Fear Jehovah and Keep His Commandments
“Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—ECCLESIASTES 12:13.
1, 2. (a) How can fear protect us physically? (b) Why do wise parents endeavor to instill a wholesome fear in their children?
“JUST as courage imperils life, fear protects it,” observed Leonardo da Vinci. Bravado, or foolhardy courage, blinds a man to danger, whereas fear reminds him to be careful. For example, if we get near the edge of a cliff and see how far down we could fall, most of us instinctively move back. Similarly, a wholesome fear not only promotes a good relationship with God, as we learned in the preceding article, but also helps safeguard us from injury.
2 Fear of many modern-day hazards, however, has to be learned. Since young children are unaware of the dangers of electricity or city traffic, they can easily have a serious accident.* Wise parents try to instill a wholesome fear in their offspring, warning them again and again of surrounding dangers. Parents know that this fear may well save their children’s life.
3. Why and how does Jehovah warn us about spiritual dangers?
3 Jehovah has a similar concern for our well-being. As a loving Father, he teaches us through his Word and his organization to benefit ourselves. (Isaiah 48:17) Part of this divine teaching program involves warning us “again and again” about spiritual pitfalls so that we can develop a healthy fear of such danger. (2 Chronicles 36:15; 2 Peter 3:1) Throughout history many spiritual disasters could have been avoided and much suffering averted ‘if only people had developed this heart of theirs to fear God and keep his commandments.’ (Deuteronomy 5:29) In these “critical times hard to deal with,” how can we develop our heart to fear God and keep out of spiritual danger?—2 Timothy 3:1.
Turn Away From Bad
4. (a) What hatred should Christians cultivate? (b) How does Jehovah feel about sinful conduct? (See footnote.)
4 The Bible explains that “the fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad.” (Proverbs 8:13) A Bible lexicon describes this hatred as “an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship.” So godly fear includes an inner aversion or disgust toward all that is bad in Jehovah’s eyes.* (Psalm 97:10) It impels us to turn aside from bad, just as we would back away from the edge of a cliff when our instinctive fear sounds the alarm. “In the fear of Jehovah one turns away from bad,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 16:6.
5. (a) How can we strengthen our godly fear and our hatred for what is bad? (b) What does the history of the nation of Israel teach us in this regard?
5 We can reinforce this wholesome fear and hatred for what is bad by considering the harmful consequences that sin inevitably brings. The Bible assures us that we will reap what we sow—whether we sow according to the flesh or according to the spirit. (Galatians 6:7, 8) For this reason Jehovah graphically described the inevitable results of disregarding his commandments and abandoning true worship. Without divine protection, the small, vulnerable nation of Israel would be at the mercy of cruel and powerful neighbors. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 45-48) The tragic outcome of Israel’s disobedience was recorded in detail in the Bible “for a warning” so that we can learn the lesson and cultivate godly fear.—1 Corinthians 10:11.
6. What are some Scriptural examples that we can consider in learning godly fear? (See footnote.)
6 Apart from what happened to the nation of Israel as a whole, the Bible contains real-life experiences of individuals who were overtaken by jealousy, immorality, greed, or pride.* Some of these men had served Jehovah for many years, but at one crucial moment in their life, their fear of God was not sufficiently strong, and they reaped a bitter harvest. Meditating on such Scriptural examples can strengthen our resolve not to make similar mistakes. How sad it would be if we waited until we had a personal tragedy before taking God’s advice to heart! Contrary to what is commonly believed, experience—especially from self-indulgence—is not the best teacher.—Psalm 19:7.
7. Who does Jehovah invite into his figurative tent?
7 Another powerful reason for cultivating godly fear is our desire to safeguard our relationship with God. We fear to displease Jehovah because we treasure his friendship. Whom does God consider to be a friend, someone he would invite into his figurative tent? Only the one “who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness.” (Psalm 15:1, 2) If we value this privileged relationship with our Creator, we will take care to walk faultlessly in his eyes.
