Perhaps one of the most confusing phrases in all of Scripture is "the fear of the Lord." It seems, to most of us, or at least, we have heard, that the fear of the Lord is something that we're supposed to have, something we're supposed to live in. We know that it doesn't mean that we're supposed to be afraid of God, that we're supposed to be fearful; there's enough in Scripture to tell us that fear is not ever what God desires of us or for us. And we know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But that leaves us with a lingering question: what is the fear of the Lord?
What if it's not something we do, but something God Himself gives us? What if the fear of the Lord originates from Him, not us?
Psalm 19 seems to create the impression that this is exactly the case.
If you look closely at this psalm, you see a certain structure set up. The Psalmist is here talking about the ways that God has given us to live, the things that He's tried to teach us, the guidance He's provided for us. And it sets up across a parallel.
It starts with the instruction of the Lord. That is, the overt, deliberate teachings where God has told His people yes or no, this or that, left or right. He has taught them plainly what He wants them to know, and these teachings are recorded in many cases for us.
Then comes the testimony of the Lord. Here are the things that God has said about Himself, the things He wants us to know from His own experience so that we can trust His understanding and presence in our world and in our lives.
After that come the precepts of the Lord. Precepts are general rules that are meant to set up a structure around how we live or think or act. So again, we have God giving us something that's supposed to mean something to us, that tells us in itself what to do with it.
And then...the fear of the Lord.
And after this, the ordinances of the Lord. Ordinances are akin to laws, and we know that the Old Testament is full of laws for us to live by.
One of these things is not like the others. Or is it?
By our common understanding, we here have four things that originate in God and one that originates in us. We have four things God has given us - His instruction, His testimony, His precepts, and His ordinances - and we have one thing we're supposed to just figure out and have - the fear of the Lord.
It's quite a stretch to say that that would then be true. Why would anyone set up a list this way? It doesn't make any sense.
But if we come to understand that the fear of the Lord is also something that originates in God, is also something that He gives to us, then we start to build a new framework for understanding just what the fear of the Lord even is. It's the beginning of wisdom - but the Scriptures never say it is the beginning of our wisdom; what if it is the beginning of His?
That changes things.