The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this concerns all humankind – Ecclesiastes 12:13
Reading the Old Testament has been an eye opener in many ways and I hope to discuss this more with time as I get around to putting my thoughts into words. One thing that struck me deeply was how the children of Israel feared the Lord. Of course not all feared Him equally or to the same degree, but in what was written you get a sense that Jews understood what it truly meant to fear the Lord and I want to explore this a bit further.
Prior to the coming of Jesus Christ, Jews feared the Lord because of His punishments: if you disobeyed his precepts you would be punished, and quite often this meant death. The Lord proved this time and time again in the Old Testament. In Leviticus we read how the two sons of Aaron where killed because they did not follow the correct priestly procedure:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers and, putting incense on the fire they had set in them, they offered before the LORD unauthorized fire, such as he had not commanded. Fire therefore came forth from the LORD’s presence and consumed them, so that they died in the LORD’s presence. – Leviticus 10:1-2
Pretty intense, isn’t it? You don’t hear this too much in the mainstream Catholic circles, but most critics point to passages like this in the Old Testament to highlight the supposed brutality of our Lord. God of love you say? You can see their eyes rolling as they go through this passage, but those who read this and think this is outrageous need to adjust their thinking to a very different standard.
I love thinking about how men such as Abraham, Moses, and King David behaved in ancient times. Centuries have passed between us and them and you can imagine that, across that span of time, how they acted vs how we act would be quite different. Why? Lots of simple reasons such as advancement in science and technology, development of the universities, governments, and capitalism to name a few things. Even something so deeply offending in our days such as slavery was readily accepted and practiced during this time. As such, when looking back to the actions of our Lord, you have to put yourself into the mind of a Jew present in that time. This is not straightforward because you have to put yourself into a mental state where you are not gifted with the current knowledge, freedoms, privileges, conveniences you have today and really trying hard to put yourself into their shoes. What do you feel and see? With this in mind we can interpret the Lord’s actions in a new light and a get a sense of why He acted the way He did.
A frequent description given to the children of Israel in the Old Testament is that they are stiff necked. It means someone who is stubborn. One example showing how Jews were stiff necked is in the book of Exodus. I was astounded when I read that shortly after the Jews had escaped captivity from Egypt and Moses had went away for forty days, that they immediately begin to lose their way and drift from the God who just saved them. While Moses is away, they ask Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship. It must have been within 0-3 months since their exodus and already they had forgotten the mighty deeds of the Lord. This isn’t the only time either! Time and time again they keep falling into sin. They will not follow the precepts of the Lord, even with the harsh punishments that were imposed on them because of their stubbornness. The Old Testament reveals the nature of the Jews and their relationship with God: they were stubborn, they would sin, God would punish them, they would ask for forgiveness and the Lord would grant it to them. This cycle would repeat itself many times. It makes you appreciate the mercy of our Lord because most of us would be fed up after the second or third time someone disobeyed us. To get through a stubborn and harsh people, the Lord had to act in a manner that would speak and resonate with them.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus Christ didn’t come a few years after Moses and proclaim Himself as the Messiah and be done with it early on? I really think it has to do with the fact the people were NOT ready to receive Him. The Lord had to impose harsh judgments on the children of Israel so that they might at least try and follow the law of the Lord. This would help prepare them internally to receive the Messiah. After Jesus Christ is crucified, the nature of the fear of the Lord changed subtly to what we commonly know understand it to be today. We fear the Lord not because of His judgments like the people of the Old Testament but we fear Him because we are afraid to offend the one whom we love.
Fortunately for us we receive this grace to fear the Lord through the Holy Spirit as this is one of the seven gifts received. It’s a shame however how little this is discussed in our time and why it really needs to be prayed for very frequently. There seems to be a common trend in the last few decades to emphasis solely on the love of God. Honestly, this is a good thing, but we rarely talk about fear of the Lord. It is hard to associated love with fear and perhaps they seem contradictory to each other, but we have to be mindful of who we are dealing with here. God is the creator of the UNIVERSE. How many of you fear the authority of your superiors, bosses, and leaders? Would you dare slap a president, or your boss? Sounds tempting, but most of us fear the temporal punishment that would follow. Therefore, how much more then should we fear the Lord? And we see in our time that the Lord is not feared and this is a great injustice done unto Him.
Fear of the Lord is a grace and although imparted during baptism/confirmation, like all gifts, it can be lost or dulled if we live in a state of mortal sin or have become lukewarm towards our Lord. I ask you to come back to the Lord and continue on the narrow path. These gifts will be reaffirmed when we make the firm resolve to respond to the graces of the Lord and have a heart that desires to do His will. If this does not come naturally to you, do not despair. Knock and the door will be open. Ask and you shall receive. The Lord will not deny a good request and you can have absolute certainty that this holy fear of the Lord will come with time and will lead you to a deeper union with God.