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“The Good Fear”

Proverbs 14:2 and others
Bob DeGray
July 6, 2003

Key Sentence

Like sunlight for a seed, so is the fear of the Lord for a soul.


I. Fear of the Lord leads away from evil
II. Fear of the Lord leads toward knowledge and blessing
III. Fear of the Lord leads to trust in the Lord.


        I’m sure many of us have seen the Moody Science films that use time lapse photography to reveal the growth and motion of plants. I couldn’t get a digital version of those films, but I did get some other clips that help us recognize the role of light in plant motions. Here’s a clip that shows the germination of a corn seed. Notice the two seeds are placed upside down relative to each other. But the root will grow down, then the plant will grow up, no matter how we orient the seed. ( God has designed these seeds so that the plant seeks the light and grows up into it.

        Even after germination, plants continue to seek light. Here is a clip of sunflower seedlings which are suddenly exposed to a new light at the left edge of their bed. Notice how they all move toward the light. ( Even the leaves of plants show this desire for the light. The next clip shows the motions of bean plant leaves from day to night to day again. The leaves literally reach for the sunlight. (

        OK, what’s the point of this? How does it relate to our topic from Proverbs, the fear of the Lord? The point is that plants seek sunlight because it is the source of life. If a plant grew into the soil or turned away from the sunshine, it wouldn’t survive. The desire for light guides the plant away from darkness and towards growth and health. In the same way the fear of the Lord guides us away from evil and toward spiritual growth and health. Like sunlight for a seed, so is the fear of the Lord for a soul. We’re going to see today that the fear of the Lord leads away from evil, that it leads toward knowledge and blessing, and that ultimately it leads to trust in the Lord.

        Let’s begin by very briefly re-defining the fear of the Lord. We’ve done this off and on for ten years as a church, most recently just a few weeks ago during one of the early messages of this series. But the attitudes associated with the fear of the Lord are so important I want touch on them again. Fear of the Lord is first of all, awe, of him and of his works, of the power that created and sustains the universe. An example in Scripture is Exodus 15:11 "Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” The word awesome is the common Biblical word for fear - in many places it is translated ‘awe’ or ‘awesome’ when it’s appropriate. But the Scripture also uses the word fear when people honor God by their worship. In the law of Moses there are places where the words ‘worship’ and ‘fear’ are interchangeable. For example, Deuteronomy 14:23 “You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” - we would have expected it to say worship. The awe of God’s power and might leads to worship.

        Third, the fear of the Lord is true fear - fear of his judgment, knowing that his wrath at sin is both just and real. In Malachi 3:5 God says “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me.” It is perfectly right, even as believers, if we harbor sin in our lives, to fear the Lord’s judgement. You see fear of the Lord is, finally, respect for him - and that respect shows up in obedience. There are countless verses that link fear and obedience. For example Psalm 112:1 “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.” When we truly fear, obedience is our delight. You see fear is not intended to be terror: the fear of the Lord is practical awe that impacts our lives.

        Proverbs itself, however, is not directly concerned about what the fear of the Lord is: rather it focuses on what the fear of the Lord does, and that’s what we’ll focus on today. First, like sunshine drawing up a seed out of the darkness, the fear of the Lord draws us away from evil. There are a number of verses we can use to show this truth. First on the list might be Proverbs 8:13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. The person speaking in this verse is Wisdom, personified in chapter 8 of Proverbs. Wisdom hates pride, arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech, which is a pretty good list of things to hate. So the verse is telling us that the person who fears the Lord will hate these evils; he will hate these things in himself, and stay far away from them.

        Proverbs frequently contrasts the fear of the Lord with the pursuit of evil. For example, Proverbs 10:27 The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short. Here one of the natural consequences of fearing the Lord is revealed - the person who fears the Lord stays out of the kind of trouble that shortens lives. And according to this verse, the person who does not fear the Lord is wicked. So fear of the Lord will lead me away from wickedness. They are opposites.

