Happy New Year!
Many people make resolutions at this time of year. But they usually miss the most important resolution of all.
Fireworks. Noisy parties. Large quantities of food and drink. That’s how many people welcome the new year. Observant Jewish people, on the other hand, welcome their new year (Rosh Hashanah) by gathering in synagogues to worship God.
So, the world makes noise, and Jews contemplate. The contrast is clear: short-term pleasure versus longer-term awareness of accountability to God.
An 11th-century poem recited at the beginning of synagogue worship is a great example of contemplating a future year. It’s called Unetaneh Tokef (Let Us Speak of His Awesomeness):
How many will pass and how many will be created?
Who will live and who will die?
Who in their time, and who not their time?
Who by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
Who by earthquake and who by drowning?
Who by strangling and who by stoning?
Who will rest and who will wander?
Who will be safe and who will be torn?
Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
These are sobering words—the opposite of what would make for a good toast at a typical New Year’s celebration. But they are perfect for reminding us of the certainty of an uncertain future—but a future overseen by an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.
He is the God observant Jews fear and revere as they contemplate their new year; and He is the same God we should fear and revere as we enter ours.
I remember when it was a great compliment to be called a “God-fearing man” or “God-fearing woman.” That description is rarely heard today, and some would even consider it offensive. With 2022 upon us, it might be helpful to contemplate what the phrase fear of the Lord means since, as Bible-believing Christians, we acknowledge He holds our future.
What Is Fear?
The Hebrew word for “fear” is yare. It also translates as “respect” or “reverence.” King David called such fear “clean, enduring forever” (Ps. 19:9). Another psalmist asked God to “establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing You” (119:38).
Our reverence, our respect, our awe of God increases as we get to know Him better. That happens as we read His Word regularly.
Our fear, then, is not terror but, rather, a horror of displeasing Him because we love Him so much. It’s like the fear children have of their loving parents.
Why Should We Fear?
King Solomon experienced every human pleasure known and found each to be vain, worthless, and futile. His conclusion? “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13–14).
Moses, the leader of 600,000 men, along with their wives and children, told his people, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Dt. 10:12). Moses did not suggest the Israelites fear the Lord. He called it a requirement.
This command was intended to serve Israel well; and it will serve us well as we face the uncertainties of 2022.
Fearing the Lord Is Not Always Positive
Adam and Eve feared God and hid themselves after they sinned. Their fear was paralyzing. Rather than going to Him in repentance, they moved farther away, hiding and covering themselves (Gen. 3:7–8).
James told his Jewish brethren, “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (Jas. 2:19). Satan and his demons don’t revere God, but they tremble at His future judgment.
The unprofitable servant of Matthew 25:25 was also paralyzed with fear, hiding his talent (a form of money) in the ground instead of investing it to earn interest. The fear we are to have for God should not inhibit us but liberate us.
Benefits of Fearing God
Here are three benefits of fearing the Lord:
1. People become better neighbors. King David wrote Psalm 34 to “His saints” (v. 9), “you children” (v. 11), in part to “teach . . . the fear of the LORD” (v. 11). “There is no want to those who fear Him” (v. 9), he said. “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (v. 15). If people fear the true God, they will want to “keep [their] tongue[s] from evil, and [their] lips from speaking deceit” (v. 13). They will want to “depart from evil and do good” (v. 14). The fear of the Lord made David a better king and his people better individuals.
2. People grow wise, humble, and forgiving and develop a hatred of sin. Fearing the Lord makes us wise and knowledgeable (Prov. 1:7). It teaches us we can find forgiveness and mercy: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Ps. 130:3–4). Mary, Jesus’ mother, praised God, whose “mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk. 1:50).
3. People become satisfied, appreciate life, and experience comfort and peace from God. The fear of the Lord “is a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27) and “he who has it will abide in satisfaction” (19:23). In the book of Acts we learn, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (9:31).
The famous ball-drop in Times Square in New York City will no doubt again welcome in another year. People around the world will raise their glasses in its honor. We, on the other hand, ought to bend our knees and bow our heads in reverence and awe before a God who loved us enough to send His Son to die on the cross for our sins.
Whatever comes to us in 2022, we will do well to resolve to fear the Lord. Let us own the command; and, as 1 Peter 2:17 says, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” If we do that, by His grace, we can handle whatever comes our way.