by Brad Beals
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
~ Psalm 34:9,10
Last week Allan Knapp helped us to answer the question, “What does wisdom look like?” Today I’d like to look at what one of David’s psalms tells us about fear.
When Isaiah receives his vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, the train of his robe filling the temple, he says, “Woe is me!” This is an appropriate response. Our sinful condition before a holy God should produce real fear. But that aspect of the fear of the Lord is not all that David is referring to in these verses.
Five times in Psalm 34 we read the word fear or fears. In the first instance David says that he sought the Lord and that the Lord delivered him from all of his fears (v.4). He is referring to the fears and troubles of the situation he was in. Chased by Saul from his own people and living with the Philistines, David lived every day for sixteen months on a knife’s edge between life and death.
The other four instances all refer to the fear of God. So what did David mean by that? In verse 7 we read this: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” So God delivers those who fear Him.
Now look back at the verses above. There’s a logical structure that tells us what the fear of God is: “…those who fear him have no lack… those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” By ordering the phrases in this parallel way, David surprises us by saying that those who fear God don’t run from him; Rather, those who fear Him, seek Him.
And just in case we’re missing the subtle connections, David comes right out and says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” The second half of the psalm then unpacks this teaching. First we’re told to “turn away from evil and do good” and to “seek peace and pursue it.” Then he makes a distinction between those who fear God (the “righteous who cry for help”, “the broken hearted” and “crushed in spirit”) and the wicked (“those who hate the righteous”). Both will see afflictions, but those who fear God will be delivered from them, while those who do not fear God will be slain and condemned by those afflictions. The psalm ends with the promise that “none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
So if fearing God means seeking God, aren’t we just redefining fear? No. The same Hebrew root for fear (yarah, the noun form and yirah the verb) that we see in these verses is also used throughout Scripture to describe the fear of people and things that aren’t God: Esau, Og king of Bashan, the nations of Canaan, wild animals, the Assyrian, the words of men, fear itself (maybe FDR had Proverbs 3:25 in mind), even snow! The word still means to be afraid of something that might harm or destroy. Proverbs 9:10 tells that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Such fear of God — real, heart-pounding, turn-your-hair-white fear — leads us to repentance and to God’s mercy. Where else can wisdom begin but in a right relationship with God?
So while Psalm 34 teaches that the fear of God is more than the terror we might feel when facing a lion, it also teaches that fear is not less than that. God is terrible in holiness and worthy of the real response of terror. And God is wonderfully good and absolutely faithful to those who take refuge in Him. What is that refuge? It is the righteousness of God. It is Christ himself.
Do you want to be delivered from all your fears? Then fear God. Turn away from evil and seek the Lord. Run to Christ, and he will deliver you!