A Survey Of The Two Sides Of Fear In The Old Testament

To the reader:

God bless you abundantly thru the knowledge of God our Father and our lord Jesus Christ.

So many people and events are mentioned in the Old Testament covering so many examples of conduct, both good and bad, so as to present to us the full range of human experience. For us to better understand some of these "former things", the translation to English must have the same impact and bring to mind the same experience as the language of the original. Knowing that more than two dozen Hebrew words are translated "fear" or "be afraid", one must logically conclude that some depth of meaning has been sacrificed for the sake of uniformity. There are differences, some major, some minor, and some are mere nuances, but if God thought enough to use different words then we should know about them.

In the following survey more than a dozen of these words are examined and examples given. You will see victory and defeat, hope and despair, wisdom and stupidity. The King James Version routinely obscures the true emotions expressed by these words and so we are not drawn in, nor can we fully relate to the lesson being presented to us. Certainly we can see intimidation being used by Goliath in I Samuel 17:8-10, and the fear Rabshakeh put into the hearts of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in an attempt to demoralize them in II Kings 18: 19-25 because these contexts are long enough to demonstrate intimidation and demoralization. But would we know of Ruth's fear of the unknown except the Word called her courageous for going with Naomi, being a widowed Moabitess in the land of Israel? Or can one tell from I Samuel 4:13 that Eli was a nervous wreck, filled with anxiety for allowing his two worthless sons take the Ark of God to the battlefront except it be known that "trembled" means "was anxious"? So great was his anxiety that it caused his death, viz verse 18. Or how much easier is it for those who are no longer young and physically fit to relate to the old man in Ecclesiastes 12:5 when it is known that they were not suffering from acrophobia but had a grudging respect for things they had to climb on or over because of their shaky legs and that this discouraged them from traveling?

Once we begin to see the true feelings of those people whom God chose to be examples for us and allow the Word to reach us and affect our lives, the riches and depth of God's wisdom becomes apparent. My desire is that you experience the same excitement and enlightenment in working this survey as I had in compiling it.

In His service,

Phillip Varady Sr.

Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear [respect] him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

In our daily lives we encounter many people, places, things and events and for the most part they just blend into the background. When something special occurs and thru curiosity, coercion or circumstance, we are drawn in and become involved, we make a preliminary judgment. On the lowest level we assess the risk/benefit of the situation; on a higher level the response may be fight or flight whether by deliberation or reflex. Some situations are beyond our experience or understanding, yet there is within us the sense of fear or believing (or faith), one or the other, for they are absolutely opposite.

When we expect some benefit we turn aside from our previous path as Moses did in the land of Midian.

Exodus 3:2-4 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

We can approach the situation with believing as Moses did, which will be manifested in us by hope or an expectation of good.

Proverbs 3:24-26 When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. 25Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. 26For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.

Psalm 62:5-8 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. 6He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved. 7In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. 8Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

However, if we assess the situation as a potential risk, and lack believing, we acknowledge the possibility or probability of a future loss. This results in foreboding, the expectation of eventual harm.

Deuteronomy 28:60 Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee.

Job 3:25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. 26I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

Psalm 119:39 39Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good.

All scripture used in this survey, unless otherwise noted, is from the King James Version. The words above in bold type are translated from the same Hebrew word 3025 rgoy" yagor, which is defined as "to live in fear of some evil that may befall us or others." The definitions are from the "New Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies" and the numbers (like 3025) refer to "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible".

This type of fear is not that which will send you screaming hysterically down the highway but rather that which will cause some uneasiness as it did to Job. If no remedy is found at this stage then foreboding will increase and become anxiety, the fear of a remote threat or of a possible catastrophe as in the following:

1 Kings 1:49 And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way

Ruth 3:7-9 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. 8And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. 9And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman..

1 Samuel 4:13 13And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

These use the word 2730 drex' chared, which is defined as "to tremble, to be in trepidation, fearful, anxious".


Joshua 22:23-24 That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it; 24And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the LORD God of Israel?

Proverbs 12:25 Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.

Ezekiel 4:16 - 17 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment: 17That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.

