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Words For The Fear of God
See also The True Fear of God
I. Terms In The Old Testament
A. יָרֵא (yârê')
There are several different words used in regards to the fear of God in the original languages. The most common is the Hebrew word יָרֵא (yârê'). This verb is used over 330 times and it means actual "fear." Besides being used to be afraid of God (e.g. Genesis 20:8; Exodus 3:6; 2 Samuel 6:9; Psalm 33:8a; 76:7-8; Proverbs 13:13; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Malachi 3:16 [2x]; 4:2), it is also the fear Jacob had of his brother (Genesis 32:7), the fear Jacob's sons had of their brother Joseph (Genesis 43:18), the fear the Israelites had of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:10), the fear due parents (Leviticus 19:3, see below, point III), the fear of a soldier before a battle (Deuteronomy 20:8), the fear Saul and the Israelites had of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:11, 24), the fear David's men had of the Philistine armies (1 Samuel 23:3), the fear Saul had of the Philistine army (1 Samuel 28:5), the fear Saul's armorbearer had when Saul commanded him to take his sword and kill Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), the fear the rulers of Jezreel had of Jehu (2 Kings 10:4), the fear Jehoshaphat had of the massive army that came against him (2 Chronicles 20:3), the fear Nehemiah had of king Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:2), the fear David determined not to have (Psalm 27:1a, 3; see also 56:3-4, 11; 118:6), the fear the sons of Korah determined not to have even though world wide cataclysmic chaos broke out (Psalm 46:2), the fear Urijah had when King Jehoiakim sought to kill him (Jeremiah 26:21), the fear appropriately had at the roaring of a lion (Amos 3:8), the fear the mariners had in the midst of the storm (Jonah 1:5, 10), etc.. This word undeniably means "fear," i.e. to be afraid.
The noun form of yârê' is yir'âh and it is used far less, only about 44 times. It is mostly used for the fear of God (Genesis 20:11; Psalm 2:11; 90:11; Proverbs 9:10; Jonah 1:16), but it is also used for the fear of briers and thorns (Isaiah 7:23), the fear the mariners had (Jonah 1:10), fear of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:25), and fear in dangerous circumstances (Psalm 55:5).
These words (yârê' and yir'âh) are on some occasions translated "awe" or "awesome" (e.g. Exodus 15:11 [NAS "awesome in praises]; Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32), but, as the above illustrates, this "awe" is not without fear; and even Webster's definition of "awe" is not without dread.
an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime (www.merriamwebster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary)
Genesis 28:17 illustrates how this "awe" is not without fear.
And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place!"
In this sentence "afraid" and "awesome" are from the same root word yârê'. Likewise, Deuteronomy 28:58 declares,
If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God . . .
In this verse the word for "fear" and the word for "awesome" are from the same root word yârê'. When dealing with God, be it His awesome works (Deuteronomy 10:21; Psalm 65:5; 66:3, 5; 106:22; 145:6; Isaiah 64:3), His awesome name (Psalm 99:3; 111:9), or the awesome majesty around Him (Job 37:22; Ezekiel 1:18, 22), it is fearfully awesome (e.g. Ezekiel 1:28).
Another Hebrew word used for the fear of God is pâchad. This is the Hebrew word for "dread." It is used both in its verb and noun forms about 75 times. It is used for dreading God, for example, in 1 Samuel 11:7; 2 Chronicles 14:14; 17:10; 19:7; 20:29; Job 13:11; 23:15b; 31:23; Psalm 36:1; 119:120, 161 (NKJV, NAS, "awe"); Proverbs 28:14 (see NAS); Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21; Jeremiah 2:19; Hosea 3:5; and Micah 7:17. It is also used for the dread God put upon the enemies of Israel (Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 2:25; 11:25), the dread of loosing one's life (Deuteronomy 28:66-67; Psalm 31:13), the horror Job dreaded that happened to him (Job 3:25), the fear in a scary dream (Job 4:14a) which caused Eliphaz' bones to "shake" (NKJV, more literally to "dread," Job 4:14:b), dreadful sounds (Job 15:21), the lack of fear the ostrich has for her young (Job 39:16, NKJV "concern" with footnote, "Lit. fear"), the lack of fear the godly have and will have (Psalm 27:1b; Proverbs 3:24; Isaiah 12:2), fear from the judgment of God (Psalm 53:5; 14:5; Isaiah 24:17; Jeremiah 49:5; Lamentations 3:47), the fear in the night (Song of Solomon 3:8), the "thrill" (NAS with footnote Lit., tremble) of future blessing (Isaiah 60:5), the fear of the Jews (Esther 8:17; 9:2), the fear of Mordecai (Esther 9:3), the fear the princes had upon hearing the words of the Lord against the people (Jeremiah 36:16, see also in verse 24), the woman-like fear Egypt will have (Isaiah 19:16-17), and the fear of man and the oppressor (Isaiah 51:12-13).
