Smite Me or Hug Me — 9 February 2020
2 Kings 17:34–41, Psalm 27 (read online ⧉)
This passage in 2 Kings is a little odd. To make sense in English, fear is not used in a manner consistent with the Hebrew. In the opening (v34) and closing (v41) verses, fear is actually a descriptor (adjective) of the Israelites. In the rest of the verses, “fear” is something you act out. Now, the trouble is that fear has many layers to it. Another way to think of this passage is, “The Israelites did not fear, honor, or respect God enough to solely obey God’s ways, disregarding the covenants made between God and their ancestors. Instead, Israelites feared the false gods of other nations and tribes that did not rescue them mightily and definitively from slavery in the land of Egypt. They feared those gods and viewed them as being at least equal to God. While they feared God, they did not honor or respect God exclusively as they were called to do.” This is not a perfect translation. It isn’t even really a good one. It does help to better understand what is going one when fear was involved.
Fearing God as the punishing master was never the point. While obedience was required, it was to be out of devotion, admiration, awe, and love. This is one of those cultural pieces that often get lost for us, especially when using the word fear. The other one is the perception of many believers that God is capricious and vicious. What is truly sad is that the gods of the surrounding nations were truly capricious and vicious. How God ended up being cast in that light is a peculiarity of human nature.
We know that by this point that the descendants of Israel had walked away from God in their hearts if not solely in their actions. This is an important concept to understand as when we read Psalm 27 we get a completely different image of God. If one was truly afraid, why would one view God as a protector? In addition, the psalmist says that his heart will not be afraid. So, fearing (as in terror) God is not a solid image of God.
Where does this come from? Sure, some of it comes from the Israelites. However, much of it comes from Christianity. There are many old (centuries) and new sermons that abused the concept of fearing (awe) God, turning it into something truly terrifying. You may be one of those who was terrified by sermons delivering a concept of an angry God who was looking for some reason to smite you.
1) Why would fear and awe get confused? How do you differentiate them when it comes to God?
2) Why is the concept of overly fearing other gods still relevant today?