Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord

Written by Michael Reeves Reviewed By Tony A. Rogers

You can sum up Rejoice and Tremble in two words: eye opening. Whatever level of understanding one may have on the fear of the Lord prior to digging into this gold mine, the reader will be all the richer for quarrying with Michael Reeves. He is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology and serves as an associate minister at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. He is the author of many works, including the companion to this book, What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021). The purpose of Rejoice and Tremble is so that “church leaders can read the full treatment … and so delve into each topic while making the more accessible concise version widely available to their congregations” (p. 11).

Reeves asserts, “Fear is probably the strongest human emotion” (p. 13). Believers may scratch their heads in consternation trying to reconcile the divine mandates “do not be afraid” and “fear God.” They may wonder what exactly the fear of God is—Is it being afraid, reverent, respectful, or in awe? The author explains his aim:

I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear. And I want to clear up that often off-putting phrase “the fear of God,” to show through the Bible that for Christians it really does not mean being afraid of God. (p. 16)

This excellent book has in eight chapters. “Do Not Be Afraid!” (ch. 1) introduces a scriptural view of the fear of the Lord and reflects on the most persistent biblical imperative (p. 14). “Sinful Fear” and “Right Fear” (chs. 2–3) supply an overview of specific types of fears. Sinful fear “drives you away from God” (p. 31), while right fear “falls on its face before the Lord” (p. 53). “Overwhelmed by the Creator” and “Overwhelmed by the Father” (chs. 4–5) delve into the two specific types of right fear: the Creator overwhelms us with his transcendent splendor and majesty, while the Father overwhelms us with his love and redemption in Christ. “How to Grow in This Fear” and “The Awesome Church” (chs. 6–7) reveal the practicality of proper fear and exactly what that looks like lived out in the life of the believer. Finally, chapter 8 (“Eternal Ecstasy”) offers the reader a proper understanding of the fear of the Lord looking into eternity.

Of the book’s eight chapters, the last two warrant a closer look. In “The Awesome Church” Reeves asks, “What does it look like when a believer is filled with a right, healthy, filial fear of God?” (p. 131). He answers by stating that those who fear the Lord will (1) know his mercy, love, and compassion; (2) desire better, sweeter, and constant communion; (3) become holy, faithful, loving, and merciful; (4) adore God and loathe sin; (5) know the Spirit’s comfort and Christ’s own happiness and satisfaction in God; (6) have their rival fears eclipsed, consumed, and destroyed; and (7) have a humble strength imparted to them, making them more like Christ—simultaneously lamblike and lionlike (pp. 133–46).

In “Eternal Ecstasy,” he contrasts the fear of the Lord for the believer and the unbeliever alike. At Christ’s coming “his people will fall down in fearsome wonder, delight, and praise,” while “the sinful fear of unbelievers will swell into a horrified dread (Rev. 6:15–17)” (p. 157). Hell is the horrible sump of all sinful fear while heaven is the bliss of unconstrained, joyous, filial fear (p. 158). All fear is a foretaste of eternity—all sinful fears of unbelievers are but a precursor of hell; all filial fears of believers are but a precursor of heaven (p. 166).

Several strengths of the book are worth mentioning. First, Reeves helpfully highlights Jesus and his fear of the Lord, for as Isaiah reveals (11:1–3), even in his “sinless holiness and perfection, [the Messiah] has the fear of the Lord” (p. 17). Given that the fear of the Lord is his “delight” (Isa 11:3), proper fear of the Lord “cannot be a negative, gloomy duty” (p. 17), neither can it be sinful, nor can it be true that the Son was/is afraid of the Father. Proverbs 9:10 reveals that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Luke 2:52 makes clear that the boy Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature.” Therefore, Reeves rightly reasons, “Jesus could not have grown in wisdom without the fear of the Lord” (p. 99).

Second, deeper understanding of the fear of the Lord can only serve to enhance our preaching. All true preaching fixes itself on Christ and his gospel for it is he who reveals God, not primarily as Creator but as Father (p. 92). If listeners are to ever fear God properly through our preaching, we must first be leaders who have that right fear and who model it in how we live and talk. We must then have the fear of God shape both the content and the intent of our preaching and teaching. As for content, the people need the Word of God if they are to grow in this fear. They need an expository, Scripture-rich diet expounding God as Creator, but also a cross-centered knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ (p. 125). Our intent must be that they may properly fear the Lord (Deut 6:1–2).

Third, it provokes us to be clearer in our teaching about right worship. While fearing God and responding to God’s love and grace may seem miles apart, in fact “true fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory” (p. 53) and “those who do not know God as a merciful Redeemer and compassionate Father can never have the delight of a truly filial fear” (p. 102).

Finally, the book provides a timely reminder to us all that the Word of God is “the fear of the Lord” (Ps 19:9): “The word of God so perfectly manifests the glory of ‘the Fear’ that it is itself fearful” (p. 49). Reeves further states that “because we tend today to think of fear as a wholly negative thing, it jars us to think of fear remaining in heaven, or of fear being part of our eternal blessedness. But the fear of the Lord endures forever (Ps. 19:9)” (p. 162).

Rejoice and Tremble is a welcome addition to several other excellent resources that explore this theme: notably, Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God: The Fear of the Lord is a Life-Giving Fountain (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 1998) and Tremper Longman III, The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom in Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017). I warmly commend it as a way of gaining a greater and deeper sense of the fear of the Lord. For to experience the mysterium tremendum et fascinans is to experience God: for he is “the Fear” (Gen 31:42, 53), the one in whose face all believers find deliverance (Gen 32:30).

Tony A. Rogers

Tony A. Rogers
Southside Baptist Church
Bowie, Texas, USA

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