affliction, that Job accepts his own condition and is silent.

Psalms 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! Psalms 34 has a beautiful piece of instruction about the fear of the Lord.

Proverbs repeats it too: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 9:10, 1:7 (knowledge).

The famous line at the end of Ecclesiastes that sums up the whole matter, now that everything has been heard. What does it say? Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Now comes the second part of today’s lesson. Both Old and New Testaments point to the benefits of the fear of the Lord. But just HOW is that fear to be established in our hearts? Let’s look at how God taught Israel to fear Him in our text today, and see if He’s still teaching us to fear Him like this in our time.

Leviticus 9-10 record for us a story that helped to instill the fear of God into the Aaronic priesthood. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. One of the most repeated statements in the Bible occurs here, and at the end of Exodus. The context of both is about worshipping God, specifically in the proper dress, sacrifices and details required for intimate worship in the presence of God.

Seventeen times in Exodus 39-40 the scripture says that they did things: “Just as the Lord commanded Moses.” Then the glory of the Lord’s presence appeared to them and was so intense that Moses and Aaron could not enter the tabernacle. That concluded the book of Exodus.

Then comes the book of Leviticus with all its details about the sacrifices and offerings, priestly ordination services, etc., for Aaron and his sons at the inauguration of God’s coming to dwell with Israel in the tabernacle. It’s a bit boring to us today since we are so disconnected with such things, but to the Aaronic priesthood, every word was crucially important.

Here we see that God is a God of detail, and that Moses is an amazingly precise communicator.

In Leviticus 8-9 we have this same statement: “as the Lord commanded Moses” 12 times repeated, and at the conclusion of doing everything just as the Lord had commanded, look at Leviticus 9:22-24 again.

I think it is a mistake that there is a chapter division here. God did not put chapter divisions in the Bible, that took place around 1228 A.D. by a certain Archbishop, Stephan Langton. If we had an original text of Leviticus it would read straight through here, and we would capture both the joy and terror of the context. Obedience in God’s presence brought shouts of joy. Disobedience brought sudden judgment and death. Let’s read Leviticus 9:22-10:3 straight through.

What is your immediate reaction to this powerful contrast? As my mother used to say, “The first thing to fix is the blame.” Let’s resist placing blame for a moment and ask: what happened?

Look carefully at 23-24 first. The glory of God, the King of the universe, appears to them all, does He not? Then look at verse 24. What came out from the presence of the Lord? My Bible says, “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering…” What did the people do when they saw this? NIV gives a great translation saying: they shouted for joy and fell facedown. Your Bible may have that they “shouted” without mentioning how they felt. Whose Bible says “shouted” without any reference to joy? This Hebrew word is elsewhere translated: “Rejoice!” Deut. 32:43 and “Sing for joy” Psalm 5:11 and many other Psalms.

Do you think there was any fear of the Lord in those who were shouting for joy here? Of course! And the blessing of obedience was upon them. The Lord accepted the sacrifices and visibly expressed it with the power of the fire that came from His glorious presence and consumed the sacrifice.

But the lesson of obedience was immediately followed by another powerful lesson on disobedience, was it not? And even the powerful position of Aaronic priesthood did not protect Nadab and Abihu from it.

Look at Leviticus 10:1. This is the first place in Leviticus that says they did something that the Hebrew says was: lo siwah otam, literally: Not commanded them. Or, not as God commanded them. The implication is that Nadab and Abihu were not ignorant of God’s commandments, but that they knew better. These two priests offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command.

Nadab and Abihu had God’s commandments and stood as God’s priests in God’s presence, representing God to the people… and what did they do? They disobeyed. Where was their fear of God when they took those censors and offered unauthorized fire?

We don’t know what they were thinking. We don’t know where they got their unauthorized fire. We don’t know ANYTHING of why they did this. What we do know is what Leviticus tells us they did and that it cost them their lives, on the spot. God struck them down. The people learned TWO important lessons this day. First, there is fear and joy in obedience. Second, there is fear and horror in disobedience. Both lessons about the fear of the Lord need to be established in us.

This reminds me of the New Testament event in Acts chapters 4-5. Right after Barnabus is publicly extolled for his generous faithfulness, Ananias and Sapphira lie to God and are both struck dead. The result is recorded for us in Acts 5:11. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

The fear of the Lord is established by awareness of God’s power and God’s punishment for those who disobey Him. The fear of the Lord motivates us to admonish one another. Paul said, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Has God established the fear of the Lord in your heart? Oswalt Chambers said, “Those who fear God fear nothing else, but those that do not fear God fear everything else.”

Hebrews 10:26-31 serves as a reminder. (Read).

In a world that mocks Christian faith and rewards worldliness and ungodliness, God’s people need to live and proclaim God’s word just as Paul did before Felix: Acts 24:24-25. See also Acts 2:36-37, 40-47.

Maybe it’s time God built a good dose of the fear of the Lord into His church again.