“Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (Psalm 33:8–9, ESV)
What kind of images come to mind when we think of the words awe and fear? If God where to appear before you at this very moment, what would be your reaction?
The root of the word for fear in Psalm 33 is “yare” and can represent emotional fear, the anticipation of evil without the emotional element, and reverence and awe.
The first time this verbal form is used in the old testament is in Gen 20:8 when Abraham had journeyed to the Negeb and claimed to Abimelech the Sarah was his sister and he takes her. God would then appear to Abimelech in a dream and told him he was a dead man because he had taken a woman who was another man’s wife. Abimelech woke from his sleep and called his men and explained what had happened and it says they were very much “yare” (afraid).
The same verbal use is found in Ex 14:10 when the Egyptian army is marching on Israel and as Pharaoh drew near, the text says that the people “yare” (feared) greatly.
The psalms like to use parallelism where the second line repeats the thought of the first line but in different words.
So let’s take a look at the word “awe”. The first time this verbal form is used in scripture is in the book of Job. In Job 41:25 God is challenging Job and is speaking of the Leviathan and during this speech says:
“When he raises himself up, the mighty are (“gur”) afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.” (Job 41:25–26, ESV)
“Gur” like “yare” can also mean to be afraid, feared, intimidated, terrified, anxious, and to revere or stand in awe.
In the context of Psalm 33, the complete idea ends with “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm”, where the writer in verses 6-7 boasts how the Lord made the heavens and by the breath of His mouth all their host.
To me, this seems to point towards great respect and reverence of the Lord in verses 8-9. The kind of awe that you get when you see some of the splendor of God’s creation in the mountains, the oceans, and the wonder of the heavens. I do think that there is still a small element of fear in the sense of knowing who God is and what he can do and that our lives are held in His hands.
Later in Psalm 33 it says:
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18–19, ESV)
In this section “Yare” is coupled with “hesed” which is translated as steadfast love, and drives home that hope (mehahalim) which is to trust, to wait, and to be patient on the Lord to deliver our souls from death.
Currently with all that is going on around us, hope and trust in God’s steadfast love (hesed) can keep or eyes fixed on the end goal – Gods salvation in Jesus Christ, and not on the chaos that is going on all around us.
In 1 Peter 5, Peter writes these words for his readers, may we hold fast to them and stand firm:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6–11, ESV)