Be Wise—Fear God!
“The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom.”—PROVERBS 9:10.
1. Why do many find the concept of fearing God hard to understand?
THERE was a time when it was considered a compliment to describe someone as God-fearing. Today, many find the concept of fearing God quaint but hard to understand. ‘If God is love,’ they may ask, ‘why should I fear him?’ To them, fear is a negative, even paralyzing, emotion. True fear of God, however, has a much broader meaning and, as we shall see, is not just a feeling or an emotion.
2, 3. What does genuine fear of God include?
2 In Biblical usage the fear of God is a positive concept. (Isaiah 11:3) It is a profound reverence and deep respect for God, a strong desire not to displease him. (Psalm 115:11) It includes acceptance of and strict adherence to God’s moral standards and a desire to live by what God says is right or wrong. One reference work points out that such a wholesome fear expresses “a fundamental attitude toward God that leads to wise behavior and the avoidance of every form of evil.” Appropriately, God’s Word tells us: “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom.”—Proverbs 9:10.
3 Indeed, the fear of God encompasses a wide range of human experience. It is associated not only with wisdom but also with joy, peace, prosperity, longevity, hope, trust, and confidence. (Psalm 2:11; Proverbs 1:7; 10:27; 14:26; 22:4; 23:17, 18; Acts 9:31) It is closely related to faith and love. In fact, it involves our entire relationship with God and with fellow humans. (Deuteronomy 10:12; Job 6:14; Hebrews 11:7) Fear of God includes the deep conviction that our heavenly Father personally cares for us and is ready to forgive our transgressions. (Psalm 130:4) Only the unrepentant wicked have reason to be terrified of God. *—Hebrews 10:26-31.
Learning to Fear Jehovah
4. What can help us to “learn to fear Jehovah”?
4 Since the fear of God is fundamental to making wise decisions and receiving God’s blessings, how can we “learn to fear Jehovah” properly? (Deuteronomy 17:19) Many examples of God-fearing men and women are recorded in the Scriptures “for our instruction.” (Romans 15:4) To help us understand what it really means to fear God, let us reflect on the life of one of those examples, King David of ancient Israel.
5. How did shepherding help to teach David about fearing Jehovah?
5 Jehovah rejected Israel’s first king, Saul, for his fear of the people and his lack of godly fear. (1 Samuel 15:24-26) On the other hand, David’s life course and his intimate relationship with Jehovah identify him as a truly God-fearing man. From his early years, David was often out pasturing his father’s sheep. (1 Samuel 16:11) Nights spent shepherding under the stars must have helped David to understand the fear of Jehovah. Though David could discern only a small part of the immensity of the universe, he drew the right conclusion—God merits our respect and adoration. “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared,” he later wrote, “what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?”—Psalm 8:3, 4.
6. How did perceiving Jehovah’s greatness make David feel?
6 Rightly, David was impressed when he compared his smallness with the vast starry heavens. Rather than frightening him, this knowledge moved him to praise Jehovah and say: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling.” (Psalm 19:1) This reverence for God drew David closer to Jehovah and made David want to learn and follow His perfect ways. Imagine how David felt when he sang to Jehovah: “You are great and are doing wondrous things; you are God, you alone. Instruct me, O Jehovah, about your way. I shall walk in your truth. Unify my heart to fear your name.”—Psalm 86:10, 11.
7. How did fearing God help David fight Goliath?
7 When the Philistines invaded the land of Israel, their nine-and-a-half-foot-tall champion, Goliath, taunted the Israelites, saying in effect: ‘Put up a man to fight me one-on-one! If he wins, we will serve you.’ (1 Samuel 17:4-10) Saul and his entire army were terrified—but not David. He knew that Jehovah was the one to be feared, not any man, no matter how powerful. “I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies,” David told Goliath, “and all this congregation will know that neither with sword nor with spear does Jehovah save, because to Jehovah belongs the battle.” With his sling and a single stone—and with Jehovah’s help—David struck down the giant.—1 Samuel 17:45-47.