Chat is found approximately 57 times, and it means to be shattered (Isaiah 8:9; 30:31 NKJV "beaten down"), broken (Jeremiah 48:20, 39; 51:56; 14:4 "parched" NKJV, i.e. broken ground), dismayed (Joshua 1:9; 8:1; 1 Samuel 17:11; Jeremiah 8:9; 17:18; 30:10; 46:27; 48:1, 39; 46:5; 50:36; Ezekiel 2:6; 3:9) and fearful (Job 7:14 NKJV "scare;" 31:34 NKJV "dreaded;" Isaiah 20:5; 31:4, 9; Habakkuk 2:17). It is only once used for the fear of God (Malachi 2:5). NKJV translates it here "reverent." The verse reads:
My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear Me; so he feared Me and was reverent before My name. (Malachi 2:5)
In light of the usage of this word elsewhere, this "reverence" carries with it, shattered, broken, dismayed, and fear. This is a loaded word.
This verb is found approximately 45 times and is used for trembling at God's word (Job 37:1; Ezra 9:4; 10:3; Isaiah 66:2, 5). It is also used of the trembling of Isaac (Genesis 27:33), the intense fear Joseph's brothers had of what God was doing to them (Genesis 42:28), the trembling of the Israelites before Mount Sinai and the trembling (quaking) of the mountain itself (Exodus 19:16, 18), Boaz being "startled" by Ruth (Ruth 3:8), Eli's trembling for the ark of God (1 Samuel 4:13), the trembling of the people who followed Saul (1 Samuel 13:7), the trembling of the elders of Bethlehem at the coming of Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4), the trembling of Saul when he saw the Philistine army (1 Samuel 28:5), woman-like fear (Isaiah 19:16), the trembling of women (Isaiah 32:11), trembling at the judgment of God (Ezekiel 26:16, 18; 32:10), the fear when a trumpet is blown in a city (Amos 3:6), being made afraid (Nahum 2:11; Zephaniah 3:13), etc..
This word is found about 39 times in the Old Testament. This is the word used twice by Job to describe how he was terrified of God (Job 23:15a-16). It is also the word used by Moses saying, "by Your wrath we are terrrified" (Psalm 90:7). It is also used for the dismayed fear Joseph's brothers had (Genesis 45:3), Saul's fearful state (1 Samuel 28:21), Israel's fearful troublesome condition (2 Samuel 4:1), the fear Sennacherib's servants attempted to instill (2 Chronicles 32:18), the terror of Job's condition (Job 4:5 NKJV "troubled;" 22:10 NKJV "troubles;" 21:6), troubled bones and soul (Psalm 6:2-3; see also verse 10 and Psalm 30:7; 104:29), fear taking hold (Psalm 48:6), and men of war being terrified (Jeremiah 51:32). It is also used in the sense of hastening something (e.g. 2 Chronicles 26:20; 35:21; Proverbs 20:21; 28:22; Ecclesiastes 7:9; 8:3; Zephaniah 1:18).
Another Hebrew form used for the fear of God are the Hebrew words `ârats (verb form) and `âriyts (adjective form). It is found about 35 times in the Old Testament, and it means "tremble" with the sense of "terror." The adjective form is only used once in reference to the fear of God (Jeremiah 20:11 NKJV "awesome," NAS "dread"). The verb form is found in three places for the fear of God (Psalm 89:7; Isaiah 8:13; 29:23). Elsewhere they are used for the fear of man (Deuteronomy 7:21; Joshua 1:9; Job 31:34; Isaiah 8:12), terror because of the enemy (Deuteronomy 1:29; 20:3; 31:6), frightening a leaf (Job 13:25), shaking the earth (Isaiah 2:19, 21), terror (NKJV "oppress") caused by wicked men (Psalm 10:18), and wicked men described as terrifying or terrible (Job 15:20 NKJV "oppressor;" Psalm 37:35 more literally, "the terrible wicked;" Isaiah 13:11; 25:3-5; 29:5, 20; 49:25; Jeremiah 15:21).
G. אֵימָה ('êymâh)
This Hebrew word is found about 17 times in the Old Testament and it is translated “horror” (e.g. Genesis 15:12); “fear” (e.g. Exodus 15:16; 23:27; Ezra 3:3; Job 33:7); “terror” (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:25; Joshua 2:9; Job 20:25 אֵמִים ['êmiym] “terrors”; 39:20; Psalm 55:4 [H5] אֵימוֹת ['êymot] “terrors”; Isaiah 33:18); “terrible” (e.g. Job 41:14 [H6] terrible teeth); “wrath” (e.g. Proverbs 20:2; KJV “fear”); and “idols” (NKJV; KJV) once in Jeremiah 50:38 (NAB “fearful things”; בָאֵימִים [bâ'êymiym], more literally, “in terrors”). It is used for the fear of God in Job 9:34 (“dread of Him” more lit., “His dread”); 13:21 (“dread of You” more lit., “Your dread”); and Psalm 88:15 [H16] (“Your terrors”).
