Proverbs 9:10 says, “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.”
Fear of God demonstrates wisdom and understanding because it reveals a heart that obeys God. Disobedience shows foolishness because it uncovers a heart that does not fear God. Regardless of the education and degrees people have, if they do not fear God, they have no wisdom.
God said, “Observe (My commands and statutes) carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’”Deuteronomy 4:6
Israel’s obedience to God even demonstrated their wisdom and understanding to the surrounding pagan nations.
Was Abraham Wise or Foolish?
If people knew what Abraham planned to do with his son, Isaac, which words might they use to describe his actions? Foolish, irrational, and even evil, but Abraham’s actions were wise. Regardless of how it looks to others, obedience always demonstrates wisdom.
And the Angel of the Lord said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”Genesis 22:12
The verse is not worded the way we would expect. Since God commanded Abraham to sacrifice “(his) only son, whom (he loved),” we would expect the Angel to say, “…now I know that you love God.” Instead, the Angel of the Lord focused on Abraham’s fear of God.
In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” Scripture teaches that love for God leads to obedience, but it also teaches that fear of God produces obedience, and an absence of fear of God creates disobedience.
Pharaoh’s Failure to Fear God
And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Entreat the Lord, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”Exodus 9:27–30
So Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you will not yet fear the Lord God.”
Moses said he would bring the seventh plague, hail, to an end, but he also knew Pharaoh would return to his old ways—he would repent of his repentance. As a result, three more plagues would follow. Pharaoh would continue to disobey because he did “not yet fear the Lord God.”
Saul’s Failure to Fear God
Saul disobeyed when God told him to “utterly destroy (the Amalekites and) all that they have” (1 Samuel 15:3). He “spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and (was) unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:9). Saul was willing to destroy everything he did not want, but he kept what he wanted. God sent the prophet Samuel to rebuke Saul.
First Samuel 15:24 records: “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” We obey the one we fear. Saul obeyed the people because he feared them more than God. Saul would have obeyed God if he feared God more than the people.
The Hebrew Midwives’ Fear of God
When the nation of Israel multiplied greatly in Egypt, Pharaoh became afraid of them. He commanded the Hebrew midwives: “When you… see (the Hebrew women) on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live” (Exodus 1:16).
Unlike Saul, the Hebrew midwives feared God more than they feared man. Exodus 1:17 records, “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.” Whatever we fear has power over us. If we fear God, we will obey God. If we fear man, we will obey man.
Fear of God Removes Sin
God brought Israel to the base of Sinai because His presence resided on the mountain. Considering everything He did to get them to this point—including delivering them from Egypt and parting the Red Sea—we would expect Him to be friendly and welcoming. Instead:
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”Exodus 20:18–19
God put on a display that so terrified the Israelites they thought His voice would kill them. Moses explained God’s motivation in:
And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”Exodus 20:20
Moses told Israel their terror was good! Yes, God wanted to keep them away from the mountain so they would not be killed if they touched it, but He also wanted to build fear into them so they “may not sin.”
While Israel was at the base of Sinai, God also gave them the law. The law itself communicated that fear of God would prevent disobedience: “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:14). If Israel feared God, they would obey in many ways such as treating people well.
The Fear of God Produces Obedience
After the twelve spies returned from scouting out the Promised Land, they led the nation to rebel against God. Ten of the spies convinced the people God wanted to murder them. Numbers 14:3 records the people’s accusation: “Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” Here is part of God’s response:
“As I live,” says the Lord… “the carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, and all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above… You shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.”Numbers 14:28–31
God caused Israel to wander so the adults who accused Him of murder could die in the wilderness. The children—whom the adults accused God of wanting to murder—could enter; however, they had not received the law as their parents had. Thus, God gave the law to the children too. This is recorded in Deuteronomy, which fittingly means, “Second Law.”