8. What do Bible examples of God-fearing ones teach us?
8 We may be facing obstacles or enemies no less daunting than those confronted by David. What can we do? We can deal with them in the same way that David and other faithful ones of old did—with godly fear. The fear of God can overpower the fear of man. God’s faithful servant Nehemiah urged his fellow Israelites, who were under pressure from opposers: “Do not be afraid on their account. Jehovah the great and the fear-inspiring One keep in your mind.” (Nehemiah 4:14) With Jehovah’s backing, David, Nehemiah, and other faithful servants of God succeeded in carrying out their God-given assignments. With godly fear, so can we.
Facing Problems With Godly Fear
9. Under what circumstances did David display fear of God?
9 After David slew Goliath, Jehovah gave him more victories. Jealous Saul, however, attempted—first impulsively, then cunningly, and finally with an army—to kill David. Although Jehovah had assured David that he would be king, for years David had to flee, to fight, and to wait for Jehovah’s time to make him king. Through all of this, David showed that he feared the true God.—1 Samuel 18:9, 11, 17; 24:2.
10. How did David show fear of God in the face of danger?
10 On one occasion, David sought refuge with Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath, the home of Goliath. (1 Samuel 21:10-15) The king’s servants denounced David as an enemy of their nation. How did David react in that dangerous situation? He poured out his heart in prayer to Jehovah. (Psalm 56:1-4, 11-13) Although he had to feign insanity to get away, David knew that it was really Jehovah who had delivered him by blessing his efforts. David’s wholehearted reliance on Jehovah and confidence in him showed that David was truly God-fearing.—Psalm 34:4-6, 9-11.
11. How can we show godly fear under trial, as David did?
11 Like David, we can show fear of God by trusting in his promise to help us cope with our problems. “Roll upon Jehovah your way, and rely upon him, and he himself will act,” said David. (Psalm 37:5) This does not mean that we simply hand our problems over to Jehovah without doing what we can about them and expect him to act in our behalf. David did not pray to God for help and then leave matters at that. He used the physical and intellectual abilities that Jehovah granted him and tackled the problem at hand. Yet, David knew that human efforts alone could not be counted on for success. So it should be with us. Having done everything within our power, we must leave the rest to Jehovah. In fact, often there is nothing we can do but rely on Jehovah. This is where the fear of God comes into the picture in a very personal way. We can take comfort in David’s heartfelt expression: “The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him.”—Psalm 25:14.
12. Why do we need to take our prayers seriously, and what attitude should we never have?
12 We, therefore, should take our prayers and our relationship with God seriously. When we approach Jehovah, we must “believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6; James 1:5-8) And when he helps us, we should ‘show ourselves thankful,’ as the apostle Paul counseled us. (Colossians 3:15, 17) We must never be like those described by an experienced anointed Christian: “They think of God as a sort of celestial waiter,” he said. “When they need something, they want to snap their fingers and have him come. And when they’ve got what they want, they would like him to go away.” Such an attitude betrays a lack of godly fear.
When Fear of God Lapsed
13. When did David fail to show respect for God’s Law?
13 Experiencing Jehovah’s help during distress deepened David’s fear of God and strengthened his confidence in him. (Psalm 31:22-24) On three notable occasions, however, David’s fear of God lapsed, which led to serious consequences. The first involved his arranging for the ark of Jehovah’s covenant to be transported to Jerusalem on a wagon rather than on the shoulders of the Levites, as God’s Law directed. When Uzzah, who was leading the wagon, grabbed hold of the Ark to steady it, he died on the spot for his “irreverent act.” Yes, Uzzah sinned seriously, yet ultimately, it was David’s failure to maintain proper respect for God’s Law that brought about that tragic outcome. Fearing God means doing things according to his arrangement.—2 Samuel 6:2-9; Numbers 4:15; 7:9.
14. What resulted from David’s counting of Israel?
14 Later, incited by Satan, David took a count of Israel’s fighting men. (1 Chronicles 21:1) In so doing, David showed a lapse in the fear of God, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites. Although David repented before Jehovah, he and those around him suffered greatly.—2 Samuel 24:1-16.
