Pastor Bill Farrow
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
From time to time we see a verse here in Proverbs that has become extremely familiar and edifying to God’s people. This is one of those verses. It begins with the concept of the “Fear of the Lord”. This is a truth that is profoundly misunderstood by many. In our own terms, it can very legitimately be called “godly fear”. We ought to think through just what God intended by speaking of the idea in the Word of God, intending for His people to both understand it and implement it in their lives.
First, we should see that this is NOT just respect or a high view of the Lord. It is true, however, that the Bible is clear that God is the object and author of this “fear”. Isaiah said that:
The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be
your fear, And let Him be your dread. (Is 8:13)
I’ve always been impressed by the extent and fulness with which Isaiah described just what the “Fear of the Lord” is for God’s children. We are to “Hallow” God, that is to see to it that we recognize and see to it that God’s holy nature stays at the front in how we think of and deal with him. This refers to our devotional relationship as well as our public speaking of Him to others. We are to be sure that we do not treat Him as common. Isaiah tells us that, in other words, we are to “fear” Him.
The language used is interesting. Him you “shall” (or MUST) hallow, or regard and treat as holy. Then we are to see to it that this holy view of Him colors ALL of our dealings in life. We must both “fear” and “dread” Him. Fear is a word commonly translated referring to the idea of terror. In the human mind, it is a negative thing. But here, in Biblical terms, it is translated into a positive thing. It is inevitably ties the human idea of fear or terror with God and His holiness and Being. God, it implies, is One which, in human terms WOULD inspire terror and awe.
Isaiah, we’ll note, preceded this idea concerning the truth of God’s holiness - he wants us to take right care that we, when interacting with or dealing with others keep His holiness, His very nature at the forefront of all that we say and do. We know this to be a thing we “do” because we see Isaiah use the formation of the word “let Him be…” concerning BOTH the idea of fearing God and our dread. It is something we both are able to do and which we ought to do.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)
This verse is a part of a passage that has been talking about God and His refining of Israel aiming toward their giving Him the glory that He created them as a nation to fulfill. The entirety of this chapter thus far has been given to this subject.
The aim here is, in one sense, for Israel to comfort itself in the midst of their great tribulation and suffering, and to that end He says:
“Behold, I have refined you, but...”
The word “behold” at the beginning of the verse means the essence of “turn and see”. In a lot of usages, it also implies that there is thoroughness to the looking. Likewise, there is implied that there ought to be a degree of surprise and amazement in what is seen.
There is a real sense of comfort and encouragement that arises from the idea that is here. The Prophet is giving Israel some information that ought to truly give them a sense that God both intended them for a real and good purpose, and that He will see that purpose through until it is accomplished. The fact of their choice is inherent in the act of God in refining them. One cannot refine that which does not belong to Him. Thus, we conclude from this verse, as well as the ones running from the beginning of the chapter, that God is using Isaiah to speak to Israel as a God speaks to that which He values.
Isaiah uses two interesting words to speak of the process that He has put Israel through to bring them to place in which He desires them to be. The first is the Hebrew word “sĕraptî”. It speaks of that which is free from any impurities. In this context it speaks of the process that brought the object to the condition spoken of. The second word is similar - “Beharti” which speaks of that which has been verified by the process of being tested and ” and often includes the aspect of the time involved in the testing. The two taken together (as they really ought to be, given their proximity to one another in the verse) would imply that God is speaking here of that which has been fully tested over the required period of time and, as a result, has been found to be pure as a result of that testing.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Just as a further observation, we can now note that this is an explanation of what He (God via Isaiah) defines as “refining”. It is not the particulars that silver is put through, but there are many things like, mainly the end result - purity and value to the one who “owns” and has use for it. He did “refine” them in a way that melted them and requited a rebuilding process, putting them in molds (spiritual speaking), etc.
This refining was that which does not completely “melt” but only gets rid of impurities. Because he is talking about human beings and not metals, we need to define what is being said in a bit of a different way. But the idea of having been fully tested over the a period of time and, as a result, having been found to be pure as a result of that testing.
We know from the Law and from the preaching and teach of the OT Prophets and of the Lord Himself that such demonstrated purity is essential if one is to be of any use to God. This is why that Pentateuch, as a part of the Passover ritual, required a lamb without spot or blemish.
One of the great problems that almost immediately arose with God’s nation of Israel was that they were not pure. Over and over again they allowed themselves to fall into sin and impurity. As a result, God did what was necessary to begin the process of bringing them back to a place of purity. It is that process of which Isaiah is speaking. I think we can conclude that this process will conclude until Israel reaches the condition of purity that the Law requires.
One writer suggested:
“Through floods and flames, if Jesus lead,
I’ll follow where he goes.”
There are quite a number of Christian Bible Scholars that think that this time will come in the last times, immediately before Christ’s second coming, when Christ will cause all Israelites then left alive to Himself, thus fulfilling all of the promise made to them in the Scripture. This is not the place to discuss such things, but I will say that there is some merit to that thought. It is not that our Lord will simply muscle them into His Kingdom, but rather, He will do as He has done throughout the centuries since the New Covenant began. He will, by means of His Spirit, work by their minds and wills, to cause them to choose to submit themselves to the truth of the New Covenant. This will bring an end to the want of righteousness in the nation and bring to them union with the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. This will fulfill all of the promises that God has made to Israel throughout the ages.