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Scriptural Concepts

Fear Adonai
יראת יהוה

Hebrew Word

The Hebrew noun yireh usually refers to a combination of fear, astonishment, and dread.

When used as part of the phrase yirat Adonai (often translated "fear of the Lord") it means these, but also speaks of awe and devotion before God.

Meaning in Ancient Israel

In ancient Israel the phrase yirat Adonai was not used until the time of King David.

In Torah the Israelites are frequently commanded to feel yireh towards God, but this attitude has not yet solidified into a noun concept. In Levitics the phrase v'yarayta may'Elohay-cha ("you shall fear your God") is used (verses 19:32 and 25:17). In Deuteronomy a more similar phrase, teera et Adonai ("fear Adonai") is once used as a command (verse 6:2). Normally Deuteronomy uses less similar phrases in its commands to feel yireh towards God (verses 6:13, 6:24, 8:6, 10:12, 10:20, 13:4, and others.)

The phrase yirat Adonai is not used until the Psalms of David, who apparently coined the phrase (Psalm 19:9, 34:11).

King David wrote that "yirat Adonai is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10), a sentiment Solomon repeats and varies (Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10, 15:33). In Proverbs the phrase yirat Adonai is often discussed in other ways, and is once identified with hating evil (Proverbs 8:13).

In Isaiah 11:1-3 we read about how yirat Adonai is identified with God's Spirit and it will be on the messiah. (The following translation follows the Septuagint in reading the first word of verse 11:3 as roo-ach ("spirit"), rather than the Masoretic Text's use of the word ray-ach ("smell").)

And a shoot shall go out from the trunk of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Adonai shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and yirat Adonai. In the spirit of yirat Adonai he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, nor decide after the hearing of his ears.

Meaning in the First Century

In the First Century the phrase "God Fearer" was used to refer to Gentiles who partially joined the Jewish community. According to Josephus these Gentiles would attend synagogue, pay tithes to the Temple, and make use of the Temple's "court of the Gentiles", but not undergo a conversion ceremony.

Cornelius is an example (Acts 10:2). Paul addresses "Men of Israel and God-Fearers..." in Acts 13:16.

Yeshua taught that God's Spirit is the source of wisdom (John 14:26), linking it with David and Solomon had written about yirat Adonai and as well as what Isaiah wrote.

Meaning for Yeshua's followers in Modern Times

We should act upon the link between yirat Adonai and God's Spirit. Activities that can increase yirat Adonai, such as studying scripture, prayer, and worshipful adoration, can also invite more of God's Spirit. This can also help us be sensitive to God's directing. In the Gospel of John, Yeshua teaches in verses 6:44-45 that

No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets, "And they shall all be taught of God." Therefore everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me.

Thus it is God's Spirit that draws people to Yeshua. Having yirat Adonai allows us to more clearly feel this pull.

Also yirat Adonai helps us intercede in prayer. In Hebrews 5:7-8 we read that even Yeshua's prayers were heard by God because of Yeshua's yirat Adonai, not because of Yeshua's status as messiah and Son of God.

He, in the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death and was heard in that he feared. Though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered.