What does it mean to “fear the Lord?”

“Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  Proverbs 31:30

John Piper tells a story to illustrate “the fear of the Lord:”

Noël and the boys and I went out to Dick and Irene Tiegen’s place last week. They have a big dog as tall as Benjamin which greeted us with barks and growls from where he was chained. But after we were there and in the house with the dog, he was friendly. Then we went outside again and Irene gave the warning: Don’t run from him. But as Karsten was heading out to the car, the dog came trotting up behind, and instead of slowing down and petting the dog, Karsten started to run, and immediately the dog barked and growled. What a lesson in the fear of God. Irene was Moses and she says to us Israelites, the Piper family, “Do not fear to draw near, but keep the fear of the dog (the fear of the Lord) before your eyes, lest you try to run away (lest you start to fall into sin).” God is a joy to be near and a terror to those who flee. The comparison breaks down, however: Irene put the dog in the basement, but nobody puts God in the basement.

dog_chase_man1If you are running from God because you are afraid of him, then you are not yet as afraid as you ought to be. In fact, your very flight is a mockery of God, presuming to think that you could outrun this German shepherd.

dog hug


If you really fear him and love your own life, stop running, turn around, and hug his neck for dear life, and he will lick your face. The fear of the Lord is fear of fleeing out of his fellowship into the way of sin. Therefore the fear of the Lord is full of peace and security and hope. It keeps us near to the merciful heart of God, our fortress, our refuge, our sanctuary, our shield, our sun. Isaiah 8:13 says, “The Lord of Hosts, . . . let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, and he will become a sanctuary.” A proper fear of the Lord keeps us under the shadow of his wings where we need not be afraid.

Therefore the fear of the Lord is accompanied by tremendous blessing. Listen to the psalms. Psalm 25:14, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him; he makes known to them his covenant.” Psalm 31:19, “How abundant is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee, and wrought for those who take refuge in thee.” (Notice that fearing God and taking refuge in him are parallel. Those who keep the fear of God before their eyes will not run from him but take refuge in him.) Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.” Psalm 103:11, “As the heavens are high above the earth so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” Verse 13, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him.” (Hug his neck and he will lick your face.) Psalm 145:19, “He fulfills the desire of all who fear him.”

The promises God makes to those who fear him are so staggering that the summons to fear God and the summons to hope in God are inseparable. And so the psalmist puts them together, for example, in Psalm 33:18, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his mercy.” Psalm 147:11, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his mercy.” A woman who fears the Lord will not run away from God to satisfy her longings and relieve her anxieties. She will wait for the Lord. She will hope in God. She will stay close to the heart of God and trust in his promises. The prospect of departing into the way of sin will be too fearful to pursue; and the benefits of abiding in the shadow of the Almighty too glorious to forsake.


One thought on “What does it mean to “fear the Lord?”

  1. Reminds me of the story of Jonah..and look what happened to him for running to God. God wanted to use him in a profound way, but instead,he tried to hide and did not do as the Lord commanded. What’s more, when he finally did..he complained because the people repented and God turned away His anger and wrath. Oh, let us never, ever be Jonah’s!

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