1. Cornerstone of wisdom. Israel’s wisdom literature was unique in its declaration of the fear of the Lord as being foundational to wisdom. The fear of the Lord was both the prerequisite and the object of wisdom of ancient Israel. The book of Proverbs is built upon the fear of Yahweh as the basis for practical holiness and skillful living. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and discipline (instruction)” (Pro. 1:7).
2. Definition. Although synonyms for the idiom, “fear of the Lord,” are varied, emphasis is usually placed on the concept of worship. The fear of the Lord is described as “loving reverence” in the New International Version. The Ryrie Study Bible renders the term “a reverence for God expressed in submission to His will.” Scofield notes that the fear of the Lord is a “reverential trust with hatred of evil.” Webster defines awe as “fear mingled with admiration or reverence.” Derek Kidner prefers the definition, “worshipping submission.”
3. Components. Bruce Waltke observes three elements to the expression: an objective revelation of God’s moral law (Psa. 19:7-9; 34:11), the subjective submission to that revelation (Pro. 15:33), and dread of the wrath and judgment of God (Deut. 6:13-15; Job 31:23). He notes that incorporated within the term, fear of the Lord, is the general idea of the fear of God, God’s revelation in common grace through man’s conscience. In Genesis 20:12 and Exodus 1:17-21, there is a standard of conduct generally accepted by mankind.
4. Description. Biblically, the “fear of the Lord” is a complex expression encompassing the antithetical aspects of absolute obedience, i.e. submission to God, and the rejection of evil (1 Thes. 1:9). It is not limited to the act of worship, but is a willful response to the essence of God which incites one to godly living. The expression is frequently linked with obedience (Ecc. 12:13).
5. References. As defined in the Scriptures, the fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). It requires understanding (Prov. 2:5); involves a choice (Prov. 1:29; (Gen. 20:11; Neh. 5:15); demands absolute obedience (Gen. 22:12) and departure from evil (Prov. 3:7; 16:6; Job 28:28); and results in a prolonged life (Prov. 10:27). The dread of destruction (Job 31:23) is a motivation to righteous living. The wicked sin because they do not fear the Lord (Gen. 20:11).