Do me a favor and please read Psalm 95.
As with Psalm 47, 93, and 96-99, this is a psalm of “enthronement.” That is, this is a psalm that declares God as the great King above all other gods. And not only does the author declare it but they ENCOURAGE the reader/worshipper (the person who breathes any air at all) to acknowledge it and declare it as well. And so what we get is 7 verses of encouragement to worship, and then 4 verses of encouragement NOT to do what their ancestors have done in the past. (Hebrews 3:7-4:11 is a really good break down of what this psalm is doing).
This is a psalm of obedience in worship. And not only worship but all facets of life.
As I reflect on this psalm I’m struck by the use of “fear” in a reasoning to worship God. To me that simply is not something that works. Maybe it’s just something that has never worked for me in my personal walk. Maybe it’s simply the fact that I’ve never met someone who continued to believe and worship simply because they feared the alternative. Does it work? Maybe. I’m sure there are some people out there who lean heavily upon the fear and wrath of God. The psalmist sure thought so. Or maybe I am using my personal view of “fear” to invade the biblical understanding.
“The fear of the Lord” is a major theme throughout scripture. It’s part of the Wisdom Literature of Proverbs (9:10) and we see it in the rules and laws of the relationship with God (throughout the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy). So the reality of this is that while it may not be part of my discipleship style there is truth to it. And not only truth, but there should be comfort too. Why comfort? Because I think we probably have been looking at “fearing God” the wrong way.
The psalmist wants people to worship God and be obedient to what he desires of his sheep. And what that means is that in order to be obedient one must simply KNOW God. We must know that he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. We must know that he is the creator and sustainer of all things. We must know all that he has done and WHY he has done it. From his grace to his punishment and from his anger to his love. To know God must mean we KNOW God. That we spend time in those ways that allow us to know him. He gave us scripture…so we must read it as it is our gateway to understanding not only the path of God’s people and where they have gone but also the constant work God has had IN their lives (and ours too).
The problem we’ve had is that we’ve taken the word “fear” and applied it to be scared – but that’s not what it means from a scriptural context. To “fear” the Lord means to know him and to know all aspects of him. To “fear the Lord” means that we learn, grow, and are enriched by who God is. To “fear the Lord” means that we seek to know God and be led by him and never does it mean that we are to cower and shriek in his presence because we are scared. And I don’t think it means that we worship him BECAUSE we fear the alternative either. Yes, being “scared” has to be part of that knowledge and understanding of God but it shouldn’t be the motivation of worship.
The problem we frequently have, as believers, is that we tend to take a very narrow view on things and we tend to apply our Western thinking and view on scripture. And we simply cannot do that. We need to take our personal views and thoughts out of the conversation in order to understand the intentions and actions we read in scripture. Once we understand what is going on and being said then we can properly understand and apply it to our own lives.
What we need to remember is that there is a peace when we read verses like 8-11. Yes we should heed the advice of the psalmist but we should also recognize that while God was angry with his people, and while he punished them for their disobedience, he holds to his covenant too. He doesn’t walk away from them nor does he wipe them off the face of the earth. And we need to understand MORE that the text doesn’t state. Those 40 years involved God feeding them constantly. Those 40 years of punishment still had God clothing them. Those 40 years of punishment had God protecting them from outside invaders. Those 40 years of punishment had God with them, leading and guiding them. Helping them understand who he is, what this relationship looked like, and why “fear” means knowing and not cowering in his name. Again, God’s judgement and wrath are present but his grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy are above them. The overarching theme of scripture isn’t about God’s anger. Yes we see it, yes we must acknowledge it, but from Genesis 1:1 to the final “Amen” in Revelation 22:21 it’s all about Jesus. It’s about hope, love, redemption, grace, and peace. It’s not about cowering (which is what Adam and Eve did after discovering their nakedness) but it’s about “awe” and joy.
So yes, fear the Lord. Fear the Lord for his anger and wrath are mighty and there is nothing that compares to it. But “fear the Lord” also in just how amazing his love, grace, and hope is.