“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
To be released from earthly fears and grow in fear of the Lord is essential to living in perfect shalom and accessing the wisdom, guidance, and power of our Awesome God.
So central to Jewish thinking is not being afraid that it is recited at the end of the Jewish Shabbat service as well as in the daily evening prayer.
The people say,
Adonai li; lo ira — יְהוָ֣ה לִ֭י לֹ֣א אִירָ֑א:
God is with me; I shall not fear.
(Psalm 118:6; also Isaiah 41:10)
God’s teaching about fear is central in His Scriptures.
The Bible mentions fear 400 times, showing us that God anticipated our propensity to be afraid and our need of His assurance and guidance.
In fact, do not fear! (in Hebrew, Al-tirah! – אַל־תִּירָא֙) is the most often repeated command in the Bible, appearing 51 times!
The Hebrew יִרְאָה – yirah is usually translated as fear, the emotion that initiates a host of chemical changes in our brains and bodies, preparing us to either fight, freeze, or flee from any real or perceived danger. In that automatic response, there is no time for accessing God’s will or wisdom in our lives.
So, how do we live in His wisdom during these fearful situations?
King Solomon tells us that “the fear of the Lord [not man or circumstances] is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Let’s look at some important examples of how to acquire a healthy fear of the Lord, which gives us wisdom, and how we can prevent the unhealthy fears that keep God’s influence out of our lives.
Fear Not People
People can be intimidating, but as one rabbinic sage (the Gerer Rebbe) said:
“If a man has fear of anything except the Creator, he is in some degree an idolater. For to fear is to offer worship to the thing feared, and this form of worship may be offered only to the Lord.” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh I,75)
We are to worship no thing or person. When we do, it separates us from the love and guidance of our Father, for “the fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25)
Another way to explain how important and practical it is not to fear people or circumstances is a Jewish proverb that has evolved into a popular Jewish folksong for all occasions. It says:
“k’she-adam tzarikh la-avor gesher tzar m·od, ha-k’lal v’ha-ikkar shelo yit-paheid k’lal.”
“When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the principle and essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov wrote in Likutei Moharan)
The solution to getting across a narrow bridge is to consciously override our natural, automatic fear response by asking our Father in Heaven for sound judgement, discretion, and prudence, which is the wisdom that comes from fearing Him alone.
We can then say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
Fear Not Opportunities to Move Forward
As former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat [moving backward] into advance [moving forward].”
Because of fear, the Israelites who left Egyptian slavery wanted to retreat back to serving Pharaoh instead of advancing into their Promised Land under the reign of their King of kings.
Fear keeps us from moving into our destiny as well.
When we want to flee back to our old ways, divine wisdom causes us to ask:
What insurmountable obstacle is before us that God cannot help us overcome?
- The Israelites feared they were trapped by the Red Sea, but God parted it for them.
- The Israelites feared they had no food or drink in the barren, dry desert, but God gave them daily manna from heaven and water from a rock.
- The Israelites feared they couldn’t defeat the giants in Canaan, but God promised He would help them take possession of that land.
We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of Israel’s early history or repeat the same fears we have had in our past.
We can take hold of what God has promised. As we do, He also promises:
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6)
Fear Not Good News
Sometimes, as we seek God’s help, He might speak directly to us Himself through one of His messengers or through someone who has a word of knowledge for us.
In these moments, we must again seek wisdom and discernment. If a message is from the Lord, it will happen.
But we also can’t be so cautious that we miss out on what God wants to do in us and through us.
Moses could have fled the burning bush (Exodus 3), and Mary could have run away from the Angel Gabriel.
Although Moses had lots of fears and perhaps wanted to flee, He didn’t. He eventually discerned the truth of the divine message before him: he would lead a people out of bondage.
Mary also accepted her assignment: she would give birth to the Savior. And she gave the only proper response any of us can give:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to Your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Those who have listened and acted on the Word of the Lord and not their own fears stepped into their destinies. And with a healthy fear of the Lord, so can we.
Let’s now find out what that kind of fear means.
Fear the Lord, Who Is Awesome
In Judaism, Yirat Adonai, Fear of the Lord, is a crucial subject in rabbinical study and in Scripture, for it is “the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
In modern Hebrew, norah is the word for terrible or dreadful and comes from the root yirah. But both yirah and norah can also mean — awesome. Not as in “we had an awesome time on vacation,” but “the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome (נּוֹרָ֖א — norah) God.” (Deuteronomy 10:17)
This fear is not only a sense of awesomeness at His majesty, but a healthy fear of not obeying Him.
When we are adopted into His family, we suddenly experience a love for our heavenly Father that leads us into obedience and away from offending Him.
And that is what our Father asks of us as well.
When Moses gives the foundational instructions to Israel about what God requires, the fear of Him is first on the list:
“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and His decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.” (Deuteronomy 10:12–13)
On the Biblical high holy days, known as the Feasts of the Lord, the Jewish People actually pray for the fear of the Lord. Rabbi Soloveitchik once explained why:
“We pray that this great fear [of the Lord] will free us from all the lesser fears which lurk everywhere, upsetting and embittering our lives.” (Confrontation: The Existential Thought of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, by Zvi Kolitz)
A healthy fear of God causes us to live righteously before Him, and that produces manifold blessings, such as these:
- preservation of life (Proverbs 19:23);
- friendship with God (Psalm 25:14);
- abundant goodness (Psalm 31:19);
- angelic protection (Psalm 34:7);
- provision of needs (Psalm 34:9); and
- fulfilled desires (Psalm 145:19).
The Angel of the Lord says, “Fear Not”
Throughout the Bible, we read of people in awe at meeting Almighty God and being told by Him not to be afraid.
Many times, it is Malach Adonai, the Angel of the Lord, who appears — to Moses in a burning bush, to Daniel in a lion’s den — and says, “Fear not!”
In Rabbinic teaching throughout the centuries, this manifestation of God in physical form is the Messiah.
During His ministry on earth as the Prince of Shalom, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) often alleviated the fears of those He visited:
- He said amidst a storm, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
- He said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 27)
- In a vision, the beloved disciple John sees Messiah and falls down as though dead. Yeshua gently puts His hand on His friend and says, “It’s okay; you can stand up. Do not be afraid!” (Revelation 1:17)
In Yeshua’s humanity, He truly understands our fears.
As we read in a beautiful Messianic prophecy, the Messiah’s delight is in the Fear of the Lord:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2–3)
And we can do likewise because we are “hidden with Messiah in God.” (Colossians 3:3)