The Hope of Fear

I was thinking about this verse:

Behold the eye of the Lord is one those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18-19

I have at times struggled to understand the “fear of the Lord” in the Old Testament. Part of it is a type of deep and holy reverence before God. Another is, I’m convinced, an actual terror before the awful (in the best sense of the word) God who created heaven and earth. Does not it say somewhere that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

However, I think this verse illuminates another sense of what it is to “fear the Lord.”

Hebrew poetry (like this Psalm) uses a literary device called parallelism. Often Line B will repeat, reiterate, oppose, or further clarify what Line A talks about. For example, in this verse it says that the eye of the LORD is “on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” The main issue in understanding this is how “on those who fear him” (Line A) relates to “on those who hope in his steadfast love” (Line B).

Obviously Line B does not contradict Line A, as in, for example, Psalm 32:10: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” The connection therefore must be positive, either in a restating or clarifying type of relationship.

I take this mean that either:

1. “Hope in the LORD” is very similar to “Fear of the LORD”.

or

2. “Hope in the LORD” in some way defines “Fear of the LORD”.

These relate closely to each other. In both cases “hope” manifests “fear”. I’ll say it another way: those who fear the LORD do so by hoping in the LORD. To fear the LORD is to hope in the steadfast love, the covenant-unfailing-love of the Holy One of Israel, who will not lie or change his mind.

Verse 19 follows verse 18 with the reason why “The eye of the LORD is on those who fear him and hope in his steadfast love”. In the Hebrew verse 19 is an infinitive — “to deliver their soul from death…” The ESV translates it “that he may deliver”, capturing the idea of purpose — that God keeps his eye such people, with the purpose of delivering them.

This helps me, especially when I see that this is the same idea as the New Testament principle of “justification by faith” — that is, trusting solely in Christ for salvation. Some would cut a strong distinction between the Old and New Covenants, but I think the principles are similar in each: Salvation comes by trusting in the LORD’s steadfast love and his promises to save.

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About Danny Slavich

I am a Christian husband, father, pastor, and poet. I lead Pembroke Road Baptist Church a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in urban South Florida.
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One Response to The Hope of Fear

  1. Pingback: More observations on Ps. 144:2 « my life as an adverbial suffix

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