Delighting in the Fear of the Lord


This paper began in a prayer meeting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (19.5.09). In it I believe the Holy Spirit gave us a key to genuine revival. One of the elderly saints present asked the Lord for “holy boldness”. Almost immediately I sensed this was not about self -confident assertiveness, but a cry for a way of communicating to people that conveys we have nothing at all to gain from them. (Australians in particular are notoriously suspicious of religious proselytising as a means of profiteering or ego advancement.) God is seeking to raise up a company of believers whose personal esteem is totally found in him; disciples who neither fear loss nor seek gain from sharing their faith. As we prayed further, the Lord led us to a key text which is the springboard of this message,

“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear” (Isa 11:2-3)

This messianic prophecy about Jesus contains a list of kingly attributes that climax in an extraordinary expression, “his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord”. “Do you and I delight in the fear of the Lord?” In praying about the inner meaning of delighting in the fear of God I was taken back to the story of creation.

Created exalted

When God created a home for his own image in man he called it “Eden” (Gen 2:8), which in Hebrew means “delight”. All things in Eden were to be a source of delight for Man. This included the warning, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17). Adam and Eve were created to delight in fearing the consequences of violating the LORD’s command. Fearing the Lord’s judgement was initially experienced by them as a good thing. Given they had never seen anything die, what exactly were they to fear? The answer is given clearly in both testaments.

The psalmist is taking back at the excellence of the created dignity of humanity, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:4-6). The New Testament opens this up at a deeper level by speaking of Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Adam was to delight in the fear of losing the exalted position of being God’s son, something more precious and majestic than anything else imaginable. The purpose of this holy fear was to preserve humanity in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8:21) as royal sons set over the entire created order.

The temptation in Eden was necessary if Adam and Eve were to grow in the manifestation of their Holy Father. It was their opportunity to be fully like God in loving righteousness perfectly and hating wickedness completely. To love goodness perfectly and hate evil completely would have confirmed them as holy royal sons in incorruptible majesty.

Tragically, when they chose delighting in the tree of knowledge (Gen 3:6) in place of delighting in the fear of God they lost their exalted status as holy sons. Fear was transformed from an agency of grace to a dread of punishment to be avoided for one’s own sake. It was now impossible for lost humanity to delight in God’s loving presence in all things.

Failure under the Old Covenant

The old covenant was a restoration of grace but lacked the power to transform the human heart, failure was inevitable. Moses is an outstanding example, even though he was the prophet through whom the Lord called Israel “my son” (Ex 4:23), he failed to enter the land of promise. If we think God’s verdict harsh, we reveal our ignorance of holiness in Fatherhood and sonship.

“Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarrelled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.” (Num 20:10-13)

God is certainly a Holy Father (John 17:11; Matt 6:9), but he is not an Angry Father. Moses of all people should have known this, as the psalmist says, “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.” (Ps 103:7). Israel knew miraculous signs; the covenant mediator knew God’s heart. The LORD personally revealed his glory to Moses, of first importance proclaiming himself to be , ““The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6).

Moses’ impetuous anger in striking the rock (rather than speaking to it, Num 20:8) showed he had forgotten his own exalted status as the divine messenger and was acting outside the fear of the Lord. Far more grievously, he presented an image of an essentially angry God who was slow to forgive. No human being can delight in fearing such a deity[1]. Moses perished outside the land because, worn down by the people, he had lost his holy boldness. Moses fatal action was in fact an attempt to turn the ways of God into tradition, he had hit the rock twice before, why not a third time? The water surely flowed, but Moses’ end was nigh[2]. The ways of man undermine the ways of God throughout the entire old covenant period. (See the Appendix for more detail.) The Lord pinpoints the problem precisely.

In a devastating prophetic passage God threatens the destruction of Israel’s false worship and specifies the reason, ““Because this people draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men”” (Isa 29:13). (This is the passage used by Jesus to condemn the useless worship of his time (Matt 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7)). The religious fear of the day was a fear taught by men, not by God, it was not the fear a true son has for their Father but a mere human custom.

The prophets hoped for a time beyond such superficiality, a time when the power of mere human tradition would be superseded by the immediate relationship with God the new covenant of the heart would bring “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jer 31:34 cf. Ezek 36:26). In plain language, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord” (Isa 54:13).

