WORD STUDY – ONLY TO FEAR HIM
Deuteronomy 10:12: “And now, Israel, what has Jehovah your God asked of you, only to fear Jehovah your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
“Only?” To fear Him, walk in all His ways, love Him and serve Him with all your heart and soul? Yeah, only that, nothing more. I mean, like is there anything more? Do that and He’s got it all. Hey, like I am all for it, what born again Christian, washed in the blood of Jesus does not want to walk in all His ways, love Him and serve Him with all their heart and soul. Man you know like a dream come true. I mean I’m ready, let’s go for it. But, I’ve been a Christian since I was 9 years old and now that I am old and grey I am still not walking in all His ways, I still do not love Him as much as I desire and I still pass up opportunities to serve Him.
Our English translations seem to have a fine way of telling us what we already know and feel in our hearts, but they never seem to give us the clue to getting there. Well, Scripture is complete, the answer is there. God is not in the business of playing a cat and mouse game with us. He is pretty straight forward. We just have to take pause and meditate on His Word for a moment.
The key lies in the phrase ki im lire’ah – except to fear. Im (except or only) and lire’ah (to fear) are connected with a megeth. That little horizontal line, no bigger than a dash is the key to unlocking the secret to walking in His ways, loving Him and serving Him with all your heart and soul. For what that does is make the phrase “only to fear Jehovah your God” a complete phrase. In other words we only need to fear Jehovah and then walking in His ways, loving Him and serving Him with all your heart and with all your soul will be the natural result. Our focus does not need to be in trying to walk in His ways, trying to love Him and trying to serve Him. Our focus should be in fearing Him and then the rest is easy, you will do it because you want to do it, not because you have to do it.
Now it becomes very important to understand what that word fear really means since this is our focus. The root word in Hebrew is yara’. Translating it as fear worked well for the KJV but for modern versions we need another word. You see prior to the nineteenth century the English word fear had a meaning quite different than it does today. It is unfortunate that many of our modern translations use the word fear for yara’ when its archaic understanding has been overshadowed by its more modern understanding. Our modern understanding fits the Hebrew word pachad better as that is a fear for your own gizzard. Yara’ is a different animal.
Speaking of animal we, in fact, have none other than Charles Darwin to thank for our modern understanding of the English word fear. Charles Darwin introduced the idea of self preservation to the English word fear. So that today when we see the English phrase fear the Lord we immediately think we must be afraid of Him that he might do something to harm us. Prior to Charles Darwin the English word fear meant respect or reverence. It was used in the age of chivalry where one’s honor was very important. If you threatened someone’s honor you might just meet that person on field of honor with a sword or dueling pistol. This was born out of the idea that you cared enough for another person that you did not want to offend them, embarrass them, wound their heart or even break their heart. That early English use of the word fear had nothing to do with one’s own preservation but everything to do with caring for another. Charles Darwin only saw the hypocrisy of the word and applied us human to the level of the animals who had anatural fear leading to self preservation. Before that the word implied that you lived in fear that you might offend someone you really care about. Thus you showed them respect and reverence so there would be no misunderstanding. The word was prominently used before a judge or an authoritarian figure and it is still expressed today where you address a judge who is robed as “your honor” or “If it pleases the court.” In congress they address each other as “my esteemed colleague.” It is no wonder that Charles Darwin began to use the implied meaning behind fear and took out the hypocrisy. The truth was, you may not really esteem you colleague or wish to please the court. You said these things so you would not end up on a field of honor or in jail as you are showing this respect to someone who has power to do these things to you and you were just showing this respect to protect your own gizzard, hence the new meaning to the English word fear.
In King James’s day, however, the meaning was still clear that you show respect and reverence as an expression of love. The authority figure probably knew the person didn’t really love him but he went along with the game and the meaning stayed intact until Darwin’s time. If there was any fear it was the fear that you would offend the one you love, you would break their heart. Because you love that person you would experience personal torment over bringing sadness to the one you love.
My earthly father never spanked me, yelled at me or threatened me, but I yara’ feared him. I feared that if I would do wrong he would be disappointed in me, he would be hurt over my actions. So I behaved as well as I could, not because I was afraid of him, but because I yara’ him or respected him. So too with our Heavenly Father. We only have to fear (disappointing Him, wounding or breaking His heart) (in order) “to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” If we fear for our own gizzard, that would be the Hebrew word pachad, but if we fear yara’ that we will offend the God we love, then this walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him with all our heart and soul will come naturally.