Have you ever read a passage in the Bible and thought that it just doesn’t make any sense?
That happens to me… quite a bit and ironically enough, I believe the biblical writers did it on purpose so we would have to stop and dig deeper into the biblical text. Another reason is simply the difference between the ancient languages and modern English. Take Hebrew for instance… there are roughly 6000 Hebrew words compared to over 200,000 in modern English. That presents a problem, English words are very narrow in their definitions while Hebrew words often have multiple definitions for each word and the biblical writers wanted the reader to figure out the intended meanings by reading the context.
And sometimes they intend for multiple meanings to give us an understanding of the text. These next few posts are going to take a look at different Hebrew words and how they help us better understand the Bible.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “fear”? I think of various things, like irrational fears, terror, and being afraid. No matter the specific meaning we put on it, the word “fear” has a negative feel. So when we see “fear” in the Bible, it is easy to simply put the same negative feel to it. The word fear in Hebrew is Yirah (YEERah) and has several meanings. It can have a negative meaning like terror or dread, but it also has several positive meanings like respect, worship, awe or reverence.
And we have to read the text to determine which meanings the writers wanted us to use. Even in the New Testament, though much of it written in Greek, the Jewish writers would still implement the various meaning of their language.
Luke 2:9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
In the Luke passage, it seems pretty clear that the negative meaning of fear, is being used… and they were filled with great terror or dread
In the 1 John passage, the negative meaning of fear makes more sense. There is no dread or terror in love, perfect love drives out terror/dread
Then we come to Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. The awe/worship/respect/reverence of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…
When I was younger in my faith, I could not grasp why I should be afraid of God, but yet that is what the Bible says… understanding that it is also defined by reverence for God, changes things completely. In a very real sense, “fear of the Lord” is being profoundly aware of the awesome, holy presence of God. I believe even devout Jews today understand this. In many synagogues, over the ornate cabinets that hold the Torah scrolls is the phrase, Know Before Whom You Stand. This is the fear of the Lord… the awe and reverence of God.
May we be profoundly aware of whom we worship.