15. What caused David to fall into sexual sin?
15 Another temporary lapse in the fear of God led David into an immoral relationship with Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah. David knew that adultery or even desiring another’s mate was wrong. (Exodus 20:14, 17) The problem began when David caught sight of Bath-sheba while she was bathing. Proper fear of God should immediately have moved David to turn his eyes and his thoughts elsewhere. Instead, David evidently ‘kept on looking’ at her until passion overpowered his fear of God. (Matthew 5:28; 2 Samuel 11:1-4) David lost sight of Jehovah’s intimate involvement in his life.—Psalm 139:1-7.
16. What consequences did David suffer for his wrongdoing?
16 David’s liaison with Bath-sheba produced a son. Shortly afterward, Jehovah sent his prophet Nathan to expose David’s sin. Brought to his senses, David recovered his fear of God and repented. He begged Jehovah not to cast him off or to remove His holy spirit from him. (Psalm 51:7, 11) Jehovah forgave David and lightened the punishment, but He did not shield David from all the bad consequences of his actions. David’s son died, and heartache and tragedy beset his family from then on. What a price to pay for a lapse in the fear of God!—2 Samuel 12:10-14; 13:10-14; 15:14.
17. Illustrate the heartache that sinful acts produce.
17 Today, failing to fear God in moral matters may likewise have serious and long-lasting repercussions. Imagine the pain of one young wife when she learned that her Christian husband had been unfaithful to her while working overseas. Doubled over in shock and grief, she buried her face in her hands and burst into tears. How long will it take for her husband to regain her trust and respect? Such tragic consequences can be avoided by truly fearing God.—1 Corinthians 6:18.
Fear of God Restrains Us From Sin
18. What is Satan’s objective and method of operation?
18 Satan is very rapidly driving down the world’s moral values, and he especially wants to corrupt true Christians. To do so, he exploits the most direct route into our hearts and minds—through our senses, particularly our eyes and ears. (Ephesians 4:17-19) How will you react when you unexpectedly encounter immoral images, words, or people?
19. How did godly fear help one Christian to overcome temptation?
19 Consider the case of André, * a Christian elder, father, and medical doctor in Europe. When André was on all-night duty in the hospital, female colleagues repeatedly pinned notes—decorated with hearts—to his pillow, inviting him to have sexual relations with them. André steadfastly refused to entertain their advances. Moreover, to remove himself from the bad environment, he found work elsewhere. Fearing God proved to be very wise and led to blessings, for today André serves part-time at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in his country.
20, 21. (a) How can fear of God help us to avoid sinning? (b) What will be considered in the following article?
20 Dwelling on wrong thoughts can lead to a state of mind in which a person is willing to throw away his precious relationship with Jehovah in exchange for something to which he has no right. (James 1:14, 15) On the other hand, if we fear Jehovah, we will stay away—even walk away—from people, places, activities, and entertainment that could cause us to lower our moral guard. (Proverbs 22:3) Whatever embarrassment or sacrifice may be involved, it is minor compared to losing God’s favor. (Matthew 5:29, 30) Fearing God certainly includes never deliberately exposing ourselves to anything immoral, including pornography in any form, but instead making our eyes “pass on from seeing what is worthless.” If we do so, we can trust in Jehovah to ‘preserve us alive’ and provide everything we really need.—Psalm 84:11; 119:37.
21 Indeed, acting with genuine fear of God is always the course of wisdom. It is also the source of true happiness. (Psalm 34:9) This will be made clear in the following article.
^ par. 3 See the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint: How Can You Fear a God of Love?” in the January 8, 1998, issue of Awake! published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 19 The name has been changed.
Can You Explain?
• What Christian qualities does the fear of God include?
• How does fear of God counteract fear of man?
• How can we show that we have the proper view of prayer?
• How can fear of God restrain us from sinning?
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David learned the fear of God when observing Jehovah’s handiwork
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How will you react when you unexpectedly encounter a tempting situation?