Psalm 147, leading up to this verse, describes how God controls nature and provides for all the needs of His creations. In that context, our verse states that although God looks after the material necessities of all things, His true desire is not merely to sustain a physical animal kingdom and natural order. Rather, God’s purpose in all of this is the benefit of those who fear Him.
Fear Him = Desire Blessings?
Our verse indicates that those who fear the Lord are those who long for His kindness. This is strange. At first glance, fearing God and longing for His kindness are two distinct concepts. Furthermore, the plain meaning of “fearers of the Lord,” is people who are exceedingly pious and of great spiritual depth and integrity. When we think of people who exemplify fear of the Lord, we do not imagine people who are longing for God’s kindness.
“Those who long for His kindness” brings to mind people who are eagerly awaiting the blessings that God will bestow on them, anticipating their own benefit from their relationship with God. Why would those who fear Him also be defined as those who long for His kindness?
Fearers of the Lord Receive His Kindness
Interestingly, this verse is one of many in Psalms that refer to those who fear the Lord as those who yearn for or are the recipients of God’s kindness. Here are a few examples. (see also Ps. 31:20, 34:10, 111:5, 128:4)
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who long for His kindness. – Psalm 33:18
Rather, as high as the heavens above the earth, so is His kindness great for those who fear Him. – Psalm 103:11
But the kindness of the Lord is forever to those who fear Him, His righteousness for the children’s progeny. – Psalm 103:17
In fact, most of the references to those who fear the Lord in the Bible mention the great reward and kindness that God bestows upon them. Apparently, there is a direct connection between fearing the Lord and being on the receiving end of His kindness.
While it makes sense that those who fear the Lord are deserving of God’s kindness and blessing, it is still difficult to understand why the fearers of the Lord are those who long for and await His blessing. We can easily understand why God would grant them this reward. But is someone who is looking forward to God’s kindness really expressing piety and spiritual greatness? Is hoping for blessings really a sign of fear of the Lord?
What is Kindness?
Psalm 33:18, quoted above, like our verse, says that the fearers of the Lord long for God’s kindness. But in neither of these verses, nor in any other verse in the Bible, is there any mention of the fearers of the Lord longing for God’s reward, blessing, or any other word for the good that God bestows upon human beings. In both verses, the word used is “kindness.” This is significant, and it will help us to answer our questions and fully understand our verse.
The Hebrew word for “kindness” used here is chesed. This word has a very specific meaning. Chesed is something that is given freely beyond what has been earned or is necessarily deserved. For example, if I work a job for an agreed-upon wage and then receive a paycheck for the exact amount that I am owed for the hours that worked, this is not kindness. If, on the other hand, my employer adds a bonus beyond the wages owed to me, this extra amount is kindness, i.e., it is beyond what is earned or deserved by rights.
What is the connection between fear of the Lord and being the recipient of chesed – kindness?
What is a Fearer of the Lord?
To understand this, we must ask an even simpler question. What does it mean to be a “fearer of the Lord?” How does one qualify for this specific title? How is a fearer of the Lord different from a lover of the Lord or one who has faith in the Lord?
The answer is found in two other verses in Psalms.
Fortunate are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways. – Psalm 128:1
Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will teach him in the way he should choose. – Psalm 25:12
In both these verses fear of the Lord is associated with following God’s way. In other words, fear of the Lord means obedience to His will. While it is true that those who love the Lord may also be obedient, the trait of absolute obedience is associated with fear of the Lord. To sum up: fearers of the Lord are those who exemplify obedience.
Abraham: The original fearer
Proof that absolute obedience to God’s will and the title “fearer of God” go hand in hand takes us all the way back to the first person who was ever described this way. When the angel prevented Abraham from killing Isaac as a sacrifice to God, the angel said:
’Do not lay a hand on the boy’, he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you are a fearer of God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ – Genesis 22:12
Bear in mind that the previous eleven chapters in Genesis leading up to this scene are almost entirely about Abraham and his relationship with God. And yet, it is only when he displayed his willingness to sacrifice his son for God that Abraham earned the title “fearer of God.”
This is because to be a fearer of God is to be obedient. There is no greater example of obedience to the will of God than Abraham’s willingness to offer his son Isaac as an offering to God.
What is Obedience?
Now let us return to our verse here in Psalm 147. Those who fear the Lord are obedient to Him, not because God’s will makes sense to them. They are not obedient to Him because they hope to earn some great reward for their obedience. This would not be obedience at all. Those who fear the Lord are obedient to Him because they revere God and want to serve Him to the best of their ability. They expect nothing in return. And this is the key point.
There are many people who profess faith in God and who live their lives in accordance with God’s expressed will in the Bible who would not qualify as “fearers of the Lord.” This is because they serve God with an expectation of reward. Many people of faith see their relationship with God as a quid pro quo. “If I serve God, He will bless me, protect me, etc.” To such people, faith becomes a tool for serving themselves. If God does not fulfill their wants or needs as they deem appropriate, they wonder if God is not keeping up His end of the arrangement. To these people, any blessings they receive from God are not seen as chesed – kindness. These people think that they deserve whatever they are receiving.
A true fearer of the Lord knows that he deserves nothing for his obedience to God. While He calls out to God for help and casts his needs upon the Lord in prayer, he expects nothing and takes nothing for granted. A fearer of the Lord does not think that he has earned anything. Therefore, when a fearer of the Lord looks to God for help, he anticipates only kindness; undeserved and unearned. He therefore sees anything and everything that he receives as a generous gift. This attitude leads directly to praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His blessings. After all, we are much more likely to give praise and thanks for a gift that is undeserved than we are for something that we think is owed to us.
“The Lord values those who fear Him, those who long for His kindness.” God wants us to serve Him for no other reason than to serve Him. He wants us to see every blessing as a gift that He has freely bestowed. This is true piety and faith.
We must not take God’s gifts for granted and think that He owes us anything for our lives of faith and obedience. We must serve Him for His sake, not ours.
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