Look at the variety of translations for this usage of the word 1674 hg"a'D> de'agah which is defined "to be anxiously solicitous or fearful". Conversely, when our expectation of a benefit increases it becomes confidence, the feeling or awareness of reliability of that on which one depends; trust, security.

Proverbs 31:10-11 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. 11The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

Proverbs 28:1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Psalm 27:3 3Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

These express the range of translation for the word 0982 xj;B' batach, defined "to trust, to confide, to place hope and confidence in any one". A key verse as to how this affects our day to day living is expressed in this:

Proverbs 3:5-10 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 7Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. 8It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. 9Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

The unbelieving in their downhill slide allow foreboding and anxiety to increase. Our adversary, the Devil, uses many disguises and fronts to further weaken and destroy these unfortunates. He will bring such as these to their knees either by putting a great weight on them or by knocking their legs out from under them. The first is accomplished by intimidation, the fear of another's power and the latter by dismay, the fear of one's own weakness. There is also the possibility of that person surrendering in confusion because of the fear of their own ignorance.

Examples of intimidation:

Isaiah 8:12 Say ye not, A confederacy (or conspiracy), to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

Deuteronomy 20:3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;

Job 31:34 Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?

These are examples of intimidation from the word 6206 #r;[' `arats defined "to fear one on account of his power or violence; to cause fear on this account". It is essential at this point that the definition of intimidate is fully understood. Merriam-Webster gives this: "esp: to compel or deter by or as if by threats". Our adversary must break our believing in order to have any power over us, thus his effort to "compel or deter". This word is also used of God:

Psalm 89:7 God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.

In this case `arats obliges the believer to be fully aware of God's superiority as the Creator and we His creations. It is not an attempt by God to bully us with His power but rather that we remain certain in our thinking that whatever threats Satan directs toward us are inferior to God's remedy. More on this verse below.

Examples of dismay:

1 Samuel 17:10-11 And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. 11When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

Isaiah 31:4-5 For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.

Job 39:19-25 Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? 20Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. 21He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. 22He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. 23The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. 24He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. 25He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

The word 2865 tt;x' chathath is used in many forms to indicate the despair that occurs when one is dismayed. It is defined as "to be broken so as to be quite disabled: it denotes that consternation of the mind which is the reverse of the mind under the influence of joy, hope and confidence".

There is a word in Hebrew that combines the sense of both fear and confusion. The results leaves its victim in a state in which they have neither hope nor remedy and they become totally at the mercy of their oppressor. It is 1204 t[;B' ba`ath, defined as "to fear, with great consternation of mind; to be greatly terrified and perplexed in mind by sudden fear.

1 Samuel 16:14-15 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. 15And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

Job 15:24-25 Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle.

Psalm 18:4-5 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

Esther 7:6 And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

The Adversary uses fear to destroy believing. When our confidence and trust in God and the promises in the Word are strong, we are little affected by Satan's attempts to destroy us. We are often admonished to have courage, that inner strength that enables one to stand in the face of danger and overcome fear. Two Hebrew words are most often used to express this quality. The first, 0553 #m;a' 'amats is defined: "to be stronger than, to prevail over any one, to make firm, properly of feeble knees, faltering feet so that one cannot be thrown down by another". And 2388 qz:x' chazaq, defined as: "to bind fast, used of a mind determined to act with resolution, firmness, intrepidity, steadiness and constancy, in opposition to being timorous, faint hearted, careless, remiss and indifferent". There is an abundance of examples in the bible and the four that I have chosen come nowhere close to demonstrating the full range of use.

Genesis 25:23 And the LORD said unto her (Rebekah), Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger (0553) than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

Ruth 1:16-18 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. 18When she saw that she was stedfastly minded (0553) to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

Psalm 31:23 - 32:1 O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer. 24Be of good courage (0553), and he shall strengthen (2388) your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Isaiah 35:3-4 Strengthen (2388) ye the weak hands, and confirm (0553) the feeble knees. 4Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong (2388), fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.

The word that is used most often to express the English words fear or afraid is the Hebrew 3372 arey" yare'. Its meaning depends on a person's frame of mind. An innocent person will show respect to a policeman because of honor and admiration for the danger involved in that occupation. Yet a criminal may also show respect but only because he fears being noticed or exposed. The one is motivated by love and the other by guilt. Examples of both follow.