        Here it is again in Proverbs 14:2 He whose walk is upright fears the Lord, but he whose ways are devious despises him. If you fear the Lord you will walk in uprightness or righteousness, but if you despise the Lord you will have devious ways, which in the Hebrew implies not just craftiness but sinful crookedness. If you are giving yourself subtle permission to continue in the path of sin, that’s deceit. It means that you despise the Lord rather than fearing him - not a very comfortable place to be.
        The same kind of warning is found in Proverbs 28:14 Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. I’ve said many time in the past few years that I think one of the most dangerous symptoms of spiritual trouble is when we harden our hearts toward our sin. I’ve seen way too many cases where a person’s heart could not be reached even by pleading for them to do right, because they had hardened it in one way or another.

        This verse shows that we can prevent that by the fear of the Lord. The person who has a soft heart toward the Lord, who has respect and awe, takes the Lord seriously about sin. More than that, a soft hearted person reaches out to the Lord in worship, in prayer, in conviction, and in hearing and responding to God’s word. A person whose heart is becoming hard will find himself losing some or all of these relational skills. We need to examine ourselves for a soft heart that shows we fear the Lord.

        The fear of the Lord is one of the means by which he helps us avoid evil. Several verses reinforce this basic truth. Proverbs 14:27 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. The author of Proverbs uses the phrase ‘a fountain of life’ several times. It’s a great image, of water leaping and playing in the sunshine, fresh water that gives life and health. In a dry land like Israel, flowing water was a great blessing. A thousand years later Jesus used the same image when he said. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” It’s possible that the Scripture Jesus refers to is this verse, Proverbs 14:27, implying that Jesus sees ‘the fear of the Lord’ and ‘believing in him’ as related concepts. We don’t find the fear of the Lord much in the New Testament, but we find believing or trusting Jesus a whole lot. Fear of the Lord is one of the things that leads to this trusting faith.

        Finally, Proverbs 16:6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil. This is an interesting verse. The most obvious way to read it is that through a person’s own love and faithfulness they atone for their own sin. But as believers we know that our sin is atoned for by Jesus, by his death on the cross, by his love and his faithfulness. Could that possibly be what the writer of Proverbs intended? I think you can make a pretty good case that the Lord is the one whose love and faithfulness atone for our sins simply because in almost all the uses of this ‘love and faithfulness’ it refers to the Lord. In Hebrew this is ‘chesed’, God’s loving kindness and covenant loyalty, ‘va emeth’, God’s faithfulness or truth. ‘Chesed’ appears hundreds of times in the Old Testament describing God, and it appears with ‘emeth’ thirty times, almost all of those describing God. So we might, legitimately, read this verse ‘through the Lord’s love and faithfulness our sin is atoned for and through fear of the Lord - awe at His atoning deeds - a man avoids evil. The last half of the verse says exactly what we’ve been saying in this whole section - through the fear of the Lord a man is drawn away or led away from evil.

        But that’s not the only effect of the fear of the Lord. It also draws us toward knowledge and blessing. Two very well known verses in Proverbs highlight this. Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. In these two famous formulations, we are told that wisdom and knowledge have their foundation in the fear of the Lord.

        Why? Because God is the most important variable in any life; you can’t make wise decisions if you don’t take God into account. Trying to be wise without the fear of the Lord is like trying to fly cross country without consulting a weather map. You’ve neglected a key factor in your planning. Or it’s like trying to grow plants in the dark - you’ve left out what is essential for growth. If you try to live wisely without the fear of the Lord you will not get it totally right. God, and his desires, and his plans for you are the most important factor influencing your life, whether you take Him into account or not. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom, which is in turn the foundation for right living.

        Yet Proverbs also asserts that the reverse is true: that as we grow in knowledge of God and wisdom we also grow in the fear of the Lord. This is Solomon’s thesis in chapter 2 of Proverbs: Proverbs 2:1-5 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Solomon tells us that we are to seek wisdom and understanding and insight with our ears, our hearts, our voices and our eyes, crying out and searching for these things. If we do, we’ll find a deeper understanding of what it means to fear the Lord. This is a very practical truth, because it says that the more you know God the more you will fear God - your awe, your respect, your worship, your obedience will all grow through the knowledge of God. Proverbs implies and the rest of Scripture confirms that the path to this knowledge is simply to spend time reading and studying the Bible, because there God is revealed. Let me remind you of that study I heard at the Free Church conference last summer. Someone was trying to see if length of time as a believer correlated to maturity. Not surprisingly, they found it didn’t. But they did find something that did: length of time spent in the Word. People who had spent three years or more in consistent daily Bible time were higher in every measure of spiritual maturity used in the study. They had grown in wisdom for right living and, undoubtedly, in the fear of the Lord.

