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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Fear of God

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The Hebrew equivalent of "religion." It is the mainspring of religion, morality, and wisdom, and is productive of material prosperity and well-being. Who fears God will refrain from doing the things that would be displeasing to Him, the things that would make himself unworthy of God's regard. Fear of God does not make men shrink from Him as one would from a tyrant or a wild beast; it draws them nearer to Him and fills them with reverential awe. That fear which is merely self-regarding is unworthy of a child of God. The difference between fear of God and fear of man is contrasted in Isaiah 8:12-13: "Call ye not conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and that which they fear, fear not ye, neither count it worthy of dread. Yhwh Sabaoth, Him count ye holy; let Him be your fear; let Him be your dread" (Hebr.).

Fear of God is identical with love and service. "And now, Israel, what doth Yhwh thy God require of thee but to fear Yhwh thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Yhwh thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?" (Deuteronomy 10:12). "Thou shalt fear Yhwh thy God and Him shalt thou serve" (Deuteronomy 6:13, Hebr.) in acts of public devotion, the spontaneous outcome of sincere reverence (Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 10:12, 11:13, 13:4; comp. Job 15:4).

Fear of God implies hatred of evil and wrong, and makes for righteousness and peace. "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God" (Leviticus 19:14).

When Abimelech upbraids Abraham for having told him that Sarah was his (Abraham's) sister, Abraham excuses himself by saying: "I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake" (Genesis 20:11; comp. xlii, 18). Of Job it is said that he was "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1; comp. Exodus 1:17; Proverbs 3:7, 8:13). "The fear of the Lord driveth away sins" (Ecclus. [Sirach] 1:21).

There exists an intimate relation between fear of God and wisdom. The wise man knows how to value, while the fool despises, the fear of God. Ecclesiastes asserts that the fear of God is the whole duty of man (12:13). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10; Ecclus. [Sirach] 1:18). Trust in God overcomes all fear and is a protection in time of danger. "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield" (Genesis 15:2). "Except the God of my father Abram, He whom Isaac feared, had been with me, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty" (Genesis 31:42). "I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Psalms 23:4; comp. 112:7).

The fear of God is practical wisdom, productive of blessings in life and death. Thus long life is promised to him who fears Yhwh and keeps His laws and statutes (Deuteronomy 6:2; Yoma; Psalms 128:1-2; Ecclus. [Sirach] 1:11 et seq.; Proverbs 14:27). Blessings come not only to him who fears God, but also to his posterity (Jeremiah 32:39). Gratitude for help and deliverance from danger leads naturally to fear of God (Exodus 14:31; 1 Samuel 12:24).

Fear of God may also be dread of God's punishment in consequence of sin and shame. Thus Adam was afraid to meet God because he was naked (Genesis 3:10). Job feels "the terrors of God"; and of the wicked it is said: "Terrors take hold on him as waters" (Job 6:4, 27:20). At times fear is inflicted by God as punishment for man's disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:66; comp. Leviticus 26:17).

In the Talmud the conception of the fear of God ("mora shamayim") is similar to that in Scripture. ANTIGONUS OF SOKO used to say: "Be not like slaves that serve their master to receive a reward; be like those that serve their master without regard to reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you" (Abot 1:3). "Everything is in the hand of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven" (Meg. 25a; Ber. 33b). "He who has the Torah without the fear of God is like a treasurer who has the keys to the inner treasure, but not to the outer; how then can he reach the inner?" (Shab. 31b). "He who fears God may be likened to the wise artisan who keeps his tools always ready for work" (Ab. R. N. ).

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Fear of God'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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