When Joshua replaced Moses as the leader of the nation of Israel, God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Not that long after this, as Joshua was reminding the people about some of the things God had done for them, he said, God “did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God” (Joshua 4:24).
As you look at these two passages, doesn’t it seem strange that after God had told Joshua “Don’t be afraid!” Joshua would then tell the people to “Fear the Lord”?
It might seem strange at first, until you understand that the Bible uses the word “fear” in two very different ways. When we hear about fear, we think of being afraid. However, look at how the Bible uses the word “fear” in the following two verses from the Psalms: “Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands” (Psalm 112:1). “Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’” (Psalm 118:4). In both of these verses, the word “fear” has nothing to do with being afraid of God, but rather of being in awe of God – of respecting him.
As we read through the Bible, we often find times where those who have a true fear (or respect) of God, are also filled with fear when they are given a glimpse of God’s glory. When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, she was afraid. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Nine months later, as an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Because of that baby born in Bethlehem (that baby who would one day go to the cross and give his life for the sins of the world), we don’t need to be afraid of God, but rather we can fear the Lord. We can have a true awe and respect for God who showed us his love through that baby in the manger.
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