When Moses gave the law to the new generation, he established the relationship between fear of God and obedience:
“Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.”Deuteronomy 8:6
“Walking in God’s ways” is synonymous with obedience, and it is produced by fearing Him. The psalmist said something similar:
“Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.”Psalm 128:1
Fear of God and obedience to God go together. Moses said:
“Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law.”Deuteronomy 31:12
The entire nation had to be gathered so they would learn to fear God, because this would lead to their obedience. God made the same point through the prophets:
“I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.”Jeremiah 32:40
While love might keep God’s people near Him, fear keeps them from “(departing) from (Him).” In Jeremiah 2:19, God said Israel abandoned Him because they did not fear Him: “You have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of Me is not in you.” Like a protective wall, the fear of God keeps us close to Him.
Fear of God Strengthens
Churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.Acts 9:31
Fear of God strengthened the early church.Paul commands us to pursue holiness because we fear God:
Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.2 Corinthians 7:1
If we fear God, we will obey Him and that means purifying ourselves from whatever defiles us. Fear of God has a cleansing effect, producing holiness in us. Wickedness naturally becomes loathsome to those who fear God:
- Proverbs 8:13—“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
- Proverbs 16:6—“By the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (see also Proverbs 3:7).
David Wilkerson said:
“What produces a consistent, lasting obedience? I am convinced that godly, loving obedience springs from one source: the fear of the living God! I’m going to make a very bold statement: I believe it is impossible to consistently walk in obedience and holiness unless you have the fear of God in your heart. If you don’t have the fear of God, you will eventually believe that God is easy on sin. You’ll think that you can sin all you want. You’ll get on a merry-go-round of ‘sin, confess, sin, confess’—and you’ll say to yourself, ‘I’ll just run back to Jesus and make it right. He’ll forgive me at any moment!’”Wilkerson, David. “Love, Fear, and Obedience.” World Challenge. August 17, 1992.
How Do We Develop Fear of God?
Fear of God comes from knowledge of God. The greater our knowledge of God, the greater our fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In Deuteronomy 17:18–20 God commanded kings:
Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.
Kings had plenty of servants, but God commanded them to write a copy of the law for themselves. They had to keep it with them and read it throughout their lives. The result? They would “learn to fear God,” which came from their knowledge of God. Then they would “observe all the words of (the) law” and “not turn aside from (obeying).”
John received a vision of the glorified Christ:
His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.”Revelation 1:14–17
Something similar took place with Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration ( see also Genesis 17:3, Numbers 16:22, Ezekiel 1:28, and Acts 9:4):
(Jesus) was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light… A bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”Matthew 17:2, 5–7
These visions provide an excellent knowledge of Jesus because they reveal His glory. Throughout Jesus’ earthly life His glory was veiled, but the Transfiguration was the one instance He allowed it to shine forth. During the rest of His earthly life, He was physically the Son of Man, but at the Transfiguration, He revealed Himself as the Son of God. The knowledge of who Jesus is caused the witnesses to collapse in fear. So great was the fear created that in both accounts Jesus tenderly touched them and offered encouraging words.
If we saw the glorified Christ, the fear of Him would create greater obedience throughout the rest of our lives. When you know the God of the Bible—His “goodness and severity” (Romans 11:22)—how can you not be motivated to obey Him? Hebrews 12:28–29 says, “Serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” The author of Hebrews motivated his readers to service and obedience with imagery that drives fear into all but the most foolish people.
- Do you feel motivated to obey God because of your love for Him, your fear of Him, or both?
- Provide two scriptural examples of people who exhibited fear of God through obedience.
- Provide two examples from Scripture of people who showed a lack of fear of God through disobedience.
- How does fear of God “(perfect) holiness” in us as described in 2 Corinthians 7:1?
- Which verses or accounts in Scripture cause you to fear God?
- How does obeying God demonstrate wisdom? How does disobeying Him demonstrate foolishness?
The text in this post is from A Father Offers His Son: The True and Greater Sacrifice Revealed Through Abraham and Isaac, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to exalt Christ and strengthen people’s relationships with Him!