8. How did some Israelites in Malachi’s day take friendship with God for granted?
8 Sadly, some Israelites in Malachi’s day took friendship with God for granted. Instead of fearing and honoring Jehovah, they offered sick and lame animals on his altar. Their lack of godly fear was also reflected in their attitude toward marriage. In order to marry younger women, they divorced the wives of their youth for trivial reasons. Malachi told them that Jehovah hated “a divorcing” and that their treacherous spirit had alienated them from their God. How could God look with favor on their sacrifices when the altar was figuratively covered with tears—the bitter tears shed by their abandoned wives? Such flagrant disrespect for his standards moved Jehovah to ask: “Where is the fear of me?”—Malachi 1:6-8; 2:13-16.
9, 10. How can we show that we value Jehovah’s friendship?
9 Today, Jehovah likewise sees the heartbreak of many innocent mates and children who have been devastated by selfish and immoral husbands and fathers or even wives and mothers. Surely it grieves him. A friend of God will see matters the way God sees them and will work hard to strengthen his marriage, reject worldly thinking that belittles the importance of the marriage bond, and “flee from fornication.”—1 Corinthians 6:18.
10 In marriage as well as in other areas of our life, hatred for all that is bad in Jehovah’s eyes, along with a deep appreciation for his friendship, will bring Jehovah’s favor and approval. The apostle Peter firmly stated: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) We have many Scriptural examples that show how godly fear moved individuals to do what was right in various trying circumstances.
Three Who Feared God
11. Under what circumstances was Abraham declared to be “God-fearing”?
11 There is one man in the Bible whom Jehovah personally described as his friend—the patriarch Abraham. (Isaiah 41:8) Abraham’s godly fear was put to the test when God asked him to offer as a sacrifice his only son, Isaac, through whom God would fulfill his promise that Abraham’s offspring would become a great nation. (Genesis 12:2, 3; 17:19) Would “Jehovah’s friend” pass this painful test? (James 2:23) At the very moment when Abraham raised his knife to kill Isaac, Jehovah’s angel said: “Do not put out your hand against the boy and do not do anything at all to him, for now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.”—Genesis 22:10-12.
12. What motivated Abraham’s godly fear, and how can we show a similar spirit?
12 Although Abraham had previously proved himself to be one who feared Jehovah, on that occasion he manifested his godly fear in an outstanding way. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac was far more than a show of respectful obedience. Abraham was motivated by an absolute trust that his heavenly Father would fulfill His promise by resurrecting Isaac if necessary. As Paul wrote, Abraham was “fully convinced that what [God] had promised he was also able to do.” (Romans 4:16-21) Are we prepared to do God’s will even when it requires major sacrifices? Do we have total confidence that such obedience will bring long-term benefits, knowing that Jehovah is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him”? (Hebrews 11:6) That is true fear of God.—Psalm 115:11.
13. Why could Joseph rightly describe himself as a man who ‘feared the true God’?
13 Let us examine another example of godly fear in action—that of Joseph. As a slave in Potiphar’s household, Joseph daily found himself faced with pressure to commit adultery. There apparently was no way he could avoid contact with his master’s wife, who persistently made immoral advances toward him. Finally, when she “grabbed hold of him,” he “took to flight and went on outside.” What impelled him to turn aside from bad immediately? Undoubtedly, the principal factor was fear of God, the desire to avoid committing “this great badness and actually sin against God.” (Genesis 39:7-12) Joseph could rightly describe himself as a man who ‘feared the true God.’—Genesis 42:18.
14. How did Joseph’s mercy reflect true fear of God?
14 Years later Joseph came face-to-face with his brothers, who had heartlessly sold him into slavery. He could easily have used their desperate need for food as an opportunity to avenge the wrong they had done to him. But treating people tyrannically does not reflect the fear of God. (Leviticus 25:43) Thus, when Joseph saw ample proof of his brothers’ change of heart, he mercifully forgave them. Like Joseph, our godly fear will move us to conquer evil with good, as well as hold us back from falling into temptation.—Genesis 45:1-11; Psalm 130:3, 4; Romans 12:17-21.
15. Why had Job’s conduct gladdened Jehovah’s heart?
15 Job was another outstanding example of one who feared God. Jehovah said to the Devil: “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job, that there is no one like him in the earth, a man blameless and upright, fearing God and turning aside from bad?” (Job 1:8) For many years, Job’s blameless conduct had gladdened the heart of his heavenly Father. Job feared God because he knew that it was the right thing to do and the best way to live. “Look! The fear of Jehovah—that is wisdom,” Job exclaimed, “and to turn away from bad is understanding.” (Job 28:28) As a married man, Job was not improperly attentive to young women, nor did he harbor adulterous schemes in his heart. Although a rich man, he refused to put his trust in riches, and he shunned every form of idolatry.—Job 31:1, 9-11, 24-28.
