The Hebrew verbs ya·reʼʹ (Le 19:30; 26:2) and ʽa·ratsʹ (Ps 89:7; Isa 29:23; 47:12) may convey the sense of awe, or reverential fear. The verb ʽa·ratsʹ often signifies trembling in terror, fear, or awe, or causing such trembling.
Discernible evidence of Jehovah’s presence filled beholders with awe. When assembled at Mount Sinai, the Israelites saw the descent of a dark cloud, accompanied by thunders, lightnings, and the sound of a horn that became louder and louder. The entire mountain shook, and smoke ascended from it. This display of power filled the Israelites with fear; even Moses trembled. The purpose of this manifestation of Jehovah’s glory was to instill the Israelites with a wholesome fear so that they would not sin.
Visionary representations of Jehovah’s glory had an awe-inspiring impact. The platform of the celestial chariot, above which the prophet Ezekiel saw the glory of Jehovah, sparkled like awesome ice. High above the heads of the living creatures, which were representations of cherubs, this platform was like a translucent expanse, awesome in size and appearance. Through the translucent platform, the representation of what appeared to be a throne of sapphire stone was visible. The seated form on the throne glowed with the yellow brilliance of electrum in a refiner’s fire, the whole form also being surrounded by a similar brightness. This vision of Jehovah’s glory moved Ezekiel to fall upon his face in worshipful reverence.
It is Jehovah alone who should be held in such awe, or reverential fear, so that one is moved to worship him. (Ps 89:7; Isa 29:23) Christians are encouraged to “render God sacred service with godly fear and awe [form of Gr. deʹos].” (Heb 12:28) God’s servants give evidence of this awe by earnestly striving to please him, recognizing that he will call all to account and render judgment without partiality.
Individual humans and nations also may at times inspire a certain sense of awe in others, whether by design or otherwise. For example, the Shulammite made such an overpowering impression on King Solomon that he said she was as awesome as military hosts assembled around banners, prepared for battle. In the record of this, in The Song of Solomon 6:4, 10, the Hebrew term ʼa·yomʹ denotes “awesome.” When the nation of the Chaldeans went forth to battle, it was fear-inspiring. (Hab 1:6, 7) And through the prophet Isaiah, Babylon was prophetically called upon to use her spells and sorceries to strike with awe those coming against her, thus saving herself from calamity. But all efforts at preventing the conquest were to fail. (Isa 47:12-15) Babylon was to fall to the armies under the command of Cyrus the Persian.
Because of the manner in which Jehovah used Moses and dealt with him, Moses exercised great awesomeness (Heb., moh·raʼʹ) before the eyes of God’s people. (De 34:10, 12; Ex 19:9) Those with faith had a wholesome fear of Moses’ authority. They realized that God spoke by means of him. Regarding Jehovah’s sanctuary, too, the Israelites were to be in awe. (Le 19:30; 26:2) This meant that they were to manifest a reverent regard for the sanctuary, carrying out worship in the manner that Jehovah directed and conducting themselves in harmony with all of his commands.