“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Rm 1:20-23)
The fear of God is crucial to our faith and our relationship with Him. Even though it seems that many Christians tend to see God’s love as the only foundation for their relationship with Him, we must also recognize that we can’t truly love God unless we are in awe of Him for who He is.
Love without fear makes us distort the image of God. It makes us go out of control. It makes us not take sin seriously. It makes us use God’s unconditional love as a way to justify the sins we repeatedly commit. That’s definitely not the reason God gave us His love through Jesus Christ.
God gave us His unconditional love not as an excuse for our sin but to set us free from the slavery of sin and make us holy like Him. So, God’s love must be never used to make up for our sinfulness or weaknesses.
If you use God’s love in that way, it only reveals the fact that you haven’t yet actually experienced how great, amazing, and marvelous His love is for you. That’s because those who truly experience God’s love cannot help but have the holy desire to live for Him and be overwhelmed by His great love so that they are in awe of Him.
So, we should consider the fear of God as another essential foundation for our relationship with God. As the prophet Isaiah said, “The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure,” which refers to God’s “rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge” (Is 33:6)
God’s Glory and the Fear of the Lord
Today, we’ll continue to discuss the fear of the Lord. There are a lot of important things to say about it, but I think it’s beneficial for us to think about what prevents us from fearing God first.
There are many ways to define the fear of God, but it can be summarized as giving Him the complete reverence and awe that He deserves because of who He is. There are many characteristics we might associate with God, but His glory, holiness, majesty, and power are all related to the fear of God.
These are innate characteristics that only God possesses, which make us overwhelmed by Him and go before Him in reverence and awe.
In other words, we can’t truly fear God unless we see and experience how glorious, holy, awesome and powerful our God is. How can we truly respect and honor Him if we remain unaware of His greatness, or why He deserves our praise?
Therefore, the recognition of God’s glory is the most essential thing in our fear of Him. Recognizing how glorious, holy, and almighty our God is is the beginning of fearing Him.
Seeing who God truly is must be the priority in and the foundation for our relationship with Him.
Psalm 89:6-7 says,
“For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” (Ps 89:6-7)
Here, the psalmist urges us to meditate on God’s unfathomable glory. God has everlasting glory that nothing in the universe or in the spiritual realm can even compare to. God’s glory itself gives us more than sufficient reason to fear Him. If we truly stood before His glory, we would have nothing to say but gaze with awe at Him and glorify Him.
So, our prayer should always be, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in You” (Ps 119:18) so that we can “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due [Your] name” (Ps 29:2)
Therefore, what prevents us most from fearing God is to not truly see His glory. When we lose sight of God, we’ll end up failing to fear Him. This is what continually happens in the Scriptures. We see many examples in which God’s people failed to fear Him because they exchanged His glory for other things.
I think this is most shown in the Israelites making the golden calf. I talked about it before, but it’s good to review what happened at Mount Sinai.
After delivering the Israelites out of Egypt, God led them to Mount Sinai first. There He manifested His glory and all the Israelites were overwhelmed by it.
Exodus 19:16 says,
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled… they trembled with fear.” (Ex 19:16, 18)
They saw God’s majestic presence directly with visible signs they had never seen before and trembled with fear. There, at Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with the Israelites with blood and the book of the covenant, which meant that God and His people established an official relationship. It was like a marriage between a husband and a wife. God was their bridegroom and the Israelites were God’s bride.
There, God spoke to the Israelites through Moses. He gave a lot of laws that the Israelites had to obey as God’s people, but one of the most important laws is found in Exodus 20:23. God said,
“Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” (Ex 20:23)
Many times God strongly warned them not to make any gods or idols using silver or gold. It was a reasonable request as a husband. God wanted to be their only husband, not one of many.
But we know what happened next. After making the covenant with the Israelites, God called Moses up to the mountain again and gave him more laws including how to build the tabernacle. Moses wasn’t gone for very long. Exodus 24:18 says,
“Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Ex 24:18)
But it seems that the forty days were too long for the Israelites to wait for Moses. When they saw that Moses was taking a while to come down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron, Moses’ brother, and said to him,
“Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1)
Aaron couldn’t resist them. So he gathered gold earrings from the people and made them into an idol cast in the shape of a calf. Then, the Israelites shouted,
“These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Ex 32:4).
Even though they had clearly seen and experienced God’s glory and His majestic presence just a few weeks ago, they still worshiped a calf of gold.
This may seem ridiculous nowadays, but it wasn’t so ridiculous for the Israelites at that time. For over four hundred years the Israelites had seen such objects in Egypt. At that time, all people believed in certain gods and made images of them. It was a common practice all around the world.
So, it’s likely that the Israelites also wanted to have an image of their God even though they had heard God’s serious warning not to make any image of Him with gold or silver.
The worst part, however, wasn’t the fact that the Israelites made a golden calf itself. It was that they called it the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt.
