The year is 1842; the place is the Congo. A Christian family is pushing into the jungle to join a pioneer missionary who is working in the interior. We might argue that no Christian family should be doing this work, because Biblical missions were done by single men working in teams, but that was not usually the practice two centuries ago. The trip requires several weeks, passing through very dangerous territory. There will be jungles interspersed with savannas and several rivers requiring dangerous crossings. The family has a capable guide and several Christian natives to help carry their luggage and supplies.
The children are enthralled, looking at the beauty and seeing some of the animals, while not realizing the danger. The mother is fearful, because she understands some of those dangers including lions, hippos nad disease. The father is traveling with confidence, because he is heading out to do the work of God. One morning during the family devotions he shares with his family Proverbs 14:26-27 – “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.”
“In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence.”
The other day, Judy was telling me about someone she thought had misdefined “the fear of the Lord.” It seemed to that person that this fear was some sort of terror. The implication was that if we are not properly afraid of God we should be even more fearful. The statement was made that respect or reverential awe of the Lord is not enough. If we are not afraid of God then we should expect His awful judgment. While granting that proper reverence for Jehovah includes humble awe, I disagree that includes terror. For the child of God, Jehovah is our Heavenly Father, which means that love is blended into the mix.
And if you think about it, isn’t this “fear of God” a gift of grace? Paul describes the lost as being, to some degree, spiritually fearless – “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” So when those people during the Tribulation are calling for rocks and mountains to hide them from the judgment of God, their fear will not be THIS “fear of the Lord.” When people today come face to face with death, they may fear to stand before the Lord, but their fear has nothing to do with Solomon’s subject.
I believe that THIS fear of the Lord is a gift from God, and is related to the gift of faith. Like faith, there is no native ability in us to muster it up. There is no natural desire to have this kind of fear, just as there is no desire or ability to properly repent before God. There is a sense in which this message tonight fulfils Paul’s instruction to Timothy – “In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them the fear of God to the acknowledging of the truth” – II Timothy 2:25.
“In the (proper) fear of the LORD is strong confidence.”
Our missionary, the husband and father of three children, following his guide through the trackless jungle, does so with confidence because of his fear of the Lord. He has confidence of God’s Love, because that same God has given him this gift of Christian fear. And his confidence isn’t common or ordinary – this man possesses “STRONG confidence.” He has no fear of lions or disease, because his fear is in the Lord. He who fears God need fear nothing else. It is not that he denies the possibility of dying from dysentery, or that lions are not out there hiding in the tall grass. It is simply that he trusts the Lord, Whom he properly fears, to protect him.
He is confident of God’s omniscience – that the Lord sees both his family and the deadly serpent on the path. And his fear of the Lord touches on God’s omnipotence as well. He has no doubt that the God who rules the winds and the waves, can push or draw the snakes away. The same Lord who shut the mouths of Daniel’s lions, can shut the mouths of their African cousins. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” One of the blessings of this particular strong tower is that its foundations are not in earthly granite. The strong tower of the Lord is like the Tabernacle in the wilderness, always near by and with Jehovah residing inside.
Why is this missionary risking his life and the lives of his family to work in the jungles of the Congo? He isn’t there for fame and personal glory. He has left his home and his homeland for the sake of souls and the glory of the Lord. He is going with a strong confidence that there are elect souls among the indigenous people. He is confident that the God whom he fears will transfer his fear to the hearts of others. He believes he can do “all things through the Christ who strengthened his heart.” And that includes his own children, a couple of whom are not yet born again.
“In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.”
David once said, “What man is he that FEARETH THE LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.” Solomon added, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” – Proverbs 13:22. Most of us are not going to have the privilege of leaving our grand-children great worldly wealth. If the Lord does not soon return and take us all away with him, there is the likelihood that we will die. And I don’t know about yours, but my children will not be able to retire to live on the wealth that I will leave them. But the man who fears the Lord has a very special gift to leave to his children.
I was asking myself this question, and I’ll let you ponder it with me – What is the greater bequest to your children – perfect doctrine or a perfect fear of the Lord? Previous generations have left to our generation the Word of God – and what an inheritance that is. Our forefathers have left us pure doctrine, and we have inherited that doctrine and enjoy it. But will our grandchildren reap the blessing of that same inheritance? If we truly fear God as we should, don’t we leave something even more precious and powerful than a theology book full of scriptural doctrine?
In the fear of the Lord father, mother, children and grandchildren can find a place of refuge. That is infinitely better than the inheritance of the family home or farm. One is an eternal refuge, while the other can be swept away by a flood, a hurricane or a tornado. One is built upon the rock, and other is built upon earthly sand.
Verse 27 says, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life.”
Doesn’t this statement help us to define or at least to better understand “the fear of the Lord?“ “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.” “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” What is that water of life? “Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. “The last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
As our missionary family proceeds further into the interior, they come out of the coastal jungle onto a wide, grassy savanna. They have seen some elephants and gazelles; they have heard the roar of lions. This night they camp by a flowing spring of water – something which all the animals of the savanna want. They build several big fires, and there are men with guns, tending to the fires throughout the night. Everyone is safe; they have food, water and fiery protection from the lions. “The fear of the Lord” has them secure and safe.
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.”
Sadly, the eight-year-old son of the missionary family has grown accustomed to the sounds of the night. He has seen some of the wonderful animals of Africa, and he is drawn to them like a moth to a flame. And one night three weeks into the journey he decides to venture out alone into the darkness armed only with one of the lamps he found in the camp. He has no fear of the hyenas or lions, and he doesn’t have the same fear of the Lord which his father has. He doesn’t heed the warnings of the guides, the wise counsel of the elders, or the commands of his Father. Near the fountain of life is life and a place of refuge, but out in the darkness is adventure and possible treasure – at least to his childish mind. In reality out in the darkness are the snares of death – temptations, evils and sinful situation. That little boy is not gone more than an hour before his lamp goes out and he becomes prey to the lions. The next morning the guides find his half eaten remains.
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death. “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. But what if there is no fear of the Lord?