The Hebrew word יראה (pronounced “yir-ah”) is used forty-five times and is most frequently translated as “fear”. In our English language fear is a state of excitedness, a trembling from something terrible. This word is used in the phrase “the Fear of God” (“The fear of the LORD” in most translations) twenty-three times.
The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honour. (RSV, Proverbs 15:33)
The common understanding of this verse is that if one is afraid of the Lord he will have wisdom but, as we shall see this is not consistent with its use in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew for this phrase is יראת יהוה (yirat Yahweh). When two nouns are placed together they are in the construct state, meaning that these two words should be considered one. Another clue that these two nouns are in the construct is the change of the letter ה (h) in the first word. When the first word of the construct phrase is a feminine noun ending with the letter ה (h), it changes to the letter ת (t).
Below is a complete list of construct phrases similar to the construct phrase “the fear of God” from the book of Genesis.
- The Word of God (Genesis 15:1)
- The Voice ofGod (Genesis 3:8)
- The Face of God (Genesis 4:16)
- The Name of God (Genesis 4:26)
- The Eyes of God (Genesis 6:8)
- The Garden of God (Genesis 13:10)
- The Angel of God (Genesis 16:7)
- The Way of God (Genesis 18:19)
- The Mount of God (Genesis 22:14)
You will notice that in every instance the first word in the construct (word, voice, etc) belong to the second word of the construct (God). The “fear” in the phrase “the fear of God” is not our fear; it is the God’s fear. We know that God cannot “fear,” so we must look to the Ancient Hebrew concrete meaning of this word to understand it.
The word יראה (yir’ah) comes from the parent root יר (yar), which means “to flow” and is the root of other words meaning river and rain, flowing bodies of water. From this we can conclude that when one is afraid their insides begin to shake, a flowing of the insides. But as the word יראה (yir’ah) means “to flow” it is not limited to “fear” alone.
In our introductory verse we saw that wisdom comes from this “fear of God.” Now compare that with Exodus 31:3:
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.
Here we read that it is “the Spirit of God” that gives us wisdom, in the same way that “the fear of God” does. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is “ru’ach” literally meaning the “wind,” which is also a flowing. The “fear of God” is not “being afraid” of God, it is his Spirit which flows out of him into us giving us wisdom, knowledge and understanding.