Archive for the ‘Fear of God’ Tag

Psalm 119:105-144   5 comments




The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226


This is the fourth of five posts on Psalm 119 in this series.  The first is here.  The second is here.  The third is here.  The fifth is here.


My flesh creeps from fear of You;

I am in awe of Your rulings.

–Psalm 119:120, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


My body bristles out of awe of you,

and I fear your judgments.

–Psalm 119:120, Mitchell J. Dahood translation (1970)


This verse follows closely on the heels of an affirmation that God is the psalmist’s shield, a prayer for deliverance by God from foes (the wicked, or those who do not obey the torah, or teaching of the wise), and statements that God rejects the wicked.  Here, in Psalm 119:120, the alternating use of “fear” and “awe” seems to be evident.  The Presence of God has quite an effect on one.  Mitchell J. Dahood refers readers of his commentary to Job 4:15:

A wind passed before my face,

a storm made by body bristle.

If one who seeks to keep the torah of God more and more as time passes and finds the divine commandments to be sweeter than honey has that kind of response to the Presence of God and to divine commandments, how much more will the wicked have to tremble before God?  In God exist both judgment and mercy.  I do not pretend to know when one ends and the other begins.  I do, however, affirm that mere respect, if not an overpowering sense of inadequacy before the Almighty, should lead one to a sense of awe before God.





Psalms 38-40   1 comment




The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226


The themes of illness and of trusting in God recur.  The author of Psalm 38 understands his sins to be the causes of his suffering.  Life is short, Psalm 39 reminds us.  That author, sounding very much like Koheleth, tells us that, since we humans live amid futility, only God is trustworthy.  The author of Psalm 40 cites what God has done and what he anticipates God will do and thanks God for the contents of both categories.

The imagery of Sheol an old concept of the afterlife, includes the sense that the underworld, or pit, is slimy, muddy, filthy, and slippery.  The author of Psalm 40 describes Sheol as

the pit of destruction


the miry bog

–Verse 3, Mitchell J. Dahood translation.

He thanks God for delivering him from that fate–for the time being.  The immediate context is a serious illness; the Psalmist is glad still to be alive.

Fear of death and dying are commonplace.  A fear of dying is certainly understandable, given the plethora of ways to shuffle off this mortal coil painfully and in a prolonged manner.  A fear of death itself depends largely on one’s concept of the afterlife, one’s evaluation of one’s life, and of one’s God concept.  These fears, regardless of how reasonable they might be, ought not to lead us into a transactional relationship with God.  Not falling into that error can be difficult, of course.  Among the theological errors of the alleged friends of the Book of Job is their understanding of relationship with God as being transactional.  They imagine themselves to be orthodox, but they are  not even close to the truth of the situation, as the book, in its final, composite form, tells the story.

The traditional term “fear of God” bothers me, for it does not convey the meaning of the concept.  No, “awe of God” is better.  God is God; we are not.  That is enough.  We should fall back in astonishment on our heels, even as we, true to our Judeo-Christian heritage, feel free to argue faithfully with God, as in the style of Job himself.





Posted August 9, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 38, Psalm 39, Psalm 40

Tagged with ,

Awe   1 comment

Above: Lauterbrunnen Valley, in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 1:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

All wisdom is from the Lord;

she dwells with him for ever.

Who can count the sands of the sea, the raindrops, or the days of unending time?

Who can measure the height of the sky,

the breadth of the earth, or the depth of the abyss?

Wisdom was first of all created things;

intelligent purpose has existed from the beginning.

To whom has the root of wisdom been revealed?

Who has understanding of her subtlety?

One alone is wise, the Lord most terrible,

seated upon his throne.

It is he who created her, beheld and measured her,

and infused her into all his works.

To everyone he has given her in some degree,

but without stint to those who love him.

Psalm 93 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The LORD is King;

he has put on splendid apparel;

the LORD has put on his apparel

and girded himself with strength.

He has made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

Ever since the world began, your throne has been estabished;

you are from everlasting.

4 The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

for ever and for evermore.

Mark 9:14-29 (Revised English Bible):

When they came back to the disciples they saw a large crowd surrounding them and scribes arguing with them.  As soon as they saw Jesus the whole crowd were overcome with awe and ran forward to welcome him.  He asked them,

What is this argument about?

