Fear the Lord God... ??
Admittedly, millions have learned to have a fearful attitude, perhaps by using flawed translations or by listening to those who have blindly preached such fearful attitudes. This unfortunate concept of fear and dread seems have often been a result of the choice of words used by the scripture translators, not from the original words of the prophets.
The word most often translated in the Old Testament as fear is the Hebrew word (transliterated as yirah) which can possibly mean fear, but also means awe, reverence, respect and devotion. A closely related Hebrew word is (transliterated as yare) which can mean fearful, but also means to stand in awe, reverence or honor.
Similarly, the King James translators also chose to translate the Hebrew (transliterated as mowra) as fear, although it also means reverence, object of reverence, or an awe inspiring spectacle or deed. Another word that the King James translators chose to call fear is the Hebrew (transliterated as guwr) which can mean fear, but which also means to stir up, sojourn, dwell with, remain, dwell in or to stand in awe.
Fortunately, some of the newer bible translations are slowly beginning to correct this situation and are beginning to use fitting terms such as honor and reverence to express our relationship with God. What a magnificent difference it is to change from an attitude of fear of a dreadful, vengeful God into the beautiful, loving attitude of awe, reverence, respect and devotion towards a kind, loving God.
Compare, for example, the old King James version of Nehemiah 1:11 which reads ( with my added bold letter highlighting):
with New Living translation which reads:
or the New American Standard which reads:
or the New International Version which reads:
Oh what a delightful difference!!
Interestingly, the same sort of metaphors are also used in the Qur'an. For example, consider sura al-Tawba where the Arabic word (transliterated as yakhsha) is typically translated as "be fearful". However, just as in the case of the Hebrew words considered above, this word stems from a root (kh-sh-y) which means to have fear, dread, awe, veneration, respect, honor or reverence. This same root appears about 50 times in verses of the Qur'an (e.g. 9:18, 20:3, 35:18, 87:10) and the reader must choose whether it is appropriate to recognize a Creator who deserves fear and dread, or One who deserves our loving awe, respect and reverence... or perhaps both at the same time.
Certainly there are passages in the scriptures where dread and fear are the appropriate connotation, but in many other cases, it is clear that feelings such as awe, respect and reverence are the greater significance. So, as you read the lines of your favorite scripture about "fearing God", try substituting these beautiful feelings of awe, respect and reverence for God and observe the results for yourself.
Perhaps with such new thoughts the old ideas of a distant, threatening God will turn into an ever-present beloved friend and companion... only then will these lines from Matthew chapter 22:36-37 fully make sense:
Resources: 1. Baker's
Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology