Monday, May 12, 2008

Psalm 2: Fearful Joy / Joyful Fear

Reading thru Psalm 2 today, one statement seemed to jump out at me. Verse 11, a part of the warning to the kings and leaders of the world to not oppose the God of Israel, which states:

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. (Psalm 2:11 ESV)

On the surface, my first reaction to these commands was that they are paradoxes or oxymorons. Serve with fear? Rejoice with trembling? How does that work? So I went to look at the Hebrew behind these terms to get some better perspective. And I also went to the NASB to see how it rendered the words. Instead of serve, the NAS has worship. OK, works for me. To serve is a form of worship, and the Hebrew עבד (abad) has a root meaning of working or serving, or even being enslaved. So the ESV's serve is probably a better translation. The NAS also does not use fear, but rather reverence. Here again I think the ESV is much closer to the mark. The Hebrew being יראה (yirah), which is most frequently translated fear in the NAS, and almost always used to refer to the fear of the Lord.

OK, so I'm still back to the basic questions. How does one worship or serve or minister to God with fear, and rejoice in that fear as a cause for trembling? If these are given as warning imperatives, set in contrast to opposing God and His Anointed in the context of Psalm 2, then how does this work itself out? Let's look at each individually.

First, serve or worship the Lord with fear. Should there not be an aspect of fear in worshipping our God? Jesus said that the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). If we are worshipping and serving Him in truth, that means that we will have true understanding of Him, His character, His person and His nature. And a true understanding of the person of God will always result in a healthy fear of Him. If it doesn't, then we really don't know Him as He is or as He has revealed Himself. So worshipping and serving the Lord in truth means that we will approach Him with a sense of fear. Not paralyzing fear, but a healthy fear of His immense power, holiness and majesty. A true fear of God will result in a true worship and a true service to Him.

Second, rejoice with trembling. Again, this seems to be an outcome of the first command. If I have a true knowledge of the one true God, I will respond with fear and trembling. And I will also respond with joy, knowing that the same Sovereign Ruler of the universe is the God who is gracious and merciful toward His people. He is a fearsome God, but He is also a good and just and merciful God. And this true knowledge will lead to a trembling joy. An exhilaration like no other in the universe or human experience.

So do these express your approach to God and your experience of Him? In your service to and worship of the Lord, is there a fear of Him? And in your experience of service and worship, is there a joyful trembling? Perhaps if these are not present in your walk with Christ, it is because you are not worshipping and serving Him "in spirit and in truth." We can only do so as we deepen our knowledge and understanding of the Holy One. Both intellectually, theologically and experientially. Let's be sure to heed the warning of the psalmist here. Know your God truly. Worship and serve Him fearfully. And rejoice in Him with trembling. To His glory.

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