After making the golden calf, Aaron proclaimed, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord” (Ex 32:5)
To understand what he was really saying, we should look at the Hebrew word for the “Lord” here. It is the word, Yehovah, also known as Yahweh. But, the fact is that we don’t really know how to pronounce it because there are no vowels in written Hebrew.
The ancient Israelites probably knew how to pronounce the word, but they never did so because it was considered taboo to say God’s name. So whenever they found the word in the Scriptures, they read it as “Adonai,” which is translated as “the Lord” in English.
The point is that the name Yehovah was the unique name that was only used to refer to the God of Israel, not other gods. This name is never used to describe any false gods in the Bible.
So, the fact that Aaron and the Israelites called the golden calf “Yehovah” means that they really identified the golden calf with their one, true God.
I even think it would’ve been better if they had called it “Baal” or other names. But they called the golden image of the calf ‘Yehovah’. By doing so, they reduced the infinite glory of the Lord to a finite and futile image they were familiar with. In other words, they exchanged the eternal glory of God for a mere image of a calf.
They reduced God’s greatness to a level they were more accustomed to dealing with. So, what happened next?
Exodus 32:6 says,
“So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” (Ex 32:6)
That was how the people of Israel worshiped the golden calf. I think the key word of this verse is ‘indulge.’ It means to allow oneself to have something enjoyable and to give someone anything they want regardless of whether it is good or bad or right or wrong.
Even though they called the calf ‘Yehovah,’ the way they worshiped it was very different from how they had stood with fear before God’s presence a few weeks ago. Not only did they make a false image of God, they also changed the way to worship it accordingly. This was possible because they exchanged God’s awe-inspiring presence and great glory with the mere image of a calf.
They called it ‘Yehovah’ because they still needed the same God who delivered them out of Egypt with power and miracles. But they didn’t want to worship Him the way He deserves. They experienced how great and overwhelming God’s presence was. They couldn’t do anything but tremble with fear before His presence.
That was not the way they wanted to worship Him. So they chose to make an inferior god and identified it with the true God. In other words, they exchanged God’s glory with an image of a calf so that they could worship it the way they wanted.
This seems ridiculous to us, but sadly, it is still happening right now. There are Christians who are quick to acknowledge Jesus as Savior, Healer, Deliverer, and Provider because they need such a God in their lives, but not all of them truly see Him as their teacher, master, and Lord.
They take only what they want from Jesus and say that they believe in Jesus. They like to hear about forgiveness, blessings, God’s provision and eternal life, but they intentionally disregard sacrifice, joining in Jesus’ suffering and death, giving to the poor, taking up their crosses, and so on.
It may sound strict, but I think it’s no different from the golden calf. Even though we can’t perfectly know everything about God because He is so much bigger than us, we must at least be willing to accept everything written about Him in the Scriptures as truth and try to apply it in our lives.
I remember I went to a mission conference run by Youth with A Mission in Korea. There were many young people there. I was very excited to hear about what God was doing all around the world through the organization and learn more about God’s mission from famous speakers.
When worship started, the atmosphere was pretty lively. The space was full of passion. I saw many people moving toward the stage and worshiping God very enthusiastically, raising their hands, clapping, jumping, and shouting. I really liked the praise session.
But the excitement soon died out. When a speaker came on stage after the praise session and started to give an important message about God’s mission, literally more than half the people who had just been worshiping enthusiastically started to nod off to sleep.
I felt a kind of inconsistency there. I thought, “what’s happening right now? How can they nod off when a really important part of worship just started?” Even the speaker rebuked the audience. I’d never seen a speaker do that, but he did so because it was that serious.
I was confused. I couldn’t understand how this was possible. And there, I was reminded of this story of how the Israelites made the golden calf and worshiped it in revelry the way they wanted, not the way God deserved according to His greatness and holiness. It made me really sad.
Today, we’re gathered here primarily to worship God. And, when it comes to worship, it’s always important to worship Him the way He wants us to worship Him, not the way we are pleased with or accustomed to. That’s because the Lord of our worship is God alone. We’re only worshipers.
And, as worshipers, we must never exchange God’s glory with something else. While it’s important that we believe in God, I think what’s much more important is who we know and believe God is.
There’s no point in calling the calf, Yehovah. The calf doesn’t become Yehovah because we call it by that name. It only deceives us so that we can’t truly believe in the one, true God.
There’s only one Yehovah in the universe, whose glory is so great that it can never be exchanged for anything in the world.
Again, fearing God starts from our recognition of who He truly is. We can’t truly worship Him or fear Him unless we see Him as He is and listen to Him.
So, we must get rid of everything in our minds that deceives us into making our own God. We should remove all the obstacles, lies, and cultural ideas that prevent us from truly looking at His glory and holiness.
I hope that God opens our eyes and allows us to see wonderful things in Him so that we can truly worship Him the way He is pleased with in holy fear and reverence.
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