Sunday, January 11, 2015

“I will teach you the fear of the Lord

I’ve read Psalm 34 many times (34:6 is one of my favorite promises) but the other night I noticed something new: verse 11 has the phrase “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

The fear of the Lord is important: the Proverbs tell us it’s the beginning of wisdom. A corrupt society, a corrupt people, are described as having no fear of God. So having the fear of the Lord is definitely an asset.

Ron Ritchie preached at least once on this. If memory serves, he said that he researched the phrase in the original language of the Scriptures, and found that what it really means is… to fear the Lord. (Preachers love saying things like that.) He gave an illustration: when he suddenly found himself thrown across his hotel room, he developed a fear of, or a healthy respect for, the power of electricity.

I’ll guess that Pastor Ron had some fear of electricity before that incident, but that he developed more fear, a healthier respect, afterward. Similarly, though many of us have some fear of the Lord, I suppose we’d be better off with a better-informed fear, a healthier respect, for him.

David offers to teach the fear of the Lord to his readers, and I’d like to take him up on it. Here’s the passage:

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
        blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
        for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
        but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
        I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
       and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
        and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
        seek peace and pursue it.
                                                           Psalm 34:8–14
According to the NIV Study Bible, “I will teach you…” is the focus of verses 8–14. In my naïveté, I would have thought to start at verse 11, but then I remembered that the biblical authors usually put their main point in the middle of the passage rather than the beginning (as seen for example in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Ken Bailey). And it may be that verse 11 is the focus of the entire psalm, which is 22 verses long.

So what does David tell us to do as he tries to teach us the fear of the Lord?

  • Taste and see that the Lord is good

    It’s good for me to remember that every good thing in life comes from my heavenly father: the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, the forgiveness of sins, God’s presence, food, clothing, shelter, family, work, friendship, and so on. To count my blessings, as the song says.

  • Take refuge in him

    It’s important for me to remember that safety and security and peace come from God; they do not come from my investments, the locks on my doors, or the Department of Homeland Security.

    As another psalm (psalm 33 actually) says, a horse is a vain hope for deliverance.

  • Watch your speech

    Death and life are in the power of the tongue, as the Proverbs (18:21) say. This shouldn’t surprise us. How did God create the heavens and the earth? By speaking: “Let there be light,” he said, and there was light; then “Let the waters… be gathered in one place and let the dry land appear… Let the earth bring forth living creatures…” and so on, and then he created humanity in his image, according to his likeness. Part of that likeness is the power of speech, by which we can bless or curse our fellows, as James 3 says.

    We can bring evil into the world by speaking it; when we lie, we run the risk of starting to believe our own false words. When we suppress the truth, we bring evil rather than blessing into the world, and we become less able to know and fear God, and less sensitive to the truth.

  • Turn from evil and do good

    A few lines above this we read, “Fear the Lord…,” and surely that would include the idea of doing what he says, or to use an unpopular word, obeying him. This is really important because it enables us to know what God wants. Now my natural tendency is to say, “what does God want?” and then decide if I’m willing to do it. Jesus says that won’t work well: In John 7, he said, “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether I’m speaking from God or making all this stuff up.” And in John 14, he says that to those who obey his teaching, he will reveal himself (14:21) and make his home (14:23) with them.

    In other words, we must first decide to obey, and then we become able to learn what God wants, not the other way round.

  • Seek peace and pursue it

    The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this, particularly about speech. “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (15:1), “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (15:18), “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty…” (16:32) and so on. And the Apostle Paul urges us to live at peace with everyone, and not to take revenge (Romans 12:18-19).

So to develop the fear of the Lord, I plan to make every effort to:
  • remember the Lord—he alone is the one who makes me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8)—and his blessings
  • obey what I know of God’s will, which includes watching my speech (cf. Ephesians 4:29) and being a man of peace

And Peter says…

This morning at church we looked at what 1 Peter says about fear. We are instructed there to fear God (2:17) but not to fear what others fear (3:1, 3:14). Someone has observed that anyone who fears the Lord is freer from every other fear. Not completely free maybe, but freer than they would otherwise be.

This put me in mind of the place where the Lord tells Jeremiah, “Do not be terrified by them, lest I terrify you before them” (Jeremiah 1:17). He also tells Ezekiel (a bit more mildly) not to be afraid of the “rebellious house” of Israel (Ezekiel 2:6).

So that's what I know: remember the Lord and his blessings, do what I know I should, and fear the Lord (not man).

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