        So the fear of the Lord leads to knowledge of God - and vice versa. The fear of the Lord also leads to blessing. As with most blessings in Proverbs, this is a very practical outcome. Proverbs 14:26 He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. We’ve have already focused our hearts this morning in worship on the fact that God is our mighty fortress and our refuge. But this verse tells us that God becomes our refuge as we hold him in awe, and honor him. Not only that, but those of us who are parents have a great motivation to fear the Lord because our fear of God makes our families a safe place for our children. You can see how that works, can’t you? A home will be a safe place when those who lead it are walking in awe and respect of God and especially obedience to Him. Such a family is secure no matter what may happen to them circumstantially.

        Proverbs 19:23 reinforces this truth. The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Here the blessing that comes from the fear of the Lord is life itself - spiritual life, eternal life, abundant life, all kinds of real living. Those with this life are ‘content’ and ‘untouched by trouble.’ I don’t think this means they won’t have trouble, but that in the midst of troubles and even trials the fear of the Lord gives perspective and center and peace that transcends trouble. The verse reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Later Paul says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Paul would say that contentment cames from faith in Jesus. Solomon would say it is a result of ‘the fear of the Lord.’

        Which brings us again to our final thought, that fear of the Lord leads to trust in the Lord. Perhaps the key verse that links these two concepts is Proverbs 29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. In the first half we have ‘fear of man’, that is, basing our actions and behaviors on what we think people would approve of, running scared and living in paralysis for fear of losing our jobs, our approval, our so-called friends. In our culture we call one aspect of this ‘peer pressure’ and as the Proverb says, it can be a snare. It has been a snare for many who couldn’t break away from what their friends believed and practiced. Its not just young people who are snared: all of us can be pressured to do things we know aren’t right by these fears: at work, and even in our families or at church.

        But what is the opposite of ‘fear of man’ in this verse? We would expect it to be fear of the Lord, and that would be a reasonable expectation because we’ve already seen that fear of the Lord, like sunlight to a seedling, is a powerful force to draw us away from evil and to lead us toward knowledge of God and blessing. But it doesn’t say ‘fear of the Lord’ it says ‘trust in the Lord’ - whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Fear of the Lord and trust in the Lord must be similar. In fact, fear must lead to trust. As we get to know the Lord better, as we begin to be in awe of what he has done, to worship, to respect his desire and to obey, we have to recognize more and more that we can trust him, that only he is worthy of our faith.

        This concept of trusting in the Lord is common in Proverbs. In Proverbs 22:19 the author of Proverbs says so that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you. Again, this is a place where we would have expected him to say ‘so you may fear the Lord’, but he says ‘so you may trust’ the Lord. The same thing is true in Proverbs 16:20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. We’ve already seen that Proverbs links knowledge of the Lord, obtained through Scripture, with a growing fear of the Lord. But here one who heeds instruction is parallel to one who trusts in the Lord. To truly fear the Lord, to take him seriously and respect him, each of us must learn to trust Him.

        One of the most well known verses in Proverbs teaches that trust in the Lord is blessed. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; 6in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. The fear of the Lord leads to this kind of trust - only as we stand in awe of who he is and of his works will we begin to realize that his plans and ways are far above our understanding and far better than our imagining. As we submit our lives to him, he blesses - he gives us straight paths that we are able to walk on. The key is trust - practical daily trust that God will provide. I had a simple life example just this week. On Thursday I was stuck at the church, because the little car is in the shop and Gail was down in Galveston visiting the Mulvahills. But I decided consciously to trust that God would give me a ride home so that I could have dinner with Mom. No one showed up until it was really close to dinner time. Then Rich Boyd came and I asked him for a ride home. Instead of just a ride, we went to his house and he loaned me Jesse’s truck, which has been a blessing this weekend. God makes a way where we don’t see one if we’re patient enough to trust in him.

