Fear has permeated our culture in the United States and arguably the world. In times of great uncertainty and misunderstanding, reaching for wisdom instead of knowledge arms the believer with the tools necessary to respond to every situation, no matter how difficult, in a manner pleasing to God.
So how does a believer start to understand fear and what the response should be to fear? The simple answer is to open the Bible and read God’s word. In this study, the aim is to meditate each day on the use of the word fear in the Bible and the context that surrounds a believer.
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the very first mention of the word fear is in Genesis 9:2. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.
At first glance, this passage may seem straightforward. However, when the believer meditates on the meaning of the word fear, the context surrounding the passage, and the application of the word historically there is a richer tool of wisdom provided.
First, understanding the definition of the word fear is important. It may seem like a trite thing to do in defining the word fear; on the contrary, full understanding of the definition of a word is imperative. This instance of the word fear in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word מוֹרָא (pronounced mo-raw) which is a verb with English synonyms of fear, awe, reverence, respect, and/or fright. The verb מוֹרָא immediately conjures a different emotion in Genesis 9:2. Awe and reverence are terms that invoke thoughts of respect. God gives us the gift of all creatures and their corresponding awe and reverence. Humans are created in the image of God, and this passage ensures that both the creatures and humans alike understand a basic hierarchy. As with all things in the Bible this is done with intent. Do not be mistaken, God cares for all His creatures, but when God makes his covenant with Noah, He sets those created in His image above all others.
Second, understanding the full communication of the verse Genesis 9:2 requires investigation of the entire passage. The overarching message of Genesis chapter nine is an explanation of God’s covenant with Noah after the great flood. “God’s salvation of Noah leads to the command to preserve human life and not destroy people who are created in God’s image. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow, by which God’s promise is guaranteed (Zondervan, 2015).” In Genesis 9:1, God provides His blessing for Noah to repopulate the earth. Then in verse two, God reveals the distinction of humans and creatures on earth by separating them with מוֹרָא. This covenant allows this important distinction for two reasons: to elevate His children above all creatures and to make use of creatures, along with the plants He also provided earlier in Genesis. In verse four, God’s covenant with Noah gets interesting. God is specific in telling Noah that he should never eat meat with lifeblood in it. God is referring to harming another human or creature in separate terms. Regarding harming another human, God is clear that the believer will have to account for all instances of harm. Regarding harming an animal or consuming it while still alive, the believer must account for this as well. Thank goodness for the New Covenant, right? In simpler terms, the believer must be responsible of the use of the creatures of the earth and treat other humans with the same reverence and respect given to every human as commanded by God.
The idea of fear meaning awe and reverence is more telling of respect in this passage. Use the gifts God has provided wisely and protect the lifeblood that flows through all humans from harm. How does a believer do this? I believe using the bounty of the earth with מוֹרָא encourages a healthy relationship with our surroundings and requires a certain level of humility regarding the treatment of all God’s creation. In summation, מוֹרָא in Genesis 9:2 commands us to live in harmony by applying God’s words to everyone and everything the believer encounters by choosing biblically defined respect.