Brings to mind my Sesame Street days. Well, not my Sesame Street days — I kind of predate Bert and Ernie as my TV teachers of the ABC’s, my era was more Miss Margaret and Romper Room. But my kids spent some time being tutored by the Muppets and thus, by extension, me too. One of my favorite teaching techniques? “One of these things is not like the other.” That’s what I encountered this morning as I continued reading in Genesis.
“If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” ~ Jacob to Laban
(Genesis 31:42 ESV)
Then Laban said to Jacob . . . “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
(Genesis 31:51a, 53-54 ESV)
In each of those passages one of these things is not like the other. Did you see it?
Jacob says that the God of his father, the God of Abraham, is the Fear of Isaac. When Laban uses the “God of” language in making his pact with his nephew, then again the Holy Spirit moves Moses to record that Jacob enters into the agreement “by the Fear of his father Isaac.” The God of . . . The God of . . . The Fear of. One of these things is not like the other. How come?
Let’s be honest, when did “The Fear” last make your top 10 list of the names of God? How often do we call Him “my Fear”? When’s the last time we encouraged someone by reminding them that our God is Jehovah-Jireh (The LORD my Provider), Jehovah-Nissi (The LORD my Banner), Jehovah-Tsidkenu (The LORD my Righteousness), and Jehovah-Pachad (God my Fear)? Like never!
So how come? How come the God-breathed, Holy Spirit directed writings of Moses twice refer to Jacob’s God as the Fear of Isaac?
I don’t know. But I am chewing on an explanation from one of my online commentaries.
“He calls him not Isaac’s God, but his fear, because Isaac was yet alive, and in the state of probation, and served God with fear and trembling . . . The Jews observe, that God is not called the God of any particular person, as of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, till after their death.” — Matthew Poole’s Commentary
Hmmm. “The God of” is for recounting the faith of the dead. “The Fear of” is for the living.
It’s designation a reminder that He is awesome God and we are not. That while He loves us with a steadfast love He is still the LORD of hosts and that to behold even the garment of His majesty is to instinctively go facedown with trembling. That though He is the God of abundant grace, He is still the Great God who will judge and will one day hold all people to account — unbelievers for every word they’ve spoken (Matt. 12:36-37) and according to all they have done (Rev. 20:12), believers for how they have built on the foundation of the forgiveness they’ve received for those words and deeds through the finished work of the cross (1Cor. 3:11-15). While God the Son calls us friends (Jn. 15:15), and brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11), He is still God to be feared (Ps. 34:9).
If the ancient Jews, as Poole maintains, viewed that God is to be our Fear while we are alive, would it be too much for us to believe that to really live, to live life to the full, only happens when we live in the fear of the Lord? That we are doing life to the max when we walk in a productive sense of dread, never taking His awesome nature for granted? That we are in right relationship when He is not just our pal, or our genie in a bottle, but the glorious God of heaven and earth? When He’s the Fear of Betty Believer, the Fear of Sam the Saint,? When He’s the Fear of the guy in this chair?
I’m thinkin’ . . .
The fear of God — it too is a gift of grace. The fear of God — how it can prime the pump for living for His glory.
To fear God is to love Him so that His frown would be your greatest dread and His smile would be your greatest delight.
-John Brown commentary blue letter bible
I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. (Jeremiah 32:39)