“The Fear of the LORD”

The process used in this analysis was part of the five-step process outlined by Dr. Chet Roden in his book, Elementary Biblical Hebrew. The steps including: 1. Select only the most important words for your study. 2. Determine the Hebrew word from which the English word was derived. 3. Determine the usage of the Hebrew word. 4. List all English words used for that one Hebrew word. 5. Consider how the contextual settings influenced each of the English word choices.[1] There was an extra step added in the process: 6. Classify the usage of the verse. If contexts seem similar, group those together. These headings will be used as a model. However, more focus will be placed on the context to determine the meaning of the phrase.

Select only the most important words for your study

This step does not apply to this analysis because the phrase “the fear of the Lord” was pre-selected. However, much of the same strategy applies when choosing a phrase, “numeric usage” is important. For example, look for a phrase that is central in the passage, that is, a phrase in which the entire passage is formed around.[2] In this case, the phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” is central to the book. It calls for a reverence and obedience to God that will foster virtuous behavior leading to wisdom, good health, and happiness. Moreover, the phrase is part of a statement that is exclusive to Israelite writings, not prevalent in the Wisdom texts of Egypt or Mesopotamia.[3]

Determine the Hebrew word from which the English word was derived

The English word “fear” was derived from the Hebrew word יִרְאַ֣ת (yir’ah). Meaning: to fear, to reverence.[4] The English word “Lord” was derived from the Hebrew word יְ֭הוָה (yeh-ho-vaw), Meaning: “Jehovah, pr. name of the supreme God amongst the Hebrew.”[5]

Determine the usage of the Hebrew word

The Phrase is used three times in the first two chapters of Proverbs. The phrase is found in the following verses: Proverbs 1:7, occurring in a positive setting corresponding to knowledge—a statement. Proverbs 1:29, occurring in a negative setting corresponding to knowledge—the result of not choosing to fear the Lord. Proverbs 2:5, in a positive setting corresponding to knowledge, but beyond the simple statement made in Proverbs 1:7. In Proverbs 2:5, the author provided more detail related to the phrase; explaining when the student would “understand the fear of the Lord.” This is evident in the previous four verses, that is, understanding comes through commitment, obedience, requests, and seeking (Prov 2:1-4).

List all English words used for that one Hebrew word

Francis Brown, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs’ (BDB) Hebrew-English lexicon records several English words for ‏יִרְאָה n.f. fear: great fear, terror, fear of God, reverence, piety. Related to this phrase they have Proverbs 1:29 cross referenced with Isaiah 11:2, Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 1:7, 15:33, 8:13, and 16:6 “the knowledge (of God) is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge, the instruction of wisdom is to hate evil, and it involves departing from evil.”[6] For the word יהוה  i.e. ‏יַהְוֶה BDB records it as “Yahweh, the proper name of the God of Israel.” Moreover, according to BDB, “the pronunciation Jehovah was unknown until 1520, when it was introduced by Galatinus; but it was contested by Le Mercier, J. Drusius, and L. Capellus, as against grammatical and historical propriety.”[7]

Consider how the contextual settings influenced each of the English word choices

Semantic circumstances can be beneficial to understand the meaning of a passage. The following consists of two grouping examples used in English to convey the circumstance: Cause, or the reason for the result. The context applies to the phrase in the first two chapters. The cause of, or the beginning of knowledge is “the fear of the Lord.” Contingency, or the condition. This applies specifically to Proverbs 1:29. “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose “the fear of the Lord.” The structure of this passage is in a prepositional phrase. It is contingent on fearing the Lord. Because of their choice, not to fear the Lord, when they called upon the wise council, they were not answered.[8]

Classify the usage of the verse. If contexts seem similar, group those together

Proverbs were used by the ancients to get their point across. The context in which the Proverb was spoken must be considered for it to be useful. These proverbs represent true perspectives. The modern reader should note that seeking to understand “the fear of the Lord” through study, obedience, and living virtuously does not guarantee a long prosperous life. For example, “keep my commandments and you will live” (Prov. 7:2), is a value statement expressed in the biblical world, not a promise.[9] There is value in the proverbial phrase, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). However, having reverence for God and seeking Him does not promise knowledge. The value resides in the application, that is, fearing God. It puts the human condition into perspective by disclosing there is a universal order that humanity can abide in, but it is reserved for those who recognize the divine authority responsible for ordering the universe. This teaching is stressed and summed up in the book of Proverbs several times through the phrase “the fear of the Lord,”

The context of the passage in Proverbs 1:7 is a conclusion to the previous verses’ authoritative warning on righteous, justice, and understanding. For example, learning, understanding, and gaining instruction through hearing the words of the wise will motivate the student to have reverence for God. Reverence for God is the beginning of knowledge, a concept that the foolish despise. The results of those who fail to fear the Lord are made known in Proverbs 1:29. Those who do not fear God ignored the council of the wise, but when disaster strikes, they seek the instruction of the wise. However, it is too late, they are left at the mercy of their own destructive devices. “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:29).

The characteristics of someone who has the “fear of the Lord” is revealed throughout the book. Proverbs 2:5 describes someone who has begun to understand the fear of the Lord. As previously mentioned, the preceding four verses exemplify these characteristics. “My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if your seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:1-5). From this passage it is evident that the characteristics of this person will be: faithful/obedient, “if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you;” sincerity in learning, “if you indeed cry out” and “search for it as for hidden treasures;” and committed to understanding, “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding.” The “fear of the Lord,” therefore, is not an emotion of terror that accompanies stress and anxiety from a subject who dreads punishment. The phrase exemplifies true reverence for God and humility. The value in the phrase begins to materialize when man seeks to understand this order in the universe.  

Bibliography

Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.

Blue Letter Bible. “H835 – ‘esher – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (ESV).” Blue Letter Bible.Accessed 27 May, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H835&t=ESV.

Brown, Francis, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs (2012). A Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament. WORDsearch Corp. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com.

Long, Gary A. Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2013.

Roden, Chet. Elementary Biblical Hebrew: An Introduction to the Language and Its History. San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2017.

Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000.


[1] Chet Roden, Elementary Biblical Hebrew: An Introduction to the Language and Its History (San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2017), 64-65.

[2] Ibid., 64.

[3] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 354.

[4] “yir’ah – Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 9 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.  

[5] “Yehovah – Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 9 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.

[6] Francis Brown; R. Driver; Charles Briggs (2012). A Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament. WORDsearch Corp. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gary A. Long, Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 170-171.

[9] John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 561, 564.

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