The Fear of the Lord is the theological key to the book of Proverbs, authored by Solomon. It is the foundation (1:7; 9:10). The treasure of God’s wisdom will forever be locked away from those without the key.
What does “The fear of the LORD mean?
It is a mystery to most and I believe it was always intended to be. It is possible to know what it is and still not understand it. So allow me to share with you what it is.
The phrase “The fear of the Lord” must be understood and examined as one single unit. For example, the word, “butterfly” would never be understood by defining the words “butter” and “fly”. In the same way if all you examine are the words, “fear” and “Lord” you will never approach the full meaning of this phrase.
The Revealed Word of God
The phrase “fear of the Lord” is always connected to the “word of the Lord” in the scripture. A clear example is found in Psalm 19: 7-11 where the phrase is used as a co-referential term for the revealed word of the Lord.
So it is more than, or slightly different than fearing God: avoiding sin because you know God is watching (Proverbs 5:21). The fear of the Lord is inextricably bound to the revelation of the Lord’s words.
Head and Heart
There are two sides to this mysterious phrase: the head and the heart, the objective and subjective, the rational and emotional.
The fear of the Lord can be taught (Proverbs 15:33). A good example of this is in Psalms 34
“Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”
Proverbs 2 makes it clear that the diligent and prayerful study and memorisation of God’s word will lead to an understanding of the fear of the Lord.
This phrase also involves both poles of the emotional spectrum: fear and love. The two words are closely connected to one another (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). The study of the revealed word of God does something in us. We believe his promises and we love him. We believe his threats and we fear him. Just as Proverbs 15:33 tells us the fear of the Lord is instruction, it also equates it with humility. This is the key change that happens within us. Love and fear mix to produce humility.
The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe by CS Lewis
In the famous story by Lewis, the children enter the fantasy world of Narnia via a magic wardrobe. All of the events in the story have a Christian theme. Christ in the story is represented by a magnificent lion named Aslan. In the story the children are talking to a beaver who mentions the lion. The children ask the beaver, “Is he safe?” To which the beaver responds, “Of course not, but he is good.” This illustrates perfectly the emotions that swell in us from the Lord’s revealed word. He is mighty and he is magnificent.
Let’s see if we can attempt a concise definition.
The revealed word of God mingles love and fear in our hearts, which humbles and bends our knee to listen and obey his every word.
To expand, when we read, learn and study God’s revealed word — the bible; we believe him, we trust him. When this cowering, knee-bending fear is mingled with an astonished awe inspired love, it produces this most essential element — humility; without which, we will never learn, change or obey the Lord.
You may understand the definition, but that does not mean you understand the fear of the Lord. That is reserved for those who do the work (Proverbs 2:1-5). But I would encourage you toward that path. Like the children who stumbled into Narnia; the fear of the Lord is the magic doorway to a relationship with the Lord otherwise unknown.
Back to Proverbs
As this relates to the book of Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the key to the entire book. It is the beginning (foundation) upon which all the instruction in God’s wisdom is built. Without it and the teachable humility it imparts; God’s wisdom will remain a hidden treasure.