Arising to Judge
(7) You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? (8) From the heavens you pronounced (lit: caused to be heard) judgment. The earth feared and remained silent (9) when God arose to judge, to deliver all the oppressed of the earth. (Selah) (10) Surely the wrath of man will praise you. With the remnant of wrath you will gird yourself. (11) Make your vows to Yahweh, your God, and fulfill them. Let everyone around (in surrounding lands) bring gifts to the fearsome one, (12) who cuts off the breath (spirit) of princes, (the one who) is to be feared by the kings of the earth.
Repetitions again point the way to the message of this second half of the psalm. First, the second person singular pronoun, “you,” is found six times to emphasize that God is the focus (vss. 7, 8 & 10). Four times the word, “fear” is used, three times as a verb (in vss. 7, 8, & 12), and once as an adjective (vs. 11), making it the key word in this segment.
We find “wrath” used twice, first speaking of human anger and then of God’s anger (vs. 10), echoing the phrase “when you are angry” (vs. 7). Finally, “earth” is used three times, first in contrast to “the heavens” (vs. 8) and then twice more to speak of those who dwell on the earth (vss. 9 & 12).
I. Why Yahweh is to be feared when his anger is aroused (7-10)
II. How humanity should respond to Israel’s fearsome God (11 & 12)
When his wrath is aroused, there is no one to be feared more than Israel’s awesome God.
“The fear of the Lord” is not an easy subject to consider, particularly for those who are the beneficiaries of his grace and forgiveness in Christ. The Apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 Jn. 4:18). We tend to conclude from such a verse that we need not concern ourselves with the fear of the Lord. However, God’s response of wrath toward those who rebel against him is something we ought to be reminded of regularly lest we forget how holy he is and how much he hates sin.
One way to recover a sense of God’s awesome greatness is by considering the experiences of those who actually stood in his physical presence. For example, think of the time when God first revealed to Israel the Ten Commandments: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Ex. 20:18-21). The Israelites “trembled with fear” in the presence of a holy God, and so should we.
The fear of the Lord should not only invoke in us reverence and respect, it should also elicit a sense of terror regarding what could happen to us if we were to offend his holiness. Additionally, we should remember the dire consequences of incurring his hand of discipline in our lives. According to King Solomon, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). The greater our respect for God’s holiness, the more likely will we be motivated to live in ways that please him, seeking to avoid any kind of behavior that might require his chastening.