Fear of Israel, Fear of God


Question: Is it the goal of the nation of Israel to be feared by all the peoples of the earth? 

The sequence in these 4 verses present a step-by-step description of the process of the redemption of Israel. 

  1. Miraculous defeat of enemies who attack Israel
  2. Blessing of material and economic abundance, in the land
  3. Israel is established as a holy people to God, in obedience to the commandments
  4. All the peoples of the earth will see God’s special relationship to Israel
  5. They all will fear Israel

Up until the final phrase in the passage, the sequence makes sense and reflects the story and mission of Israel. Consider the modern State of Israel. First, in 1948, the Jewish people had to win an impossible war against the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Legion. And even after that war was won, the people of Israel still needed to fight more wars just to survive. The six-day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973 were both conflicts in which the very survival of the Jewish state was in question. Israel was victorious every time. 

The next stage is economic prosperity. And in fact, as we have mentioned many times in this book, Israel today has become an economic powerhouse, a land of prosperity and remarkable growth.

After the material blessings, the next stage in the redemptive process is the full return to obedience to the will of God, keeping all His commandments. This is a process that is underway but is far from complete. More and more Israelis of secular backgrounds are returning to tradition and to Torah observance. 

As the verses continue to tell us, the next stage will be the recognition by all the peoples of the earth of God’s special relationship to Israel, which in turn will cause all the nations to be afraid of Israel. 

Why is this a goal? We would have expected these verses to culminate in some description of how all the nations of the earth will serve God together, will stream to the land to worship God, will praise God for all He has done; as the prophets reiterate over and over. Why does this passage in Deuteronomy look forward to a time when the nations of the world will be afraid of the nation of Israel? What are they afraid of?

To appreciate what this verse is actually saying, a precise understanding of the Hebrew is in order. The phrase translated here, “and they shall be afraid of you,” is made up of two words.

Ve’Yaru and they shall be afraid

Memeka of you

The prefix ve at the beginning of the first word means “and.” Yaru means “they will fear.” The me at the beginning of the second word means “or” or “from.” Eka is the conjugal suffix meaning “you.” 

The word “fear” – yirah – appears hundreds of times in the Bible. But there are two ways that what is being feared can be described. Here are two examples we will use to understand this point.

Ve’yareita me’Elohecha and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord

Le’yirah et Adonai Elohecha to fear the Lord your God

Let’s break down the Hebrew. Ve’yareita means “and you shall fear.” Elohecha means “your God.” Once again, the prefix me means “of” or “from.” Now notice that in the second verse there is no me prefix. Le’yirah means “to fear,” and Adonai Elohecha means “the Lord your God.” But in the second verse instead of the subject of fear being introduced with the prefix me, it is introduced with the word et. Got that? If you aren’t sure, pause and reread this paragraph while looking back at the two verses.

Of the over 400 instances of the verb “to fear” in the Bible, there are many that introduce the subject that is feared with the prefix me, and many others that use the word et. Et is an untranslatable word that is used to point out a definite article. Now let’s get to the explanation.

When fear of something or someone is yirah (fear) et…, it means that the thing itself is feared. A better word for this is “awe.” So, for example, the verse in Deuteronomy 10 we just cited calls upon us to fear God. This does not mean fearing punishment from God, rather it means being in awe of God, of who He is.

On the other hand, when the verb “fear” is followed by me, it means that there is fear as a result of the subject, or fear of some consequence that emerges from the subject. So, in the verse from Leviticus, which comes at after a prohibition, the fear is fear of punishment that comes from God, not fear of God’s essence itself. To sum up:

Yirah me fear, resulting from the subject

Yirah et awe of the subject itself

Based on this importance nuance in the text, I’d like to suggest that our verse is not describing the peoples of the earth being afraid of the nation of Israel. Rather, our verse is describing the peoples of the earth being fearful as a result of the nation of Israel. Here’s the verse again, with a modification to the final words based on what I have explained.

And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid because of you.

Considering the beginning of the verse, and the content of the verses that lead up to it, I believe that the verse is describing the peoples of the earth being in awe and fear of God as a result of what they see in the nation of Israel. The nations of the earth will witness the hand of God, and His name, upon the people of Israel and this will cause them to be in awe of God. Their fear of God will result from what they see in Israel.

Understood this way, our verse describes the mechanism by which God uses Israel to bring knowledge and awe of Him to the entire world.

The unique and miraculous story of the exile and redemption of Israel is the vehicle that God uses to instill fear of Him in all the peoples of the earth. 

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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