        Isn’t that the same thing Proverbs 28:25-26 says? A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. 26He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe. A greedy person always reaches out to take hold of his own good, to grab whatever passes by and say ‘this is mine’. But the person who trusts in the Lord trusts His provision: he is willing to wait, he doesn’t feel the need to hoard or grab hold of what is rightfully someone else’s. In the same way, verse 26, he who trusts in himself is a fool. What we so often fail to realize in our egotism and pride is what a thin string we hang on when we trust only in ourselves. It’s like lowering a piano from a window suspended by a chain of cooked spaghetti. It’s not going to work. Trusting in God is lowering that piano suspended from a strong steel cable. He who walks in that kind of wisdom is secure.

        So the fear of the Lord leads us to a decision point: will we put our trust in God or will we continue to trust in ourselves? Proverbs teaches us that trusting in ourselves and going our own way is entirely unprofitable. Proverbs often calls this foolishness, but the rest of Scripture also calls it sin. When we go our own way, doing what we want rather than what God wants, acting out our egotism and pride, our greed and selfishness, we sin - we rebel against the way God has designed people to act. And we all do it - each of our relationships is a constant struggle between selfishness, which is sin, and selflessness, which is God’s way. And if you’re at all honest with yourself, you know that far too often selfishness wins the day. But when you are sinfully selfish you not only hurt others, isolating yourself from relationships on a horizontal level, but you also hurt God, you separate yourself from Him, because He is pure and holy. So those who rebel against him by sinning earn what they seem to want, which is to be isolated in a world where self, rather than God is the center. When, by selfishness, we isolate ourselves through life and into death, we reap what we have sown - we remain isolated for eternity. Scripture calls this ‘hell’.

        But what is the alternative? Proverbs has told us: ‘fear the Lord’ ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart’. The fear of the Lord leads us to trust because we stand in awe of who God is and what God has done, especially that He has seen our isolation, our selfishness, our greed, our pride and because he loves us he has not been content to leave us that way. Instead, in love, he sent his Son to die on the cross to take the penalty and to bear the separation we deserved. In a few minutes we’re going to celebrate communion. We’re going to remember his body broken for us, his blood shed for us. Jesus paid the ultimate price of death and of separation from his Father, receiving the just penalty of sin so that we wouldn’t have to experience these things: he died so we might live, he was separated from the Father for a time so that we might be with the Father for eternity, he was punished so that we might go free. The fear of the Lord teaches us to stand in awe at the communion table - to see what God has done, his marvelous works on our behalf and to have wonder in the very pit of our stomachs over such an amazing love from an amazing God.

        So sin separates us from God, Jesus dies to heal that separation. How does God expect us to respond? Certainly with Godly fear over our predicament, with wonder and awe over God’s love, ultimately with trust. The fear of the Lord leads to trust. This Hebrew word is the primary Old Testament word for a concept we are very familiar with from the New Testament called believing. Where the Psalmist says “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” the New Testament will say ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.’ It is trust, faith, believing, that the Bible over and over identifies as the key to salvation. We trust that what Jesus did on the cross is intended to rescue us from ourselves, is sufficient to rescue us and is the only way we individually can be rescued from our sin, our selfishness, our separation. Trust means believing that what Jesus has done he has done for you, because he loves you and because he wants to be with you for eternity.

        This trust is where the fear of the Lord is intended to take you. This is the ultimate benefit of fearing God. Yea, the fear of the Lord will draw you away from evil, the fear of the Lord will bring you blessing, but only if you allow it to cause you to trust him for salvation: there is no other way out of evil, there is no other path to blessing, except to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. So let’s spend the remainder of this service in worship and in fear, standing in awe of a righteous and holy God, looking with wonder on what he’s done - his body broken, his blood shed, and responding in faith, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation.