Friday, May 18, 2007

The Happiness of Living in Awe of God

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
(Psalm 112:1)
God is not a terrorist, and the fear of the LORD is not about torment. It is actually the key to deep and abiding happiness. Instead of “fear,” think of “awe.” Here is how I think of it: fear of the LORD — to live in absolute awe of God, to love what He loves and hate what He hates, to treasure His favor above all things and avoid His displeasure at all costs, to take pleasure in His word, His will, His ways and His works and to honor them in everything you do.

Notice how the Bible speaks of it in Psalm 112. But first, understand that the psalms are written in the form of Hebrew poetry. This poetry does not feature the rhyming of words. Rather, it uses a parallelism where the thought of the second line of a verse parallels the thought of the first, either restating it in synonymous language or elaborates on it. With Hebrew parallelism in mind, consider what Psalm 112:1 tells us about the fear of the LORD.
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
Here we see that to fear the LORD is to delight greatly in His commandments. The Hebrew word for “delight” is the same one we find in Psalm 1:2, “His delight is in the law of the LORD.” It means to incline towards, take great pleasure in, to look forward to in anticipation, to enjoy something a wonderful, mouth-watering delicacy.

The commandments of God are the particular elements of His torah. Often translated as “law,” the word torah can just as well be translated “instruction.” God’s laws and commandments are not given to us as difficult, death-dealing burdens, but as wise, life-giving directions. When we live in the awe and wonder of God, His Word leads us in the path of life, prosperity — and happiness. See how the psalm writer describe it:
  • His descendants will be blessed, and mighty on earth (v. 2). The word for “blessed” here is barak and means to be empowered by heaven.
  • Wealth and riches will be in his house (v. 3).
  • The effects of his right living will endure (v. 3).
  • He will have light even in the dark times of life (v. 4).
  • His heart will be gracious, and full of deep compassion and tender affection (v. 4), just as God is (Psalm 111:4).
  • He will show favor and lend to those in need. He will have a soft heart, but not a soft head, because he will possess discretion and good judgment (v. 5).
  • Whatever may happen, he will not be shaken out by it, but will be able to remain stable (v. 6).
  • He will be well-remembered by all those whose lives he touches (v. 6).
  • When bad news is in the air, he will not be afraid, because he trusts in the LORD (v. 7). The word for “afraid” here is the same word for the “fear” of the LORD. When we live in awe of God, we do not have to be terrified by anything else.
  • His heart shall be sustained with the peace of God, and he will not be afraid of his enemies, but will rejoice in victory over them (v. 8).
  • He will have more than enough to meet all his needs, and plenty more besides for every good work (v. 9, see also 2 Corinthians 9:8-9).
  • He will give generously and consistently, and it will not be wasted, but will extend his influence for righteousness (v. 9)
  • His success and prosperity will confound the desires of the enemy (v. 10)
The author of Psalm 128 echoes these things:
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
[barak, empowered by heaven]
Who fears the LORD.
(Psalm 128:1-4)
That’s the good life! It is the happiness that comes from living in awe of God and delighting in His ways.