“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die’ ” (Exodus 20:18-19).
Does God want us to be afraid of Him? Does it make sense to you that God, who loves us so much that He gave us His Son to die for us (John 3:16), also wants us to have a fear of Him?
Three months following their Exodus from the land of Egypt, the people of Israel come to the Wilderness of Sinai and camp there before Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-2). While there, God instructs Moses to tell the people that if they will obey His voice, they shall be His special people and He will bless them (Exodus 19:3-6). Moses speaks to the people and the people agree to God’s terms. Thus, God enters into a covenant relationship with them (Exodus 19:7-8).
God then tells Moses that He will speak directly to the people. He tells Moses, “"Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever” (Exodus 19:9). Moses relays this message to the people and tells them to prepare themselves to hear God (Exodus 19:10-15). The people behold an awesome sight as they stand at the foot of Mount Sinai, observe the thunder and lightning, feel the mountain quaking as it is completely covered in smoke, and hear the blasting of a loud trumpet (Exodus 19:16-19). The people then hear God’s voice as He speaks to them His 10 commandments from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17).
How do God’s people react to seeing this and hearing God’s voice? As the opening verses above indicate, the people were afraid to hear God speak to them anymore, so they ask Moses to let God speak to them through him (Exodus 20:18-19). Moses comforts them and says, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20).
Having a fear of God is healthy. God did not want the Israelites to be fearful of the lightning and the mountain smoking, but He did want them to fear Him and show Him the proper respect He deserves. Having the proper fear of God helps us to have a proper perspective of our lives here on this earth.
Having a healthy fear can be illustrated by the parent-child relationship. When I was growing up, I had a fear of my dad. I didn’t want to get in trouble because my mom would simply say, “If you don’t do as I tell you, I will tell your dad when he gets home”. I knew this meant a spanking for me. So I did what she told me to do. My fear of my dad led me to do right. On the other hand, as I grew up I did not fear where my next meal was coming from. I did not fear someone coming into my house to take me away at night because I trusted that my dad would protect our home and provide for our family.
Throughout the Scriptures we are told to fear God (Proverbs 1:7). We are also told God loves us (Romans 5:8). This is not a contradiction. Having a healthy fear of God is good because realizing God’s wrath awaits the wicked discourages us from committing sin. At the same time, by focusing on fearing God, we spend less time and energy in being afraid of other things such as from where our next meal is coming, potential health problems, and other worries and cares that can fill our hearts with anxiety. We trust that He will provide these things for us because He loves us (Matthew 6:25-34). Today, I will strive to have a healthy fear of God so that I might not sin against Him!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10).