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Fear

FEAR (יִרְאָה, H3711, יָרֵא֒, H3707; φόβος, φοβέω). Several Heb. words are tr. “fear” in the OT, the principal ones of which are yirah and yare, noun and verb respectively. Their meaning comprises “fear,” “dread,” “terror,” “timidity,” “wonderful,” “stupendous,” “reverence,” and “awe.” The chief Gr. words for fear are phobos and phobeo, also tr. “terror,” “alarm,” “reverence,” and “respect.”

Fear in the Bible, as in common parlance, is used in many ways, all of which fall into two categories. In one it is beneficial; in the other baneful. Hence, fear is either friend or foe. In its natural sense, innate fear serves as an alarm system, or an arousal, alerting one to impending danger. Consequently, the threatened may prepare for the appropriate reaction, to fight, to flee, or to freeze. Fear of this character is nature’s asset. Contrarily, if fear is not soon expelled, it sinks into the subconscious mind where it becomes “phobia,” which is an unhealthy condition. In modern scientific experiments with primates and children psychologists have learned that the principal sources of innate fear are darkness, loss of support, strange things, sudden noises, and snakes. All these are potentially beneficial or harmful, and all are found in the Bible either factually or fig. Numerous other objects of man’s fear may be added to this list, both from everyday life and the Bible. In the Scriptures clear distinction is made between what man should fear and should not fear.

1. Beneficial fear—the fear of God. The most prevalent use of fear in the Bible is the fear of God. Next to that is the fear of God’s people. The former is the reverential or awesome side of the fear spectrum. This fear is friend.

a. As religion of God’s people. The majesty and holiness of God cannot but incite fear in man. “God is clothed with terrible majesty. The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him” (Job 37:22-24). Anything of magnitude that dwarfs man by contrast incites fear in him. As man gazes into a deep canyon, or into limitless stellar space, or across a boundless ocean, he senses a feeling of awesome fear. How much more is this effect in the presence of God who is vastly greater than all these. As the psalmist meditated on this contrast he was amazed that God would be mindful of man (Ps 8:1-4). Similarly, God’s holiness transcends man’s character with like effects (Isa 6:5). Naturally then, the phrases, “the fear of God” and “the fear of the Lord” occur frequently in the Bible, particularly in the OT. The Heb. deity was awesome, so naturally the Israelites were constantly called on to “fear the Lord your God” (Deut 10:20). The admonition was an instrument with two edges, rewards and restraints.

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