On Fear and Wisdom

Today’s reading is Psalm 34.

I understand why we do it, but I sometimes wonder if the modern attempt to classify psalms doesn’t miss the boat. “This psalm is a communal lament.” “That psalm is an individual praise.” “This other psalm is a Messianic psalm.” “That one is a wisdom psalm.” It is amazing to me the number of times the commentators have to say, “This psalm is hard to classify. It has some qualities of this kind of psalm, but also some qualities of that kind of psalm.” Honestly, it’s almost like they have forgotten that the Psalms didn’t come with a guide book explaining the various kinds of psalms and all their characteristics. From beginning to end all those systems of classifications are man made. They don’t tell us so much about the psalm we are studying as they tell us about our modern penchant to need to organize, classify, systematize, and order. If we are not careful, we may end up reading the psalms through our modern eyes and missing what the original authors intended.

This is another one of those psalms we classifiers struggle with. Is it a praise psalm or is it a wisdom psalm? David praises God, he calls all of his readers to praise God with him. It’s a praise psalm, right? But wait, based on the praise he teaches his audience how to live. It’s a wisdom psalm, right? Maybe it’s both. Or maybe, we just have to realize God didn’t label these psalms, and we don’t have to either.

I’ll tell you what we can see in this psalm no matter what we label it. David says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (vs. 11, ESV). In our modern day, we struggle with being taught to fear the Lord. However, ancient wisdom said we should fear the Lord, and we need to be taught how. Apparently, despite our modern conceptions of fear, it isn’t a natural reaction to the power of God, it is a learned response to the truth of God. Proverbs 15:33 says the fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10 all claim the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom.

What does fearing the Lord look like? I can tell you this: it doesn’t look like cowering in your closet, hoping the Lord will ignore you or forget you are hiding there. It looks like keeping your tongue from evil and deceit, turning away from evil, doing good, seeking peace and pursuing it. For more on this, you might want to read the New Testament letter from James.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 34.


Click here to take about 15 minutes to listen to the Text Talk conversation between Andrew Roberts and Edwin Crozier sparked by this post!

A Word for Our Kids

Hey kids, as I shared with your parents above, folks today really don’t like to talk about fearing God. Somehow, we have become convinced that fearing God means forgetting or ignoring His grace and love. What I find fascinating is that is not what happens in the Bible.

In fact, notice how David expresses it. In vs. 7, David explains why we want to fear the Lord. Because the Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord. Then, he tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good. That seems like the exact opposite of what someone would do who just told us to fear the Lord. Yet, there it is.

But wait! There’s more.

In vs. 11, David says, “Kids (which probably should be really ‘students’), listen up. I’m going to teach you to fear the Lord.” Then he gives instruction in what that looks like (see what I wrote for your parents). However, what is fascinating is vss. 15-18. This Lord whom we are supposed to fear should be called on and cried out to. This Lord listens to those who rely on Him and call on Him. Even though they are broken and crushed, weak and poor, afflicted and troubled, He listens. This God whom we are supposed to fear isn’t out to zap people.

Yes, those who wantonly pursue evil will be judged. But, the God we fear is actually a good God. Thus, our fear doesn’t lead us to hide from Him, but to draw closer to Him. If we are running from God, we aren’t fearing Him properly. Fearing God means running right up to Him and letting Him wrap His protective arms around us. Praise the Lord!

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