Is Fear of God Still Necessary? (Psalm 119:120)

Psalm 119:120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

We don’t know who wrote Psalm 119. I sure wish we did. Certainly David is a likely candidate, for the writer of this psalm faced much unjust persecution, and other than Jesus, there is no other person in the Bible who faced as much unfair treatment as David, and that is precisely the way the author of this psalm was treated.

We also know much about the writer’s attitude toward God and His Word. He loved God and the Word of God with great passion and devotion. Furthermore, as we read in Psalm 119:120, he had much fear of both God and the Word of God.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about the fear of God these days. When was the last time you heard someone say “My flesh trembles in fear of God” or “I stand in awe of the Bible”?

Yet the Bible has much to say about the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). I take these verses to mean that if we don’t fear God, we are just plain stupid, spiritually speaking. Without the fear of God, we are metaphysically challenged, spiritual illiterates.

So this begs the question, “What does it mean to fear God?” One good definition of “fear” is reverence, respect, and awe.  The idea of awe is certainly a good place to start when defining fear. As indicated in Psalm 119:120, “in fear” and “in awe” are parallel expressions (in the New International Version).

But there’s more to fear than reverence, respect and awe. Please note that the psalmist says that he trembles in fear of God. We must be careful not to exclude from fear the idea of being afraid, for this is how the English Standard Version translates the second half of the Psalm 119:20 – “I am afraid of your judgments”.

You may be wondering, “But why should I be afraid of God? He loves me and has forgiven all my sins and has promised to save me from hell and bring me to heaven some day.”

And that is true. God loves us more than we can even imagine. But that doesn’t mean we should not still be afraid of Him. The psalmist was – we cannot dismiss the plain meaning of the text here – he trembled before God.

This isn’t the only way the psalmist related to God. He was quite aware of God’s love, grace, compassion and mercy. He writes about the goodness of God throughout Psalm 119 (see verses 41, 64, 68, 76, 77, 88, 124, 132, 149). But he also trembles.

What I’m saying here is that even for the forgiven Christian, there is a place for fear and trembling. It’s not all there is to the Christian life. There’s more – oh so much more!

But we must not forget that the loving God who saved us from hell is also the One who sits on a throne, ruling over all, sustaining all. We stand in awe of him because he is awesome. To simply ponder his power and majesty and glory should cause some measure of trembling before him.

This is how believers responded when confronted with the presence of God. From Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament to Peter and John in the New Testament, when God chose to reveal himself, people fell down and trembled.

Yes, this is a paradox. In the presence of God, we respond to Him with a holy combination of fear and joy – “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11).

It is likely that you know what it means to rejoice. Do you also know what it means to tremble? I pray that you do. If not, could it be that you have an unbalanced view of God and need to focus more on his holiness, righteousness, justice and wrath?

Wayne Davies

Wayne Davies

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