An announcement is made about how this radical transition in the essential nature of the human experience of God will take place, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, 6 and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.” (Isa 33:5-6). It would take the exalted Son to move from heaven to earth and to live in the fear of his Father for the city of God on earth to be filled with the glory of God in heaven.

The Exalted Son

Every preceding element of the dignity of humanity, in the creation of Adam, the election of Israel, the gifts of prophets, priests and kings, is summed up in the sonship of Christ. As the one true royal son Jesus manifests the delight of fear in his perfect love of righteousness and complete hatred of wickedness. Hebrews explains this as the cause of Jesus enthronement, ““Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”” (Heb 1:8-9 cf. Isa 16:5). This enthronement as exalted son, whilst climaxed in the ascension, began at Christ’s baptism. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22). In submitting to baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) Jesus receives the outpouring of the Spirit and the delight of being a Son who truly fears his Father. The meaning of this is made clear in the wilderness.

The foundational attack of Satan is the same strategy he used against Adam, God’s first son; it is to deny the divine likeness[3]. So he taunts Jesus, “If you are the Son of God….” (Matt 4:3). Unlike Adam, the most precious thing for Jesus was his Sonship. Though tested as we are (Heb 4:15), Jesus stands firm in the fear of the Lord. No temptation (or abuse or injustice) could turn Jesus from his love and commitment to the Father. Jesus’ pure delight was his fear of the Lord. Above all things, Jesus was repelled by the thought that he could lose the exalted position of Son.

The Lord showed me very clearly in prayer that Jesus intense desire to obey his Father created a space in his heart into which the Spirit and Word rushed to powerfully preserve him from falling. It was in this fullness of Spirit and Word that he conducted his whole ministry upon earth[4]. Yet there was a greater fullness to come, only by the suffering of death could Christ be “crowned with glory and honour”, no longer created (like Adam) “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Ps 8:5), but in the exalted position of God himself (Heb 2:6-9).

The cross is always a mystery, but it is a mystery that progressively reveals itself in intimate prayer. For humanity to be filled to the full with God (Col 2:9-10), man’s fear of God’s holiness must be absolute, this is the fear that Jesus must endure in Gethsemane. He prays “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt 26:38 cf. Isa 53:3) because he knows that very soon he will no longer sense the Father’s pleasure.[5] In the place of our sin (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus will be so far removed from the experience of his exalted status as Son that his soul will be empty of joy in delighting in the fear of his Father. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). This total absence of delight in God is hell itself and the full payment of the penalty for our sins.

The principle, “What the cross cleanses the Spirit fills.” is first of all true for the humanity of Jesus (Rom 8:3). Exalted to God (Rev 12:5), Christ’s own humanity has been freed from every element of weakness, temptation and mortality (Rom 6:9-10). This is so that he might impart to us the same measure of joy he has finally entered. “Jesus…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). This “joy” consists in pouring out the Spirit of sonship and bringing us to glory (Rom 8:15; Heb 2:10). It is a joy that begins[6] with delighting in the fear of the Lord.

The Restoration of All Things

The impact of the exaltation of Jesus is immediate upon his disciples, “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:51-52). Part of their joy, which continued as they prayerfully awaited the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14), was a delight in the fear of the Lord.

These same disciples who had fought over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24), and, at least in Peter’s case, had the fearless audacity to rebuke Jesus decision to go to the cross (Matt 16:21-23), were now broken people whose sinful self-confidence had been destroyed by the power of the cross. They knew from their own bitter experience (Luke 22:62) that the self exaltation of man leads only to ruin, but in seeing Jesus rise into heaven they understood that the divine exaltation of sonship leads to glory. In the wisdom of the fear of the Lord they became submitted, obedient and ready to follow. These disciples were ready to receive the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost because they knew only such an outpouring was fitting to their adopted status of royal sons. Since the cross had cleansed the apostles of their self-interested spirituality, it was inevitable that in the divine order of things they would soon be filled with the Spirit and speak of the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11) with unreserved “holy boldness” (Acts 4: 13, 23, 29, 31). As exalted sons they knew they had nothing to gain from the response of their hearers – status, wealth, comfort etc. meant nothing to them – therefore the holy sharp two edged sword of their mouths “cut to the heart” of those who heard (Acts 2:37).

