Fearing Rightly

Deuteronomy 5:28-29 – 28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!

In Deuteronomy 5:23-ff, Moses recounts the way that the people of Israel responded to the voice of God at Mt. Horeb when God gave the Ten Commandments. The people of Israel were afraid. They had born witness to the power and the holiness of God. They knew that they would be utterly destroyed should they get too close to the God who spoke atop the mountain. And so they pleaded with Moses to serve as a go-between.

Many today might think that God would say to Moses that these people need no go-between. But that is not at all what God said. Instead, God affirms the fear of the people. God affirms that all they said was right. And God makes it very plain that the best thing for Israel would be for them to continue to have that holy fear of God so that they might keep his commandments without rebelling against him and his ways.

For us today, the fear of God is often neglected. We focus much on the love of God, and rightly so. We focus on our new status as children of God under the protection of Christ, and rightly so. But, if we are not careful, we will belittle our God and belittle his grace if we fail to grasp the reason behind a holy and right fear of the Lord.

In Deuteronomy, the people of Israel understood that God is so good, so clean, so perfect, with such high and holy standards that, should the people draw near to God in their sinfulness, they would be destroyed. They rightly trembled at the concept of being near God. They understood that he is both so holy as to punish their sin and so mighty as to easily be able to wipe them out. Thus, they trembled, begged for someone to intercede for them before God, and agreed to follow God’s ways.

Here is what I need to remember: God has not changed. God is still just as holy as Israel saw. God’s wrath for my sin is still as destructive. I deserve to be consumed by the holy fire of God as a creature who has rebelled against his Creator. And without a go-between, I’m dead.

Thanks be to God, Jesus Christ came as a true intercessor, one far greater than Moses and the priesthood in the Old Testament. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus lived the perfection I need to be in the presence of God. Jesus died to pay for my sins so that I can be cleansed before God. And Jesus, who is God in flesh, welcomes me into the family of God.

Now I need not fear destruction because of the holiness of God. Jesus already took upon himself the right wrath of God for my sin. But I should fear God as holy, mighty, and glorious. I should tremble at the possibility that I might dishonor the One who saved my soul. I should fear that I might miss out on the joy of honoring the God who made me. I should understand that the Lord, in his love, has covered me from the wrath I earned. God is still as mighty, as holy, and as utterly terrifying as before.

May we all learn to fear God. First fear him by crying out to Jesus for mercy. Second, fear him by respecting and honoring his power and his all-consuming holiness. Fear him by obeying his commands, not because you fear destruction, but because you fear dishonoring the Savior and losing out on the joy of his glory in this life. Fear the consequences present in God’s creation of trying to live against God’s perfect standard. Have fear mixed with a grateful love of Jesus who bore the wrath of God that you might be brought into the family of God.