A Brief Look at the God of the Hebrews
Taking a extraordinarily brief look at the God of the Hebrews as revealed in what we Christians call the Old Testament, God lived on the top of Mt. Sinai, and when the Israelites traveled very far from the mountain they thought they have to carry God with them. The smoke of the burning censer, symbolizing God’s presence, could be seen during the daylight hours as a cloud, and at night the smoke looked like a pillar of fire. That’s the only way the ancient Israelites were able to believe that they had not been left their God behind. Even when they enter “the promised land,” by invasion and slaughter, God remained a jealous, vindictive tyrant, punishing the children for their father’s sins and thinking nothing of turning a terrified woman into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26), ordering massacres (Joshua 8:26), having a helpless old man hacked in pieces (1 Samuel 15:33), or visiting the devoted Job with disease and pain until he longed for death (Job 2:7-10). That is not the God I believe in or would ever consider worthy of worship. Worthy of fear? Yes, definitely!
Should We Fear God?
I’m not fond of the idea of fearing God. When Andy Griffith was asked why he did not carry a gun as the sheriff of Mayberry on his 1960 television series, he replied, “I don’t carry a gun because I don’t want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I’d rather they respect me.” I certainly respect God and try to do God’s will, not out of fear, but out of love. Having the fear of God is often considered to be a sign of spiritual well-being, however.
The following are Hebrew Bible verses about fearing God (or the Lord):
God said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God…” (Genesis 22:12)
“And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” (Exodus 1:21)
“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (Exodus 14:31)
“You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 25:17)
“And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” (Deuteronomy 14:23)
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14)
“If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.” (1 Samuel 12:14)
“And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.” (2 Kings 17:25)
“He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.” (2 Chronicles 26:5)
“The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.” (Nehemiah 5:15)
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1)
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9)
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:11)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13)
“The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.” (Proverbs 10:27)
“And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” (Isaiah 11:3)
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)
There are also some Christian scripture verses about fearing God. Below are some examples:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
“And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)
“So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: ‘Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.’” (Acts 13:16)
“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” (Romans 11:20)
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
“And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” (Revelation 14:7)
“And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’” (Revelation 19:5)
If the Hebrew word “ירא” that is translated “fear” should instead be translated as “respect” or “awe,” I can completely agree that we should be respectful and in awe of God.
God of Christian Scripture
In the Christian scriptures, God tends to be a loving Father who longs to welcome all people of whatever race or color as his children, to whom everyone is precious and in whose lives God is working out his ultimate purpose. If we still aren’t sure about God’s nature, we have Jesus as an excellent example. We must tell ourselves that everything is false about God, even if it is found in the Bible, unless it is consistent with Christian principles.
Is God the Creator of Everything?
God is capable of anything, including making heaven, earth, the universe, and all life. To me, the word “making” does not preclude evolution. I believe God’s creation is a continuing process. Evolution does not bother me because I see God’s creative process as being involved in evolution. I agree with a biologist who said: “The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.” Bruce Barton admitted that it is difficult to conceive of God, but a universe that just happened is more inconceivable. It is far easier, far more reasonable to believe that all intelligence is somehow a part of a Great Intelligence. In other words, because we are, we believe God is. If God exists, then God’s character must contain the qualities that, at our best, we admire. For if not, we would be better than God.
Don’t Want an Old-Fashioned God
God never changes, but our human perception of God is ever changing.
I do not want an old-fashioned God: the God of my fathers, the God of the ancient Hebrews, the God of the early church, the God of Colonial America, or for that matter, the God of the Atomic Age. I want a God, and I believe in a God, that knows as much about today, this particular moment, as ever. I believe God is just as much today, tomorrow, and the future as anything or anytime in the past. God is not out there somewhere, in some remote “heaven,” but right here, all around us, in us, a part of us and is modern (or postmodern).
A Couple of Meaningful Quotes about God
I remember the following text from a 1954 anthem by composer Jane Marshall. The words are an anonymous text translated from Latin. Slightly shortened and paraphrased by me, I think it is such an eloquent affirmation:
“My God, I love you,
Not for the sake of winning heaven, nor of escaping hell;
Not with the hope of gaining anything, not seeking a reward;
But as you have loved me, O ever-loving Lord;
So would I love you… and your praise will sing;
Because you are my God, and my eternal King.”
One of my favorite hymn texts is “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” by Isaac Watts (I also like the strong St. Anne tune to which it is most often sung). The following are a few lines from the hymn text:
“O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home!
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.”