There is also morâ' which is found 12 times. It is used for the fear of God (Psalm 76:11; Isaiah 8:13; Malachi 1:6 ["respect" NAS with footnote "Lit., fear]; 2:5) and the great "terror" which the Lord and Moses performed (Deuteronomy 4:34; 26:8; 34:12; Jeremiah 32:21). It is also used for the fear God put upon the land (Deuteronomy 11:25), for being afraid of men, their "threats" (NKJV, Isaiah 8:12), and the fear God put on the animals toward mankind (Genesis 9:2). There is also morâh found in Psalm 9:21 which says,
Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men.
Another Hebrew word used for the fear of God is gur. It is found in the Old Testament 10 times and is used for fearing God in two Psalms (Psalm 22:23; 33:8 NKJV "awe"). It is also used of Moab being afraid of the children of Israel (Numbers 22:3), the fear of man (Deuteronomy 1:17), not being afraid of a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22), God's fear of man (Deuteronomy 32:27), Saul's fear of David (1 Samuel 18:15), the fear the mighty have of Leviathan (Job 41:25, Hebrew vs 17), being afraid of the sword (Job 19:29), and the fear idolaters had (Hosea 10:5).
J. zu`a and dechal
These words are Aramaic words and are only used in the book of Daniel. Zu`a is used twice. Dechal is used 6 times. They are both used in Daniel 6:26 (Hebrew vs 27) for trembling (zu`a) and fearing (dechal) before the God of Daniel. They are also both used in Daniel 5:19 for trembling (zu`a) and fearing (dechal) Nebuchadnezzar. Dechal is also used for the "awesome" image Nebuchadnezzar saw (Daniel 2:31), the fearful dream (Daniel 4:5, Hebrew vs 2), and the terrible beast (Daniel 7:7, 19).
There is also the verb yâgor which is found 5 times in the Old Testament, but it is only used once for the fear of God (Deuteronomy 9:19). It is also used for the fear of the diseases of Egypt (Deuteronomy 28:60), the calamity and suffering Job feared (Job 3:25; 9:28), and the reproach the Psalmist dreaded (Psalm 119:39).
This Hebrew word is only found 3 times in the Old Testament and it means to bristle. It is used for the bristling locusts in Jeremiah 51:27, for Eliphaz' hair that "stood up" (NKJV) on his body in fear of a spirit, and in Psalm 119:120 where the Psalmists writes (more literally),
My flesh bristles [sâmar] from dread [pâchad] of You, and I am afraid [yârê'] of your judgments."
II. Terms In The New Testament
The most common word used in the New Testament is the Greek verb phobeomai. It is found approximately 95 times in the New Testament and most definitely means to be afraid. Besides being used for being afraid of God (e.g. Matthew 10:28; 17:6; Luke 1:50; 12:4-5; 23:40; Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7; 15:4), it is also used for the command "do not be afraid" (e.g. Matthew 1:20; 10:26, 31; 14:27; 17:7; 28:5, 10), the fear Joseph had of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), Herod's fear of the multitude (Matthew 14:5), Peter's fear of the wind (Matthew 14:30), the chief priests' and elders' fear of the multitude (Matthew 21:26, 46), Herod's fear of John (Mark 6:20), the fear to ask Jesus a question (Mark 9:32), the fear the people had as Christ was headed toward Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), the fear the scribes and chief priests had of Christ (Mark 11:18), the fear both Marys had after seeing the empty tomb (Mark 16:8), the ungodly judge who did not fear God (Luke 18:2), the disciples fear when they saw Jesus walking on water (John 6:19), the parents of the blind man who feared the Jews (John 9:22), Pilate being more afraid (John 19:8), the disciples fear of Saul after his conversion (Acts 9:26), the fear of running aground on the rocks (Acts 27:29), the fear of being cut off (Romans 11:20), fear of the authorities when doing evil (Romans 13:3-4), Paul's fear of the Corinthians being deceived (2 Corinthians 11:3; see also Galatians 4:11), Peter's fear of the Jews (Galatians 2:12), the fear a wife should have toward her husband (Ephesians 5:33, see below), fear of any coming short of God's rest (Hebrews 4:1), Moses' parents who were not afraid of the king's command (Hebrews 11:23), etc..
The noun form of phobeomai is phobos and it is found about 45 times in the New Testament. It is used for the fear of God (2 Corinthians 5:11; 7:1; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:17; 3:15), and also for the fear the disciples had when they thought they saw a ghost (Matthew 14:26), the fear the guards had when they saw the angel (Matthew 28:4), the fear the disciples had when Christ calmed the sea (Mark 4:41), the fear Zacharias had when he saw the angel (Luke 1:12), the fear that came upon those who saw Christ raise up a dead man out of a coffin (Luke 7:16), the fear that seized the Gadarenes (Luke 8:37), men's hearts failing them from fear (Luke 21:26), fear of the Jews (John 7:13; 19:38; 20:19), the fear the wicked do not have of God (Romans 3:8), the fear God-fearing people do not have (Romans 8:15), fear that is due to authorities (Romans 13:7), the fear Paul had while with the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:3; see also 2 Corinthians 7:5), the fear the Corinthians had while receiving Titus (2 Corinthians 7:15), the resultant fear at the rebuke of a sinning elder (1 Timothy 5:20), fear of death (Hebrews 2:15), saving some with fear (Jude 23), fear of Babylon's torment (Revelation 18:10, 15), etc..
This word is found 5 times in the New Testament. It is used for the trembling of working out one's salvation (Philippians 2:12), the trembling of Paul before the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:3), the trembling of the Corinthians when they received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:15), the trembling servants are to have in service to their masters (Ephesians 6:5), and the trembling of the two Marys as they fled from the tomb (Mark 16:8).
This Greek word is only found twice in the New Testament. Once when the disciples were greatly afraid when Christ was transfigured (Mark 9:6), and the other time is when Moses describes his fear of the presence of God saying, "I am exceedingly afraid . . ." (Hebrews 12:21).
This Greek word is only found three times in the New Testament. It goes along with the word above in Hebrews 12:21 in the second part of Moses' statement, ". . . and trembling." Also, this is used for Moses' trembling before God at another time in Acts 7:32, and for the trembling of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:29.
This Greek word is only found twice in the New Testament and both times it means "godly fear." It is used of Christ being heard because of His godly fear (Hebrews 5:7), and believers are instructed to serve God with godly fear (Hebrews 12:28), because "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
This Greek word is akin to the one above and is only used once in the New Testament. It is used for Noah who was "moved with godly fear" (Hebrews 11:7 NKJV), because he was warned of things not yet seen (i.e. the coming judgment of God, Genesis 6:13-14).
III. Arguments Over Words (1 Timothy 6:4)
For those who would argue over words (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14), they might point out, for example, that the Hebrew word yârê' is used to "revere" (NKJV) parents in Leviticus 19:3, and therefore conclude that yârê' must mean to "revere" God as well, excluding actual fear. The problem with this is, not only does it deny the overwhelming evidence of the usage of the word (as the above illustrates), but it denies the actual teaching of the Bible and turns it upside down.
Parents not only ought to be honored (Exodus 20:12), but actually feared (Leviticus 19:3), especially in the context in which Leviticus 19:3 was written! Leviticus 20:9 decrees the death penalty upon anyone who curses his father or his mother (see also Exodus 21:17; Proverbs 20:20). Exodus 21:15 also puts the death penalty upon anyone who strikes his father or his mother. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 also reveals a rebellious son is to be put to death via the initiative of his parents, and Deuteronomy 27:16 places a curse upon anyone who treats his father or his mother with contempt. Also, Proverbs 30:17 warns the disrespectful child that ravens and eagles will pick out and eat their eyes! Parents are indeed to be feared in the fear of God. God's usage of yârê' is very apropos.
Another argument that might be used is with the Greek word phobeomai. Since Ephesians 5:33 tells wives to "respect" (NKJV, phobêtai, from phobeomai) their husbands, it might be argued that this respect excludes fear. The erroneous conclusion would then be, phobeomai means to respect God, but no need to fear Him, since this is the same word used for the wives where they are told to "respect" their husbands. The problem with this is, it again denies the overwhelming usage of the word, and the massive Scriptural evidence to the contrary (see our report). It also aborts God's revelation about the "respect" a wife is to have towards her husband. It is to be one of fear, as Ephesians 5:33 literally says.
Women are to obey their husbands as they would obey God (Ephesians 5:22), and obeying God certainly includes fear (1 Peter 1:17); thus obeying a husband certainly includes fear (Ephesians 5:33). The husband is head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), and the wife is subject to her husband, just as the church is subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:23). The church is subject to Christ in fear (Psalm 2:11-12), so are wives to be to their husbands (Ephesians 5:33). They are to be in serious submission, as Sarah was, who called her husband lord (1 Peter 3:6). [Click here for more on The Scriptural Role of Women.]
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