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“Fear” in the Old Testament, Part I December 5, 2005

Posted by mjtilley in Uncategorized.
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“Mowra” – The first time the word fear anywhere and in any way in the Bible is in Genesis 9:2. Noah is now off of the ark. Before and during the flood, men and animals could peacefully co-exist. But now, God tells Noah that the animals will fear man. When this word is used for fear, it appears to indicate a fear of some one or some thing that is in some way superior.

“Yawray” (adjective form) – The first time this word is used is Genesis 22:12. This is at the end of the story of God demanding that Abraham sacrifice Issac. Despite the weird and painful request, Abraham faithful obeys, never realizing it is a test of his faith. Fortunately, an angel stops the sacrifice saying that it is obvious that Abraham fears God. Throughout Scripture, this use of the word fear tends to indicate an exemplary way to live. For the most part, those to whom it attributed are blessed and praised. That is likely why it is the word used by Jonah to describe himself to the seamen in Jonah 1:9. It’s the perfect word to use if you’re trying to make yourself look “spiritual.”

“Yawray” (verb form) – This is most commonly the Hebrew word at work when you see the word “fear” throughout the Old Testament. As such, it is used in a variety of ways. I’ve categorized its use into four types:

  • God saying not to fear. The first instance of this type of use is Genesis 15:1. Here, God is telling Abraham to have courage because He will protect Abraham.
  • Someone (other than God) saying not to fear. The first instance of this type of use is Genesis 35:17. Here, a midwife is comforting a new mother by reminding her that the baby is soon to be born.
  • Noting specifically the fear of God. The first instance of this type of use is Exodus 1:17. Here, the Israeli midwives refuse to obey Pharaoh’s decree to kill all baby boys born to Israelites. They are said to be doing so out of the fear of God.
  • Indicating simply being scared. The first instance of this type of use is Genesis 19:30. Here, the angels are trying to get Lot out of Sodom before God sends destruction. They direct him to a city called Zoar. He goes there at first, but later takes his daughters to the caves because he “fears” living in Zoar. I believe this to mean that he is just plain scared to live in a city because he fears God will send more destruction.

“Yirah” – This word is first used in Genesis 20:11. Abraham blames his decision to hide his marriage to Sarah on the belief that the people of Gerar didn’t fear God and, therefore, were capable of anything. As a result, he fears for his life if they learn he’s married to this beautiful woman.

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