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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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A. Verb.

Yârê' (יָרֵא, Strong's #3372), “to be afraid, stand in awe, fear.” This verb occurs in Ugaritic and Hebrew (both biblical and post-biblical). The Bible attests it approximately 330 times and in all periods.

Basically, this verb connotes the psychological reaction of “fear.” Yârê' may indicate being afraid of something or someone. Jacob prayed: “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children” (Gen. 32:11).

Used of a person in an exalted position, yârê' connotes “standing in awe.” This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God; the angel of the Lord told Abraham: “… I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12). The verb can be used absolutely to refer to the heavenly and holy attributes of something or someone. So Jacob said of Bethel: “How [awesome] is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17). The people who were delivered from Egypt saw God’s great power, “feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Exod. 14:31). There is more involved here than mere psychological fear. The people also showed proper “honor” (“reverence”) for God and “stood in awe of” Him and of His servant, as their song demonstrates (Exod. 15). After experiencing the thunder, lightning Flashes, sound of the trumpet, and smoking mountain, they were “afraid” and drew back; but Moses told them not to be afraid, “for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not” (Exod. 20:20). In this passage, the word represents “fear” or “dread” of the Lord. This sense is also found when God says, “fear not” (Gen. 15:1).

Yârê' can be used absolutely (with no direct object), meaning “to be afraid.” Adam told God: “… I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10—the first occurrence). One may be “afraid” to do something, as when Lot “feared to dwell in Zoar” (Gen. 19:30).

B. Nouns.

Môrâ' (מֹרָא, Strong's #4172), “fear.” The noun môrâ', which appears 12 times, is used exclusively of the fear of being before a superior kind of being. Usually it is used to describe the reaction evoked in men by God’s mighty works of destruction and sovereignty (Deut. 4:24). Hence, the word represents a very strong “fear” or “terror.” In the singular, this word emphasizes the divine acts themselves. Môrâ' may suggest the reaction of animals to men (Gen. 9:2) and of the nations to conquering Israel (Deut. 11:25).

Yir'âh (יִרְאָה, Strong's #3374), “fear; reverence.” The noun yir'âh appears 45 times in the Old Testament. It may mean “fear” of men (Deut. 2:25), of things (Isa. 7:25), of situations (Jonah 1:10), and of God (Jonah 1:12); it may also mean “reverence” of God (Gen. 20:11).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Fear'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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