"Fear the Lord and shun evil," we read in Proverbs 3:7-8. I have often wondered what it means to fear the Lord. What does that look like? Is it to be afraid, like when walking down a dark alley at night? Or to worry that something awful is going to happen to your loved ones? Somehow this cannot be what Solomon is talking about when writing Proverbs 3, nor any of the other biblical authors with the countless exhortations to fear the Lord that we see scattered throughout the Bible.
So what does it mean to "fear the Lord?” I was thinking of Esau and wondering how he could possibly be so hungry that he would give up his birthright. I mean, I have been hungry before, even really hungry, but it still seems implausible that I would give up my whole inheritance for one meal. What was really going on here? In biblical times, the birthright was typically associated with spiritual blessing. Hebrews 12:16 says Esau was "godless...who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son." So Esau wasn't simply just giving up a temporal, physical blessing, but rather a spiritual one. In the words of John Wesley, the birthright "being of a spiritual nature, his undervaluing it, was the greatest profaneness imaginable. It is egregious folly to part with our interest in God, and Christ, and heaven, for the riches, honors, and pleasures of this world." Esau had no fear of the Lord. He deemed spiritual things contemptuous by his actions. He preferred the immediate gratification of this world.
Maybe fearing the Lord looks like not disregarding the subtle spiritual blessings in the face of perceived obvious physical ones. I don't choose what will bring instant satisfaction or the fulfillment of my problems at that exact moment. I wait on the Lord. I fear him enough to let him work out his spiritual blessings in his own time, not mine. This is hard to do. But the fear of the Lord keeps me in check.
See how the people in the region of Gadarenes feared Jesus when he drove the demons out of the men and into the pigs? "The whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region" (Mt. 8:34). These people feared the power of Jesus. Just hours before, the disciples had watched him "rebuke the wind and the waves" (vs. 26). What kind of man is this? One who deserves to be feared. There is power in the name of Jesus.
We do not serve an impotent God. He is the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth; nothing is too difficult for Him. Father God, teach me more each day what it means to fear your name.
- Mary Matthias
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