Fear Not, Part 3: The Right Kind of Fear (Exodus 1:8-22)

The command to “fear God” is found throughout the Scripture, but what exactly does that expression mean? Are people supposed to live in sheer terror of the Almighty? Are we to dread his perpetual frown as a divine commentary on our souls? Are we to view ourselves as criminals on the run, with God as the cosmic policeman in hot pursuit of us?

Misconceptions abound when it comes to this important topic. What’s often missing from the discussion is that a major biblical motivation for fearing God is his surprising grace and forgiveness (Psalm 130:3-4; Jeremiah 33:8-9). That’s part of the biblical record, too, and it’s one that teaches us, paradoxically, that fearing God diffuses all other fears.

Shiphrah and Puah were two Hebrew women who understood this reality. These midwives refused to throw the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile despite the direct command of the king of Egypt to do so. Why? “The midwives … feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). Quite significantly, the book of Exodus preserves the names of these two courageous women, but it does not preserve the name of the Pharaoh. Was it Rameses II? Amenhotep II? We’re still not sure. It was the author’s way of commending these women while scorning the dictator.

The biblical record also teaches us that the end of all fear is the perfect love of God as fully displayed in Jesus Christ (1 John 4:16-18). He took our punishment on the cross, says John, and we no longer need to fear that punishment when we trust him for our salvation.