Ecclesiastes 9:2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth [ in vain or falsely], as he that feareth [respects] an oath.

Genesis 3:9-10 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Leviticus 19:3 Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

Genesis 18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

Deuteronomy 2:4-5 And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: 5Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession. (God let Moses know that the children of Esau would show respect and honor [they were vastly outnumbered] but that he was not to take advantage of this situation.)

When yare' is used in a negative sense it has the meaning "pay no mind to" or "be not concerned with". This usage applies to the immediate present, as in the first example, and also to a protracted time period as in the second.

Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Isaiah 10:24-28 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. 25For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction. 26And the LORD of hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb: and as his rod was upon the sea, so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt. 27And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

There is one more usage of yare' that can only be applied to God. It is translated as "reverence" or "revere". It implies the highest degree of honor and respect with affection instead of fear. Knowledge, understanding and wisdom become available thru reverence. Beginning with a verse used above:

Psalm 89:7 God is greatly to be feared (arats 6206) in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence (yare') of all them that are about him. [It is easy to see that these two words express parallel concepts rather than those which are dissimilar.]

Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 14:26-27 In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. 27The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.

Ecclesiastes 3:14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

There is a counterfeit reverence toward God which employs the same word as the genuine used above:

Isaiah 29:13-14 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: 14Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

The last important word to note is 6342 dx;P' pachad, and it is defined by:

Strong's - to be startled (by a sudden alarm) hence to fear in general; awe, terror.

Wilson's - implies a fear which is vehement, that which keeps the mind in an uneasy suspense or religious reverence, of things which come unexpectedly and produce a fear that is good or evil; awe, terror.

This word is used to describe the state of mind that occurs when events go beyond our experience and are incomprehensible. It does not come by man's prerogative but it endures in a willing mind.

When it is a tool of Satan it can range from 'uneasiness' to terror. It can be of such intensity that it is overpowering, mindless and selfish. Its ultimate expression is blind terror or hysteria and can be accompanied by the total disregard of logic and morality.

Micah 7:16-17 The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. 17They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear (yare`) because of thee.

Isaiah 51:11-13 Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. 12I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid (yare`)of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; 13And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?

Job 4:12-16 Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof. 13In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, 14Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. 15Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up: 16It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice,

When this word is used to describe the feelings and emotions of a believer in reaction to a work of God it is called deep reverence or awe. It expresses a profound feeling of majesty and wonder of that which is greater than could be thought or imagined.

Psalm 119:118-120 Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood. 119Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies. 120My flesh trembleth [shivers] for fear of thee; and I am afraid (yare`) of thy judgments.

Jeremiah 33:7-9 And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first. 8And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me. 9And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.

Psalm 119:160-162 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. 161Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word. 162I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.

Some infrequently used nouns used to express fearful concepts or things include:

Deuteronomy 34:10 - 12 And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11In all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, 12And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel. 4172 ar'Am mowra', fear, reverence [a form of yare`]

Jeremiah 20:3-5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, The LORD hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magormissabib [terror round about]. 4For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. 4032 rAgm' magowr, that which causes one to turn away in fear or horror.

Psalm 88:14-17 LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? 15I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors 1 I am distracted. 16Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors 2have cut me off. 17They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.

1 0367 hm'yae 'eymah, that which tends to destruction

2 1161 tW[Bi bi`uwthiym, alarms occasioned by God.

The reader is encouraged to acquire a concordance to the bible, (I recommend Strong's) and look up the in-depth meanings of words when the text alone does not indicate clearly what the individuals in the accounts are experiencing. See how others were either defeated thru their lack of confidence or trust in God, or victorious thru their love for Him and their belief in His Word. This additional insight should strengthen us and make us better equipped to handle the day to day troubles that Satan seeks to inflict on us.

Isaiah 44:8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have I not declared
unto thee of old, and showed it? and ye are my witnesses.
Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock;
I know not any.

(American Standard Version)

All Writings © Phillip Varady Sr.