16. (a) In what ways did Job exercise loving-kindness? (b) How did Job show that he did not withhold forgiveness?
16 Fear of God, however, means doing what is good as well as turning aside from what is bad. Thus, Job took a kindly interest in the blind, the lame, and the poor. (Leviticus 19:14; Job 29:15, 16) Job understood that “anyone who withholds loving-kindness from his own fellow, he will also leave off even the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14) Withholding loving-kindness could include withholding forgiveness or harboring a grudge. At God’s direction, Job prayed in behalf of his three companions, who had caused him so much grief. (Job 42:7-10) Could we show a similar forgiving spirit toward a fellow believer who may have hurt us in some way? A sincere prayer in behalf of the one who has offended us can do much to help us overcome resentment. The blessings Job enjoyed for his godly fear give us a foregleam of ‘the abundant goodness Jehovah has treasured up for those fearing him.’—Psalm 31:19; James 5:11.
Fear of God Versus Fear of Man
17. What can fear of men do to us, but why is such fear shortsighted?
17 While fear of God can impel us to do what is right, fear of man can undermine our faith. For this reason, when encouraging the apostles to be zealous preachers of the good news, Jesus told them: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28) Fear of men is shortsighted, Jesus explained, for men cannot destroy our future life prospects. Furthermore, we fear God because we recognize his awesome power, in comparison with which the might of all the nations is insignificant. (Isaiah 40:15) Like Abraham we have absolute confidence in Jehovah’s power to resurrect His faithful servants. (Revelation 2:10) Thus, we say with confidence: “If God is for us, who will be against us?”—Romans 8:31.
18. In what way does Jehovah reward those who fear him?
18 Whether our opposer is a family member or a school-yard bully, we will find that “in the fear of Jehovah there is strong confidence.” (Proverbs 14:26) We can pray to God for strength, knowing that he will hear us. (Psalm 145:19) Jehovah never forgets those who fear him. Through his prophet Malachi, he reassures us: “At that time those in fear of Jehovah spoke with one another, each one with his companion, and Jehovah kept paying attention and listening. And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.”—Malachi 3:16.
19. What kinds of fear will come to an end, but which sort will remain forever?
19 The time is near when everyone on earth will worship Jehovah and fear of man will disappear. (Isaiah 11:9) Fear of hunger, disease, crime, and war will also be gone. But the fear of God will remain throughout eternity as his faithful servants in heaven and on earth continue to show him due respect, obedience, and honor. (Revelation 15:4) Meanwhile, may all of us take to heart the inspired counsel of Solomon: “Let your heart not be envious of sinners, but be in the fear of Jehovah all day long. For in that case there will exist a future, and your own hope will not be cut off.”—Proverbs 23:17, 18.
Some adults lose their fear of danger when their work brings them into regular contact with hazardous situations. When asked why so many carpenters have a finger missing, an experienced craftsman simply replied: “They lose their fear of those high-speed electric saws.”
Jehovah himself feels this disgust. For example, Ephesians 4:29 describes bad language as “rotten saying.” The Greek word used for “rotten” literally refers to putrefying fruit, fish, or meat. Such a term vividly portrays the repulsion that we should feel toward abusive or obscene speech. Likewise, idols are often described in the Scriptures as “dungy.” (Deuteronomy 29:17; Ezekiel 6:9) Our natural aversion to dung, or excrement, helps us to understand God’s feeling of disgust for any form of idolatry.
Do You Remember?
• How do we learn to hate what is bad?
• How did some Israelites in Malachi’s day take Jehovah’s friendship for granted?
• What can we learn from Abraham, Joseph, and Job about the fear of God?
• Which fear will never be done away with, and why?
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Wise parents instill a wholesome fear in their offspring
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Just as fear turns us away from danger, godly fear turns us away from what is bad
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Job maintained his fear of God even when confronted with three false friends
From the Bible translation Vulgata Latina, 1795