Weekly Torah Commentary — Yitro February 6, 2015

Shemot/Exodus 18 – 20

The monumental event that took place at Mt. Sinai — the giving of the Torah to Moses – is recorded in this week’s reading.  Immediately after the Ten Commandments (or Instructions) were given, we read these words:

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.  Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 20:18-20

‘…in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’

The Fear of the Lord is far less popular as a sermon or bible study topic than the Love of God.  Yet there are abundant references to it in the Scriptures and misconceptions about it abound.

The Fear of the Lord is defined as 1) an awe-inspiring reverence for God; 2) a personal awareness of His majestic sovereignty and power; 3) a true reverence, awe and respect toward the Almighty; 4) a humble and respectful fear of sinning against Him.

It is this last definition – a humble and respectful fear of sinning against Him – that is stated in the verses quoted above.  Moses explained to the Children of Israel that they were not to be ‘afraid’ of God, but rather, afraid of sinning against Him; in other words, the privilege that was theirs of witnessing – even from a distance – the powerful delivery of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai was to serve for the rest of their lives as a deterrent to sin.

The miracles He wrought for their deliverance from slavery, the destruction of Egypt’s army, the thunder, the lightning and the smoking mountain – all of these were to inspire in them a reverential awe of God along with a deeply grateful love towards Him for all of His goodness towards them.  The result of such awe and love should naturally be a desire to refrain from any type of actions or words that would contradict His revealed instructions as to how they should live out the remainder of their days.

We may not have stood physically at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but have not each of us received abundant blessings from God in our lives?  Blessings that too often we have taken for granted?  As we observe our world today, I suggest that the Fear of the Lord has become a rarity in many a society and nation, even within the communities of God’s people.  Because of it, Sin abounds and is in fact, accepted.  Evil is called good; good is called evil.  Our world has by and large lost the Fear of the Lord.

Consider these verses:

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.  Proverbs 8:13

…by fear of the Lord, one departs from evil.  Proverbs 6:16

Do not let your heart envy sinners but in the fear of the Lord continue all day long; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.  Proverbs 23:17

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him.  Psalm 147:11

The fear of the Lord prolongs one’s life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.  Proverbs 10:27

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments.  His descendants will be mighty upon the earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches will be in his house and his righteousness endures forever.  Psalm 112: 1-3

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence and His children will have a place of refuge.  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death.  Proverbs 14:26

These are just a few of the dozens of references stressing the importance of and extolling the blessings we derive from maintaining the fear of the Lord in our souls.  To learn to ‘hate evil’ and ‘love righteousness’ is a worthy and laudable pursuit, and one we should teach our children.

The great King Solomon sums up the matter this way at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes:

The conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.  Eccl. 12:13

A side effect of losing the Fear of the Lord is a diminishing awareness of the World To Come.  We get so caught up in the here and now that the reality of eternity eludes us.  Were you or I to live 120 years, it’s but a moment compared to the eternity which awaits us.  We are forgetting that our life in the ‘here and now’ will have a direct effect on the ‘there and then’.  For as we read in the quote above from Proverbs 23, “…surely there is a hereafter…” As you read this commentary, you are one day closer to eternity, the most important journey you will ever take.  How are your preparations coming?

The Fear of the Lord and the awareness of Eternal Life are critical to a successful spiritual life in the here and now.

In Tune with Torah this week – set aside some time to meditate on the verses quoted above.  Let them speak to your soul and draw you closer to our Father, our King.

Shabbat Shalom

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