I've been reading recently through the book of Isaiah in my devotion times with the Lord, and the other day I was struck by a verse that I’ve read before but not really pondered. In particular, one phrase popped out in relief as I meditated on the verse. This is the phrase:
Their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.
This was a good thing. There were men who were teaching the fear of the Lord to their own people. This should be the case. Those who are in positions to teach and preach within a church are to teach the fear of the Lord. After all, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10), prolongs life (Prov. 10:27), and keeps one from evil (Prov. 16:6). Teaching the fear of the Lord is a good thing.
However, because of the context of this phrase, we know it is not such a good thing. The Lord has just said, “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” This is an indictment against the people, not a compliment to them. Their fear of the Lord is a commandment taught by men and nothing more.
The fear of the Lord is only a commandment to them because they’ve never owned it. It’s never blossomed from seed to flower. They’ve never moved from hearing to faith. They’ve looked at themselves in the mirror and then forgotten what they ever looked like. It is still something that someone else tells them and not something that fills them.
Fear is never genuine if it is only someone else’s fear. Genuine fear comes when we experience an event firsthand. Genuine fear comes when the cold barrel of a gun is stuck in our faces asking for money, when the smoke alarms go off and our house is on fire, when the doctor looks at our MRI and breaks the news to us, or when our car slams into the guardrail because we lost control. Likewise, genuine fear of the Lord is when we see our sin before Him in His holiness and then experience His mercy in not destroying us.
To those who have received His mercy, the fear of the Lord is not a commandment to chafe at, it’s a conviction to cherish. We cherish our fear of Him because we know firsthand His holiness, our sinfulness, and His deep, deep grace.