As we progress through Acts, the panorama of the work of Christ revealed in the preaching of the apostles broadens out to the widest possible horizons. Once again it is the renewed man Peter who proclaims, not simply the renewal of individual or corporate humanity, but “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). From their position in the heavenly places with Christ, “all things” is the scope of the vision of the royal sons. As Jesus once so clearly showed me, he is moving to bring order in all the spheres of nature and culture, government, education, law, arts, business….This is the sort of vision and direction that God is willing and working to release in our time. What then holds it back? Why aren’t we listening to God about the great things so clearly outlined in scripture and why do we lack the power of holy boldness?

Remembering who we Are

Every Christian shares in the royal status of Christ, we are “blessed … in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places….raised …up …and seated …with him” (Eph 1:3; 2:6). Possessing such dignity, all the prophetic promises of the immediate knowledge of God granted through the forgiveness of the new covenant are ours (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12). As Jesus said, “‘they will all be taught by God.’”(John 6:45). God is teaching his sons to delight in the fear of the Lord (Deut 4:10; Ps 34:11; 86:11). Yet, wherever the church teaches a form of godliness tied to success, position, influence, respectability, prosperity, personal achievement etc. it lacks in power (2 Tim 3:5). Sub-biblical teaching causes the children of God to be forgetful, with dire consequences. Exactly as Peter warns, “For whoever lacks these qualities (of godliness) is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Pet 1:9)

The central problem of our time is the same problem of every time, we have moved away from the central promise of the gospel, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Ps 130:3-4).

We are caught in the same condition that frustrated the prophets and resisted God’s kingdom present in Jesus (Matt 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7), the exaltation of human tradition above the immediate Word of God. The fear of man’s ways and the fear of God are mutually incompatible! The mind can only be transformed by the renewing divine power that will restore the universe (Rom 12:2; Matt 19:28; 2 Pet 3:10-13) when it is not moulded to the will of men. We have become an insecure people whose status and self identity are tied to things other than Christ; this grieves the Holy Spirit immeasurably.


Though grieved, the Spirit is stirred up to do a mighty work of God. This work is the revelation of the exalted status of the sons of God in Christ. As this powerful heart illumination sweeps upon us (Eph 1:18) believers will know that the inestimable dignity of being a child of God is beyond anything this creation can give (Heb 9:11). Knowing this, they will turn to the Lord as their sole source of satisfaction and delight; they will be taught by God the delight of his fear. In holy boldness they will go out in the power of the Spirit to transform the nations for Jesus (Matt 28:18-20), whatever the cost. This is surely what the Spirit is saying to the churches: “delight in the fear of the Lord”. “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Appendix: Saul as a Type of Human Tradition

Typologically, another example from the old covenant represents the failure of all human initiatives to express the kingdom of God. This concerns the institution of the monarchy. It is the people who called for a king to judge them like the nations, thereby rejecting the sovereign Lordship of God (1 Sam 8). Nevertheless, God was powerfully with the first king, Saul.

In fulfilment of prophetic word “the Spirit of God rushed upon him” and he was “turned into another man”. Amazingly, “God gave him (Saul) another heart” and he “prophesied with the prophets” Intriguingly, bystanders inquire, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”… “And who is their father?””(1 Sam 10:9-12). Saul has been elected by God into a company of Spirit empowered individuals who come and go wherever the ruah/wind of God moves them (John 3:8). “Their father” is not a human person of fixed abode and settled custom for they are men of the Spirit of God. This was the sort of anointing grace that was on the dynasty of Saul, he was lifted beyond the narrow earthly sphere into a new royal calling.

Shortly however another side to this man showed itself. Saul fell from grace and was rejected as king for one sole purpose, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Sam 15:24 cf. 13:11). It is impossible to fear both God (1 Sam 12:14, 24) and man and to retain the consciousness of the exalted position of a royal son. What was instituted by man can always be taken away by man; this was the foundational flaw in Saul’s kingship. True devotion to God is always corrupted by the power of man-made tradition.

[1] Compare, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Ps 130:3-4).

[2] Simply because God keeps acting to feed his sheep does not mean his ministers are acting in holiness!

[3] The serpent’s promise, “you will become like God” (Gen 3:5) denies they are already created in the likeness of God (Gen 1:26).

[4] “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34)

[5] Note the anti-parallel to “my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isa 42:1).

[6] “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Ps 9:10)

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