Our vernacular languages are always in a state of change; always adding new words, dropping old word and changing the meanings of words over time as they are ‘reinvented’ for another generation. Indeed, the Oxford Dictionary of English added 39 new words or new word-phrases in 2010. Reading the Bible, therefore, especially the earlier versions, becomes more taxing as time passes, as the old original meanings pass into obscurity and are replaced with nuanced or radically changed, modern usages.
One of the word-phrases used in daily in the Church is “fearing God,” or having a “fear of God.” As in: “to be a good God fearing Christian.” The meanings and intent are the same here.
Let us look at an example of this from Genesis 22:12 from the Modern King James Version, “And He said, Do not lay your hand on the lad, nor do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.” (Emphasis added). If we look back 450 years to the Bishop’s Bible of 1,565AD, we still find the words as a recognisable “fearest God,” which is exactly the same wording as the current King James Version. The words have remained almost unchanged in English for 450 years, but what about the meaning? The “fear” in Genesis 22:13 is from the Hebrew word ירא “yârê’” meaning fearing, fearful or morally reverent. Thus the meaning has not changed either since it was first written thousands of years ago.
Why is it that the phrase “fearing God” makes us so uncomfortable, that we feel that we cannot possibly be understanding it correctly? Could it be, that we are taught these days only about a “Loving God”; a God of Love who could surely not possibly be “fearful,” could He? You know the images of Christ which adorn Christmas cards; the cute baby Jesus in the manger. You know the images of Christ which adorn Churches; the haloed golden haired angelic faced Christ with peachy soft skin and complexion. All these world views of Jesus Christ affect how we interpret the Bible and how we understand Jesus and His Father, whether we like it or not. To know the truth, we need to immerse ourselves in the Word.
In Genesis 22:12, God is commending Abraham as He tells Abraham, “I know you fear me, because you obeyed me.” If we recall the action immediately prior to this passage, we know that God had just tested Abraham and Abraham passed the test. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, whom God knew Abraham loved dearly. Because Abraham was willing to obey God, God says in v17-18 “I have sworn by Myself, says Jehovah; because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one; that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore. And your Seed shall possess the gate of His enemies. And in your Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” God not only acknowledged obedience, but he blessed and blesses obedience.
We must remember here that Abraham already was acknowledged as believing in God; such that in Genesis 15:16 we read “And he believed in Jehovah. And He counted it to him for righteousness.” Indeed, he is the only person in the Bible who was counted righteous, other than Jesus Christ Himself. Yet, although God knew Abraham believed and truly believed, he was still tested. He was tested to see if he would obey God and give up the thing most dear to him on earth – Isaac, his son.
In acknowledging Abraham’s passing of the test, God did not say “now I know that you really love God” or “now I know you really trust God” or “now I know you truly believe God” or “now I know you really will serve God.” No, he said, ”now I know that you fear God.”
This is the first test of God: Do you fear me? Or, will you obey me? Will you give up your most cherished possession, just because I say so? When I call your name, will you drop what you are doing and come to me?
This is the relationship of any child and their Father. The father offers love: agape love, unending love, unconditional love. The child responds in the same way. But they are not equals. One is the father and the other the child. For the child to receive all this love, the child must obey the father. “I love you: obey me.” This is the father to child relationship which we are to follow. This is the relationship which we need to have with our Father, our God. We need to come to Him in love and fear, just as He asks of us. We need to come to Him in love and obedience, just as He asks of us.
When we have obedience, we have faith; for obedience is the measure of faith. (Romans 1:5 & 16:26). Let us remember the words of Mark 9:23: “Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
I pray that You will take away all my unbelief. I pray that you will teach me to love You, to fear You, to obey You; for You and You alone are my Lord and God. I lay down my will before You and ask You to let Your will reign in my life, today and forever.
In Jesus name I pray, Amen and Amen