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  • Writer's pictureThe Rev. Ian Emile Dunn

The Fear of God - Decalogue Part I

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Why study the Decalogue?

Perhaps, when I mentioned we would be studying the Decalogue through the season of Advent you thought “well, that sounds boring, or antiquated, or simply unnecessary.” Perhaps you you thought that this would be an exercise in legalism, or distracting from the grace of Christ.

But for a vast majority of the church - the Decalogue has played a vital role in Christian formation - a vital role in the catechism of the youth and new converts.

The Decalogue is the Law, the mirror which we hold up - and shows us our condemnations, the Apostles Creed - shows us our redeemer, reminds us of Jesus’ goodness and grace, and the Lord’s prayer instructs us how to live and how to pray. Each of these is vital in our life in Christ.

Now, I want you to imagine for a minute a huge field – a field in which you can explore, play, run around in, and enjoy the perfectly sunshine. You can have picnics with the ones you love – you are free in it to do as you please. There are virtually no limitations.

However, in this field – there are random pits – pits which if you fell into would cause you grievous harm – pits, which if you fell into would cause you to die because of their depth, and the jagged rocks in the bottom.

But the field is otherwise perfect.

Now to protect you – the owner of the field put up fences – not around the whole field, but just around the pits. The fences were put in – not to pen you in but to protect you from that which would kill you.

So often when we think of the law of God – we think of them as being limiting, think of them as hemming us in, or of keeping us away from what we really desire.

But the law of God protects us from death.

The Law of God protects us from grievous harm – harm to our body, harm to our mind, and harm to our souls.

The Law of God is good because it reveals to us our nature – and it reveals to us God’s nature, and God’s nature is good.

Throughout this Advent we will spend time studying, and contemplating what the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue reveals to us about God, who we are, and how God uses them to draw us nearer to Him.

Often, you will hear the Ten Commandments referred to as the Decalogue, including when we recite them at the beginning of the month, or even today – Decalogue simply means – the Ten Words. The Ten Words of God - breathed our by God and recorded by Moses.

The Decalogue is a mirror to the creation narrative - where God spoke all of Christian into being, God is speaking his covenant people into being, forming them ethically, as one commentator notes:

These words spoken by the God of Israel clearly echo

, as Yahweh now instructs his newly created people concerning himself and his will for them (for how they were written see


). These Ten Words can be exegeted helpfully with reference to those chapters in Genesis. What is given in bud there flowers fully here. The torah (instruction) there agrees with torah here, and vice versa. Ancient Near Eastern parallels are helpful for exegeting the Ten Words, but only peripherally compared to the materials contained in Gen 1–3 and the additional revelation God gives about his holy character (Exod 3:5)... The words are reported in direct speech, which indicates their centrality and authority (from God, not Moses). God’s commands had called the universe into existence; now he issues the words that call the moral order of righteousness, holiness, wisdom, and love for the people of God into focus. Yahweh’s Ten Words of creation are now matched by his Ten Words of Torah. The purpose of these Ten Words is to enable Israel to love her God supremely through an ethical and religious expression of life that honored Yahweh and his purposes (

In the Decalogue we see the what was told in Genesis fulfilled – we see instructions as to how we are to Love God and our neighbor well.

We see God’s holiness revealed and it is through God’s holiness – it is understanding God’s supremacy – and divine goodness – that we understand that Old testament adage – that

The beginning of wisdom of the fear of God.

Scriptures say time and time again, that we ought to fear God, that true faith and wisdom starts from a point of fearing God.

Yet for the modern, this phrase, this reminder can be uncomfortable, and so we need to set a baseline in understanding it.

The scriptures are meant for good, and that which we are instructed to do, only builds us spiritually. If scripture is Good and worthy of our study and is there for our instruction – then trusting that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God – is good as well, and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

Time and again, especially in wisdom literature, that is the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, we are reminded that the fear of the Lord is good, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. So, in learning to fear God, we are learning what it is to dwell in what is good.

Even more so, through the prophecies of Isaiah we know that the Christ would delight is the fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is His treasure, and so from this, we know that the man we call Jesus Christ, the man whom we confess to be the Christ, did do these things.

So, we cannot divorce the Christian faith from the foundation found in the Old Testament. While the language of “fearing the Lord” might be difficult or uncomfortable for some, it is a part of the strong foundation, which our faith grows out of. Christ knew it, and centuries of catechism taught this.

We confess which Scripture says is true - that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.

There are of course two types of fear in the Bible, and this is important for any discussion of fear to be mentioned, and this at least is part the reason for the two part response to the Decalogue “Lord have mercy upon, and incline this Law.” For this balances the two fears in our hearts.

The first, I think is what we often think of when we think of fear.

It is terror, the deep sense of danger or dread that we are all familiar with.

It is what happens, when we think of sudden destruction, or perhaps a deeper sense of what we happens when we hear a bump in the night. This sense of fear is often translated as terror, and more often refers to the destruction and judgment upon the wicked.

However, as we read the Law, ad we contemplate we start to realize that “we all like sheep have gone astray.”

Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, especially, provides us with His ethical understanding of the Law. The law was not there simply to provide a list of dos and don’ts, but to start to form hearts. As we read the sermon on the mount - it is likely that we find it more and more convicted. For example, when Christ says “You have heard that it was said to those of old ‘you shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

I think here, at least in part, is meant that we bear hatred towards your brother or wish destructive thoughts upon him. I have been angry with my brother in Christ and I suspect we can all say the same thing, and so in this and many other things we are liable to be judged, and these phrases about coming judgment are not just directed at those who do things that we deem truly awful, but at all of us, for as I have said once all ready, we all like sheep have gone astray.

The Law reveals this to us, the Law reveals that we are bent on jumping the fence that protects the jagged pit falls and diving head first in, the Law reveals that we are bent in turning away from God’s goodness and Holiness to prefer our own desires.

But this is only part of the story though,

Christ came to complete the law

He completed it with grace. He lived in perfection so that His perfection would be counted towards us, so that we are freed from this judgment and this fear, so that in the final judgment, we will be deemed righteous, not because we are righteous, but because He has made us so.

When we prayerfully consider the decalogue it reveals to us that we have fallen into the deadly pitfalls

It reveals to us that we are in need of one who will descend into the pit, to rescue us, to walk out of the pit with us.

The first type of fear – reveals us to a Holy, mighty, and good God, whom we have rebelled against, whom we have turned our back on, whose fences we have climbed over.

This brings us to the second type of fear:

The second type of fear is a holy reverence, a respect, an honor.

This reverence, this respect, this honor is the due that is owed to God. This reverence is what the Holy Spirit is forming in Christ’s faithful people.

In Christ, we are called to worship Him, and when we stop, when we think about the vastness of this call, it is awe inspiring.

The fact that the creator of all things would call the tiny creature that is me to worship him, that not only are we called to worship Him but that He would provide for us salvation that we might communion with Him, both here and in eternity – this fact – should bring us to humility, and to utter reverence for God.

This is the second fear; it is from these two fears that we learn so much about God. We learn of our unworthiness to come before Him, of the judgment we deserve, and we learn of his incredible grace, his inestimable mercy. That we, as small as we are, can come every day to Him, and can come every Sunday to His table.

There are four elements of holy fear, this holy fear that God develops in all those He calls as His own.

1 – Holy Fear develops in us a hatred of evil

First, the hatred of evil. It is not hard to see evil in the world, only turn on the evening news, or flip open the paper. We see awful things done to our fellow human beings, and our only response can be hatred of these actions, for they are evil, and they are the things that the enemy delights in. For the fruit of evil is destruction and chaos, and this the Devil loves.

We learn not to hate those who commit evil acts - but pray for them - pray for their repentance, their convAersion, that they would flee from their evil. But we do hate the evil acts - and we call them what they are - evil.

2 – Holy Fear calls us to obedience to God

Holy fear also develops obedience to God, and this is the antithesis of destruction and chaos, for out of obedience to God, as we have discussed, we are brought into His plan for us, His direction for us, and this is not chaos, this is not wild, but directed, meaningful and to the end that God is glorified.

3 – Holy Fear makes us aware of the presence of God

In Holy Fear we become aware of the presence of God, not only when we join together around the Lord’s table, and enjoy the mystical and mysterious presence of God in that fellowship.

But we become aware of God’s presence in our daily lives - in the mundane tasks of washing our dishes, vacuuming our floors, and doing our jobs, but also in the mighty tasks of loving our spouses well, catechizing our children, making disciples, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

The Holy Fear - makes us aware that God is there in the mundane the mighty, in the secular and the sacred - Holy Fear shows us how sacred - even the most mundane thing is.

4 – Holy Fear shows us the intermingling of fear and Love

the fourth, element of this Holy fear is the intermingling of fear and love. That we cannot divorce the fear, the holy reverence of God from the love of Him and His love for us, for in our utter reverence for Him and our love for Him our hearts long to obey his commandments, and to well in His mercy.

This is where we start when we contemplate the Decalogue, the ten words - we start in the fear of the Lord, in realizing what we deserve is condemnation, yet in grace we are freed from it, and that the Lord, the creator of all things, deserves our complete and utter reverence.

In being called before Him it is much like a peasant being called before the king of old and in that it is in humility that we come before Him, and in knowing all of this, that we come to desire to do all things to His glory.

But Holy fear does something else for us – not only does it kindle in us a desire to grow in loving God – but if we learn to fear God – if we learn total reverence of God – the God who has showed us His nature and has brought to us salvation.

If in our heart – we have true holy fear – a fear that says the God who is the creator of all – calls us to reverence – calls us to His service and that this God is good – is there anything else we can fear?

Holy fear frees us from fear of the world.

While our initial reaction to the idea of fear may be negative – the Decalogue reveals to us a good and Holy God, a God that its worthy of our reverence, a God that has redeemed us in Christ. This fear kindles in us a growing hatred of evil, calls us to obedience to God, helps us to be aware of God’s presence, and shows us God’s incredible love for us. When we dwell in it, it frees us from fear of the world – and frees us to total service of God, to delight in His goodness.

As we recite the decalogue, as we pray that God would have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep these laws, as we meditate upon these words - may our hearts rejoice that Christ has freed us from free, freed us and brought us into a deep and holy reverence of God. Let us reside in a true and good holy fear.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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