John T. Willis

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Setting the Stage for the Book of Job--Part V

Job 28:28 identifies "wisdom" as "the fear of the Lord." "The fear of the Lord" is THE CENTRAL THEME of the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, including the Book of Job. BUT, what does the expression "the fear of the Lord" mean?

Now, "fear" is a term which has various meanings depending on the context of each verse and each context. By way of introduction:
A. Fear might mean "human fear" or anxiety IN CONTRAST TO "fearing God." Study Isaiah 8:12-13; Matthew 14:26-27; Hebrew 13:6.
B. Fear might mean "dread" or "terror" of a calamity or affliction. Study Proverbs 1:33; 1 Peter 3:13-15a; 1 John 4:18. In THIS sense, "fear has to do with punishment."
C. Fear might mean "fearful prospect of [eternal] judgment" in hell. Study Hebrew 10:26-27.
BUT, NONE of these definitions applies to "the fear of the Lord" in the Bible.

TWO AVENUES of study help one understand the meaning of "the fear of the Lord."

I. Parallelism. [We studied the principles of "parallelism" in a previous blog].
A. Fear means "stand in awe of"--Malachi 2:5: "He FEARED me ,
and STOOD IN AWE OF my name."
See also Psalm 22:23.
B. Fear means "reverence" or "honor." Exodus 20:12 says: "HONOR your father and mother," but Leviticus 19:3 says: "Ye shall FEAR every man his mother and his father." See also Hebrews 12:9; Psalm 103:13. Some of the English versions of some of these text read "revere" or "reverence" rather than "fear."
C. Fear means "respect" or "regard highly." Luke 18:2 says: "In a certain city there was a judge who neither FEARED God nor REGARDED man." Here "fear" and "regard" are interchangeable words. See similarly Exodus 9:20-21; Romans 13:7.
"Fear" does not mean "dread," "terror," or "horror," but "honor," "respect,"
"reverence," "standing in awe of," and the like.

II. Relationships. Five relationships in the Bible use the term "fear."
A. A slave "fears" his master. Malachi 1:6; Ephesians 6:5-7; 1 Peter 2:18-20. These references do not refer to "harsh" masters, but loving masters. So, here, "fear" means "respect" or "honor," not "dread."
B. A citizen "fears" his people. Joshua 4:14; 1 Kings 3:28; Romans 13:7.
C. A child "fears" his or her parents. Leviticus 19:3; Hebrews 12:9; Psalm 103:13
D. A wife "fears" her husband. Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:1-2.
E. Jesus "fears" God. Hebrews 5:7.

Now, this brings us to the PRIMARY ISSUE of the Book of Job.
1. The book of Job describes Job as a person "who FEARS GOD" and turns away from evil--Job 1:1, 8; 2:3. Hence, Job was a WISE person.
2. Some scholars argue that the "primary issue" in the book of Job is human suffering. I agree that suffering is a great concern in the book of Job, but I think this is NOT the CENTRAL PRIMARY ISSUE. See below.
3. Some scholars argue that the "primary issue" in the book of Job is Job's patience or impatience. Well, the book of Job DOES discuss the issue of Job's patience. But I think this is not the primary issue.
4. Some scholars believe the "primary issue" in the book of Job is THEODICY, the vindication of God's justice in permitting evil to exist in the world, that is, why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. This is certainly a big issue, and this appears in the book of Job, but I think this is not the primary issue in the book of Job.

Having said all this, I am convinced that Job 1:9 "brings out" THE PRIMARY ISSUE of the book of Job, emerging from the words of Satan: "Does Job FEAR GOD for nothing?" In other words, Can or should a person serve God faithfully through life without desiring as the motivation as a reward?

Admittedly, there are several important religious ideas in the book of Job, and we will discuss each of these in the following blogs. But for introduction, I am proposing that THE PRIMARY ISSUE in the book of Job is: Can or Should a human being serve God unselfishly? Will a person remain faithful to his Creator even if his circumstances are filled with "good reasons" to doubt and even denounce the way God is dealing with him? Will he worship God just because God is worthy of praise and honor, or in order to receive God's blessings and gifts? This is the PRIMARY ISSUE in the book of Job. And I imagine, this is our problem for life as well.

How do YOU respond to this? Share your thoughts with me--with others.

John Willis


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