Meditations on the fear of the Lord from Psalm 128:
“Blessed are all who fear the Lord…” What does this phrase mean, to fear the Lord? Does it mean that we are to live in terror of God, that if we step out of line at any point he may decide to squash us? Does it mean that he is some kind of tyrant king who demands allegiance without deserving it? Can we fear God and still love him since 1st John 4:18 says that “there is no fear in love?” Here we are at a disadvantage because of our culture and our language. We have a very limited understanding of the term “fear” and we use it mainly with negative connotations. Yet in the Bible, to fear the Lord is a very good thing. It means to honor him, to reverence him, to even have friendship with him. Ps 25:14 says that the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him. To fear the Lord then means to know him as he truly is, a perfect, holy God who is all powerful and a righteous judge, yet instead of running in terror from him, we draw near in worship and affection and obedience to his word. Here Psalm 128 fleshes out the fear of the Lord a little more for us in the second line, blessed is everyone “who walks in his ways.” To fear the Lord is to know him as he is, and to live according to his desires and character, to live in a way that lines up with who God is and what his laws are.
In years past I read a history of the Atlantic ocean. I was struck as I read it by the many descriptions of men who had made their living from the ocean. I was struck in particular by their relationship to the ocean. Picture a salty New England fisherman who makes his living from the sea. His very livelihood and life are dependent on the ocean. And so he studies it and he knows it. Over the years he comes to know its character and its moods, its patterns and its warnings. He knows that the ocean is incredibly more powerful than he is and so he respects it, he does not treat it lightly or carelessly. He has lost friends and neighbors to storms over the years. He knows that life on the sea is dangerous, and yet given the chance for a life on land he would not take it. The ocean has his heart. Yes, it is powerful and dangerous, but it is also beautiful, captivating, and life-giving. This fisherman and countless men throughout the centuries have had a relationship with the sea of both fear and love, right respect and affection. These things can go hand in hand, and I find this a helpful picture of our relationship with God. The sea is massive and powerful. God is infinitely more massive, powerful, and unchanging. He is the way that He is. We disregard God and his character at our own peril. There is a way to safely approach the ocean. There is a way to safely approach the God of the universe and even to find our very life in him, to love him. Most think that we can approach God based on our own record of good deeds. But this is like trusting in your doggy-paddling skills deep out in the ocean when a hurricane is coming. We cannot approach God’s holiness standing on our own self-righteousness, saturated as it is with our sin. His holiness is not compatible with sin, it will destroy us. We must have an ark, a covering of righteousness that will enable us to walk with him in holiness, with the fear of respect and love, but without the fear of punishment. To fear the Lord means to approach him clothed in his righteousness, the righteousness that comes through faith in his promises. This is how the Old Testament saints approached him.