A man in the crowd spoke up:

Teacher, I brought my son for you to cure.  He is possessed by a spirit that makes him dumb.  Whenever it attacks him, it flings him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth, grinds this teeth, and goes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.

Jesus answered:

What an unbelieving generation!  How long shall I be with you?  How long must I endure you?  Bring him to me.

And they brought the boy to him; and as soon as the spirit saw him it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked his father,

How long has he been like this?

He replied,

From childhood; it has often tried to destroy him by throwing him into the fire or into water.  But if it is at all possible for you, take pity on us and help us.

Jesus said,

It is possible!  Everything is possible to one who believes.

At once the boy’s father cried:

I believe; help my unbelief.

When Jesus saw that the crowd was closing in on him, he spoke sternly to the unclean spirit.

Deaf and dumb spirit,

he said,

I command you, come out of him and never go back!

It shrieked aloud and threw the boy into repeated convulsions, and then came out, leaving him like a corpse; in fact, many said,

He is dead.

But Jesus took hold of his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.

Then Jesus went indoors, and his disciples asked him privately,

Why could we not drive it out?

He said,

This kind cannot be driven out except by prayer.


The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


One alone is wise, the Lord most terrible,

seated upon his throne.

–Sirach 1:8 (Revised English Bible)

ter-ri-ble6.  FORMIDABLE causing awe or dread

Encarta World English Dictionary (1999)

“Fear of God” is an expression I hear often.  I wonder how many people who use it know what it means.  “Fear,” in this case, is not terror; it is awe, as in the use of the word “terrible,” which is present (meaning definition #6, quoted above) in many older hymns.  Look at Sirach 1:8 again and compare translations.  The New American Bible reads “awe-inspiring” were the REB says “terrible,” and the New Revised Standard Version has “greatly to be feared.”  The Roman Catholic version of the Good News Translation, Second Edition (1992), reads:

There is only one who is wise,

and we must stand in awe before his throne.

What, then, is awe?  The best definition I can find comes from the Encarta World English Dictionary (1999):

a feeling of amazement and respect mixed with fear that is often coupled with a feeling of personal insignificance or powelessness

We are all insignificant and powerless relative to God.  This lesson ties into the reading from Mark.  Before I get to that, I need to establish our place in the Markan narrative so far.  The Transfiguration has just happened.  Selected Apostles have seen a manifestation of how significant and powerful Jesus is.  Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, disciples have tried and failed to heal a boy afflicted by what his culture understood as a demon.  (We would have a clinical diagnosis today in North America, but that is beside the point of the story.)  The disciples tried and failed because they were unprepared and out of their league.  Jesus had not given them this assignment.  These disciples were eager and ineffective beavers, almost certainly motivated, though, by altruism.  (Let us assume the best, given the absence of evidence to think otherwise.)

These disciples felt powerless and insignificant, as did many other members of the crowd.  The Markan Gospel tells us that, as Jesus and his hand-picked Apostles descended the mountain, people looked at him with awe.  Previous chapters in Mark contain stories of our Lord and Savior’s renown, so this account fits neatly with those.  And Jesus does what people believe he can do.  The father believes somewhat that Jesus can cure his son.  The “somewhat” part of this is understandable, given the stress the man must have experienced for years.  But it was enough; it was little yet sufficient.

Jesus was close to God, the source of his power.  (He was also part of God.  Let us not attempt to explain any further, for the Trinity is a beautiful mystery beyond human comprehension.)  And, as Ben Sira tells us in Sirach, one of my favorite books of the Bible, we must stand in awe before God’s throne.  Ben Sira writes that this is God who has created nature and wisdom, personified as a woman.  (This gender personification is appropriate, I think.  Generally speaking, I am more likely to have an intelligent conversation with a woman than with a man.)  Wisdom, Ben Sira, writes, is the original creation, and God has distributed it to everyone, but “without stint” to those who love him.

So all that is good, noble, constructive, and really wise is of God.  This realization need not drive anyone to theocratic leanings and opposition to science and intellectualism, for that negative approach is neither good nor noble nor constructive nor really wise.  As an Episcopalian, I affirm that human reason is a valid prism (along with scripture and tradition) through which to consider matters of faith and theology.  Science is a valid path to much knowledge, and the misuse of scripture to contradict proven reality is an old sin of much of the Church.  For example, when Copernicus (in the 1500s) and Galileo (in the 1600s) argued from observations that the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Catholic Church labeled such ideas heretical.  They cited texts including Psalm 93:2:

He has made the whole world so sure
that it cannot be moved;

Poetry is a poor substitute for astronomy.

