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Understanding the Fear of the Lord

By Rob Holding

We have lost something in our Christianity in the last 50 years. When I was growing up your put on your Sunday best to go to church. We even used to dress up to go to the movies in those days. But the movies aren’t anything special anymore; the novelty has worn off. Maybe it’s the same with church? The novelty has worn off. As a child I remember seeing people sitting in the pews before church quietly and prayerfully preparing themselves for worship. But we are beyond that now aren’t we. We don’t need to examine ourselves before coming into the presence of God because Jesus is our BFF. As someone once said, we have replaced All Mighty God with Our Matey Jesus. 

What we have lost is the fear of the Lord and an awe regarding His holiness. We live in a faith of familiarity. And while that familiarity has not yet led to contempt, I do believe it has led to presumption. And presumption, where a holy God is concerned, can be an extremely dangerous thing. 

Leviticus 10:1-3, “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, ‘this is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”

The instructions were to take a censor of burning coals from the alter of sacrifice and use THAT fire for the incense. What was so different about THAT fire? Leviticus 9:24 tells us that THAT fire came from heaven. That is what made it acceptable to use on the altar of incense. It was holy fire, the smoke from which would return back to heaven. 

Moses lost the right to enter the promised land for a similar offence. When he struck the rock in Numbers 20:10 and said, “must WE bring water from the rock?” God did not punish him for striking the rock when he was told to simply speak to it, God said, “Because you failed to sanctify me before the children of Israel you shall not bring this congregation into the promised land.” (v12). One offence, after 40 years of faithful service, and he is denied the right to lead the Hebrews into Canaan. We need to remember that God is God. 

Let us see if we can get a glimpse at the holiness of God from Isaiah’s experience at the beginning of chapter 6.

Isaiah 6:1-8, “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His kingly robe filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another, and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory’. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts’. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it on my mouth, and said, ‘Lo, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged’. [And then] I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Who shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘I am here; send me.’”

Isaiah has the correct attitude before God. When he sees God’s holiness, he also sees his own wickedness. “Woe is me; I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people with unclean lips.” In modern language, when he sees God he says “I’m dead! I am a dirty filthy rotten sinner and the people I live among are also dirty filthy rotten sinners and I have just seen God. I’m dead”. In John 16:8, Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit came, He would “make the world conscious of sin, and of righteousness, and judgement.” I am pretty sure that’s what Isaiah got in one quick download. 

I want to look at these seraphim for a moment. You know God is a holy God; the more sin you have the further you distance yourself from Him. That is why Jesus came; to take away our sin so that we would be clean enough to come before the Father. These creatures, these seraphim, are right beside the throne of God, flying just above it. With two of their wings they cover their face as if unworthy to look upon the One on the throne. With two of their wings they cover their feet – or lower bodies as it says in Ezekiel – this was the usual token of reverence in the presence of Eastern monarchs. These mightiest of creatures were humble in the presence of Almighty God. And they continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” 

They are still crying that out nearly 1,000 years later in Revelation 4, when John sees them. In fact John says they rest not, night and day from crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” THIS is our God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Holy, Holy, Holy.

Simon Peter had a similar reaction to Isaiah when He was confronted with the power of God for the first time in Luke 5:1-10. Jesus had been using Simon’s fishing boat to speak to the crowds. When he finished, he told the fishermen to push the boat out into the deep for a catch. Simon informed the [ignorant] preacher that a) you don’t fish during the day, and b) you certainly don’t throw the nets down in the deep not to mention that c) they, the professional fishermen, had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. “However,” Simon says, “let’s see if you can back your fancy words up with something practical.” The result, of course, was that they caught so many fish their nets began to tear, they had to call in extra boats to help haul in the catch and, even then, the boats were in danger of sinking from the weight of the fish. 

What was Peter’s reaction to all this? Did he say, “Wow! That’s impressive. I guess you’re not just all talk and no action.”?  Did he say, “How did you do that?” Not at all. What he actually did was to fall at Jesus’ feet and say, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man.” And we rock up to church with a “howdie doodie Jesus” attitude almost as if we are the ones doing Him a favour by coming. Oh, the church has lost its power and authority because we have lost the fear and awe of the Lord. In Proverbs 1:7, when it says, “The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the word used is יָרֵא (yir-aw) and only twice in the Tanach is it translated ‘reverence’. In all other instances it is translated in various permutations of ‘fear’, ‘dread’ and ‘terrible’. As in dreadful, exceedingly afraid. 

I want to leave you with a question. Could it be that in our modern presumption, and maybe a consequence our 21st Century theology where grace trumps obedience, that we have lost our understanding of, reverence for, and hunger for the holiness of God? In the song I Can Only Imagine, the lyrics ask, “Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?” I’m thinking the latter, like Jesus’ actual ‘bestie’, John, the beloved disciple, when he sees the Lord in Revelation 1:17, I will most likely “[fall] at his feet as though dead.” 

Ask the Lord for a greater revelation of His holiness and come back to “the heart of worship” where “it’s all about Him”.

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Rob Holding

Rob Holding

Rob Holding is a former pastor and Christian broadcaster with three decades of full-time ministry behind him. A gifted communicator and worship leader, Rob is the main speaker for Know My Faith and travels the country with an eye-opening multimedia presentation, encouraging believers to dig deeper into the Bible and giving them keys to understanding the scriptures in their original context.

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