There are many instances in the Bible where the fear of God is mentioned, but what kind of fear is meant? Is it terror, or reverence?
Both are found in scripture.
When the Israelites came out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they were brought to the Holy Mountain – Sinai – where they were to meet the LORD their God, and there was a great spectacle when God spoke with them, which made them terrified:
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:18-20).
This must have been a very fearful sight, at the time – even Moses was afraid, as Hebrews tells us: ‘so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear”’ (Hebrews 12:21).
Even though God showed Himself to Israel in a fearsome way, He did not want them to fear or be terrified of Him. On the contrary, it was His desire they genuinely loved Him so they would worship Him by obeying His commandments, from the heart: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-6).
The LORD loves those who love Him; as He loved King David of Israel, calling him ‘a man after His own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14). David was the author of many Psalms which showed his reverential fear and love of God. An example is Psalm 145:19 where he writes, ‘He fulfils the desire of those who fear him’. This fear is reverence.
To love God is not to be terrified of Him, but to revere Him. The Lord Jesus said, ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love’ (John 15:10).
Grahame A Cooper