To be clear, I state simply that we mere mortals need to know that we are mere mortals who must stand in awe of God, if we are to proceed on solid ground during our spiritual journeys.  This is humility, certainly a virtue.








Adapted from this post:


Awe of God   1 comment

Above:  “He clothes the hills with grass.” (Psalm 147:8, REB)


Isaiah 30:19-26 (Revised English Bible):

People of Zion, dwellers in Jerusalem, you will weep no more.  The LORD will show you favour and answer you when he hears your cry for help.  The Lord may give you bread of adversity and water of affliction, but he who teaches  you will no longer keep himself out of sight, but with your own eyes you will see him.  If you stray from the path, whether to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice from behind you sounding in your ears saying,

This is the way; follow it.

You will treat as things unclean in silver-plated idols; you will loathe them like a foul discharge and call them filth.

The Lord will give rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and as you sow in the ground, and as the produce of your soil he will give you heavy crops.  When that day comes your cattle will graze in broad pastures; the oxen and donkeys that plough the land will be fed with well-seasoned fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork.  On every high mountain and lofty hill streams of water will flow, on the day of massacre when fortresses fall.  The moon will shine as brightly as the sun, and the sun with seven times its wonted brightness, like seven days’ light in one, on the day when the LORD binds up the broken limbs of his people and heals the wounds inflicted on them.

Psalm 147:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

Praise the LORD.

How good it is to sing psalms to our God!

How pleasant and right to praise him!

The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers in the scattered Israelites.

It is he who heals the broken in spirit

and binds up their wounds,

who numbers the stars one by one

and calls each by name.

Mighty is our LORD and great his power;

his wisdom is beyond all telling.

The LORD gives support to the humble

and brings evildoers to the ground.

Sing to the LORD a song of thanksgiving,

sing psalms to the lyre in honour of our God.

He veils the sky in clouds

and provides rain for the earth;

he clothes the hills with grass.

He gives food to the cattle

and to the ravens when they cry.

The LORD does not delight in the strength of a horse

and takes no pleasure in a runner’s fleetness;

his pleasure is in those who fear him,

who wait for his steadfast love.

Matthew 9:35-10:8 (Revised English Bible):

So Jesus went round all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, curing every kind of illness and infirmity.  The sight of the crowds moved him to pity; they were like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless.  Then he said to his disciples,

The crop is heavy, but the labourers too few; you must ask the owner to send labourers to bring in the harvest.

Then he called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out unclean spirits and to cure every kind of illness and infirmity.

These are the names of the twelve apostles:  first Simon, also called Peter, and his brother, Andrew; James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Do not take the road to gentile lands, and do not enter any Samaritan town; but go rather to the lost sheep  of the house of Israel.  And as you proclaim the message:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is upon you.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.  You received without out cost; give without charge.

The Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The word “fear” in relation to God appears often in English translations of the Bible.  This is an unfortunate fact, for the better word is “awe.”  Fear, as most of understand that concept, is not what the Biblical writers meant when writing in the original languages.  I worship God, who, as the author of Psalm 147 wrote poetically, clothes the hills with grass.  My relationship with God is personal.  Often I make short comments to God.  These vary from dark and anguished expressions of frustration to short comments about how lovely a cloud formation is or pleasant a breeze is.  All these statements are honest and rooted in the belief that I can say anything to God.

So I have no difficulty becoming awestruck by God, and therefore extending due respect to the deity.  From this spiritual state flows an understanding of certain obligations.  What ought I to do with this?  I am, as Jesus said, to give without charge, for I have received without cost.  Each of us has received generously from the hand of God; we need to share with others that which we have to contribute.  I think of the model from the Acts of the Apostles:  we Christians should live in community, give as we are able, and receive as we have need, so that nobody will lack anything he or she needs.  And, as the example of St. Laurence of Rome reminds me, the poor are the real treasures of the church.

This is a matter of priorities.





Adapted from this post:


Posted November 12, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 30, Matthew 9, Psalm 147

Tagged with ,