Steven Shek—Edinburgh, UK
GOD’S MESSAGE OF GODLY FEAR
We rarely hear of joy and the fear of God spoken in the same breath. Most want to receive joy from God, without cultivating the fear of Him. But if we do not seek after godly fear, then the joy we experience will be short-lived. Any individual concerned with his salvation must have the motivation to fear God. A progressive relationship with God is rooted not only in God’s love, but also in godly fear.
A lack of godly fear can lead to sin and, as a result, punishment from God. Through God’s word, Jeremiah foresaw the devastation that God’s children would bring upon themselves through sin (Jer 33:1–26). But God also revealed that, once His people fear Him and repent, He would have mercy:
“Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. … Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” (Jer 33:6–9)
This prophesy speaks truth to those who, when they realize the error of their ways, repent and return to God. Those who acknowledge God’s discipline will turn to God in fear of Him. And He will heal. God will do many things for His returned people, such that they will joyfully magnify His holy name!
When one has the fear of God at the center of his life, he will have a foretaste of heavenly joy. The relationship between godly fear and joy is evident throughout the Bible. Let us look at how God’s word is fulfilled from generation to generation, and how we, too, can live a joyful life.
FEAST OF THE PASSOVER
When the Israelites observed the Passover in Egypt, they knew what God was going to do—He would destroy all the Egyptian firstborn and lead His people out of Egypt (Ex 12:1–14, 29–42). Indeed, they witnessed God’s salvation and almighty power through this event. After they received the Law of Moses, the Israelites continued to keep the Passover out of the fear of God (Deut 16:1–8). And by observing this feast, they rejoiced in God’s deliverance.
On the first anniversary of the Passover, during their walk in the wilderness, the Israelites were to observe the feast again (Num 9:1–14). However, it became known that a group of people had been defiled by touching a human corpse. These individuals confessed their defilement, and they also asked why they could not partake in the Passover. They were keen to present the offering, but did not want to break God’s law by doing so while unclean. God, in His mercy, allowed them to keep the Passover a month later, giving them time for ceremonial cleansing before partaking in this most holy feast (Num 5:2). We can see the fear of God ruling in their hearts, to act according to God’s commandments.
During the kingdom years, after a period of spiritual decline under a series of ungodly kings, Hezekiah led a reformation to turn the people back to God (2 Chr 30). He proclaimed that the Passover was to be observed—a message sent not only to his own people of Judah, but also to Israel. The messengers ran to every locality, commanding the people to return to God so that God would return to them. The people were called to yield to God, to prevent the same fate of desolation that befell those who had transgressed God’s law. Those who did not fear God laughed and mocked, but others humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. The hand of God was upon Judah. Those who gathered throughout the Feast of Unleavened Bread were filled with great joy. We can see the relationship between having the fear of God, leading to humble obedience, and the joy that comes from observing His commandments.
Decades later, after returning from captivity, the Jews again kept the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6:19–22). They had the fear of God, as those who “returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel” (Ezra 6:21). In the process of seeking God, they observed the Passover, and in keeping God’s commandment, they departed from evil. The wonderful testimony for us today is that those who kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread did so with joy. This joy did not arise because Darius assisted them in rebuilding God’s temple, but was bestowed on them by God because they observed His will.
Each time the children of God observed the Passover, they did so out of the fear of God. This is especially true when, after periods of spiritual darkness, they rediscovered God’s word. And each time, their spiritual lives were revived with joy from God. We know the Passover prefigures the Holy Communion, because Jesus is the Lamb of God and our Passover (Jn 1:29; 1 Cor 5:6–8). We are to keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Each time we partake in the Holy Communion, let us reflect on the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and allow godly fear to reign in our hearts. Then, obedience to His commands and heavenly joy will follow.
FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The Feast of Tabernacles is another Old Testament feast that holds prophetic significance for us today (Lev 23:33–44; Num 29:12–40; Deut 16:13–17). During the feast, the Israelites would make offerings and live in tents for seven days, to remember how the Lord brought them out of Egypt. This was a time of rejoicing, not only in looking back, but also in looking forward to how God would bless them. Everyone was invited to this sacred feast of the Lord.
After Nehemiah led the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls, Ezra, the scribe, read the Law of Moses to the people (Neh 8:9–18). When they heard God’s law, the people were broken-hearted and wept over their sins. However, the Levites quieted them and said, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved” (Neh 8:11). The people understood what they were taught, and continued to study the law. They discovered that God had commanded them to dwell in booths (tents) during the feast of the seventh month. The people followed the instructions of the spiritual leaders, and “there was very great gladness” (Neh 8:17b). Throughout the feast, God’s word was read to the whole congregation of Israel. We can see that they experienced godly fear, as well as joy.
FEAR AND JOY IN THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
The apostolic church also experienced the joy that comes with knowing and following God’s word. After the Pentecost, three thousand souls were added to the fold, and the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42–47). In those days, hearing God’s word was enough to put godly fear into the believers. Having received the Holy Spirit, this newly established and expanding church had the fear of God among them (Isa 11:1–2). As in the days of the Feast of Tabernacles, they were taught God’s word through the doctrine of the apostles. This cultivated their fear of God, which in turn brought them joy in the Lord. They “ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God” (Acts 2:46b–47a).
Spiritually speaking, we have always been dwelling in tents. The apostle Paul describes our present perishable bodies as “our earthly house, this tent” (2 Cor 5:1–4). The apostle Peter also spoke the same truth:
“Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.” (2 Pet 1:13–14)
We may be living in tents, but we have departed from the spiritual Egypt, having been saved by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, we look forward to “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1b). We observe the weekly Sabbath in anticipation of eventually putting off our tents and entering into this eternal Sabbath rest (Heb 4:8–10). As we are one with the apostolic church (Jn 17:20–24), we ought to have the same fear and joy, arising from God’s word.
The above examples highlight the fact that God’s word alone is sufficient to induce the fear of Him in our hearts. In turn, this fear leads us to receive joy from God. We should avoid trying to generate joy through other means; if we are not perfecting our fear of God through keeping His commandments, then this is not true joy. When God sees that His children truly fear Him, He will personally give them joy. So, whenever we have a joyful experience, we should discern whether it is from God, through godly fear.
May God bless us all to seek the fear of God, so that we can obey God’s will and receive true joy from Him. Amen.