Isaiah 33:5-6

Sermon preached on April 12, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Last week Marg showed me an article on CBC News that referred to a pizza place in Ottawa that was advertising a pizza with a sacrilegious name. It was a play on words on swearing phrase that took the name of our Lord in vain. Marg said that when she saw the headline she thought the article was going to be about how bad that was for someone to do that. But no, it was just a news item to them and they thought it was great.

One of the things that our society lacks is the fear of God. There's no fear there anymore. I told you a couple of weeks ago how a minister in Scotland said of Bible's teaching of substitutionary atonement was,

"in some sense it is quite immoral."

And how one book say that,

"to argue that salvation can only come through the cross is to make God a divine sadist and a divine child abuser."

It's incredible—they totally lack any fear of God.

There are many other examples of this in our society. Our society is getting so bold against God that it appears that soon they will not tolerate Christianity. There's a famous quote from Chicago's Cardinal Francis George that could very well turn out to be true. He said,

"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Our society is setting itself up for a fall. Not fearing God is a recipe for doom. We see that in our text. It's the fifth in a series of woes against the enemies of God's people. You could summarize the first verse of chapter 33 as,

"What goes around comes around."

It describes those who destroy but have never been destroyed, those who have deceived others, but have never themselves been deceived—how that will surely change. Those who have destroyed others will themselves be destroyed. Those who have betrayed others will themselves be betrayed. God is in control. The enemy thought that they were acting in their own strength—but in fact God had determined that they would destroy only so far and that then they themselves would be destroyed.

Isaiah goes on to ask that God would be the strength of Judah. God has defeated the proud Assyrians and because of that in verse 5 Isaiah breaks out in praise to God. He says that God is the people's sure foundation. In those days the people of Judah were often under constant threat. But throughout the years God was her security—the One who continually saved them. God was the fullness of their salvation—giving them wisdom and knowledge. E.J. Young says that,

"Wisdom is the true and correct evaluation of things, whereas knowledge is the true recognition of what things are."

Our society today doesn't evaluate things correctly. In some ways they're just like the arrogant Assyrians of old. They were so self-confident and secure. They thought that nothing could stop them. They had conquered nation after nation. But they themselves had never been conquered. They thought they were in control and boasted that they were unstoppable.

Some in our society are like that. They think they can indulge more and more in sin and at the same time silence Christianity. But they're not evaluating things correctly. They don't have a true recognition of how things are. They're like the joke about the guy who jumped off a 100 story skyscraper without a parachute. As he passed the 40
th floor on the way down he was heard to say,

"So far so good!"

No. No. Isaiah tells the people that God is in absolute control. He allowed the Assyrians to go so far and no farther.

God is with His people. He gives them wisdom and knowledge about the reality of things. Isaiah tells us that The foundation of these blessings is the fear of the Lord. He wrote, (Isaiah 33:5–6)

"The Lord is exalted,
for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion
with justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation
for your times,
a rich store of salvation
and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord
is the key to this treasure."

The last part of that could be translated, (REB)

"her treasure is the fear of the Lord."

The point is that

the fear of the Lord is a great treasure.

It is something that we as Christians should have and it is something that unbelievers need. It is a treasure that God Himself gives—and how precious it is. If you truly want to be blessed—the fear of the Lord is what you need. If you truly want to be a blessing to others—you need to show them what the fear of the Lord is.

But what exactly does it mean to fear the Lord?

What is the fear of the Lord?

We should first be clear on what it not.

For a Christian it is not something that is in conflict with the close, intimate fellowship that we have with God.

We belong to God's family. We have been brought close to God. As Romans 8:15 says,

"For you did not receive a spirit that
makes you a slave again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of sonship.
And by him we cry,
'Abba, Father.' "

And Galatians 4:6 says,

"Because you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son
into our hearts,
the Spirit who calls out,
'Abba, Father.' "

John Calvin writes, (Institutes, 1543, p. 191)

"as soon as the smallest drop of faith imaginable lodges in our soul, at once we begin to behold God's face, kindly and well disposed toward us."

There is a certain kind of fear that we are not to have. A Christian's relationship with God is not one of slavish fear. Quite the contrary—we are the beloved of the Lord. So the fear of the Lord that we are told to cultivate, the fear that is the beginning of wisdom—is fear that is compatible with us being in the situation of, "Abba, Father."

Yet, being in a most intimate relationship to God because of the work of Jesus does not mean that we can be flippant with God or disregard His will.

We must have great respect for God. It's not just the Old Testament that tells us that the fear of the Lord is good. After Saul of Tarsus was converted, we read, (Acts 9:31)

"Then the church throughout Judea,
Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.
It was strengthened;
and encouraged by the Holy Spirit,
it grew in numbers,
living in the fear of the Lord."

The fear of God is mentioned many times in the book of Acts in a positive way. In chapter 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira and how they lied to the Holy Spirit. Verse 5 says that when Ananias heard Peter's rebuke,

"he fell down and died.
And great fear seized all
who heard what had happened."

Then we read, (Acts 5:11)

"Great fear seized the whole church
and all who heard about these events."

In Acts 19 we read about seven sons of Sceva and how they tried to imitate Paul casting out a demon. The demon said to them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul- but who are you?" The man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. Verse 17 says,

"When this became known
to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus,
they were all seized with fear,
and the name of the Lord Jesus
was held in high honor."

In 1 Corinthians 10:11 we are told that when sinners are punished, we ought to sit up and take notice.

"These things happened
to them as examples and were
written down as warnings for us,
on whom the fulfillment
of the ages has come."

And Hebrews 12:28–29 is similar to our text.

"Therefore, since we are receiving
a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
let us be thankful,
and so worship God acceptably
with reverence and awe,
for our 'God is a consuming fire.' "

Philippians 2:12 says,

"Therefore, my dear friends,
as you have always obeyed—
not only in my presence,
but now much more in my absence—
continue to work out your salvation
with fear and trembling,"

John Calvin, (Institutes, 1543 ed. p. 192-193)

"There is another kind of fear and trembling which, far from diminishing the certainty of faith, confirms it. It is when believers, taught by examples of God's vengeance on the wicked not to provoke his wrath by similar sins, take much more care to keep themselves from evil; or else, when, realizing their wretchedness, they learn to depend entirely on God, without whom they regard themselves as more frail and unsteady than a puff of wind."

Calvin tells us that fear and trembling in Philippians 2:12 means that we are to be 'submissive and humble'. We are to remember that we are, in ourselves, 'devoid of all good'.

But the fear of God that we are to have is not so much the fear of being punished. Calvin puts it this way, (Institutes, 1543 ed. p. 194)

"Believers…fear above all the thought of offending him [God] more than they do the thought of his chastisement."

Calvin, p. 193

"He means…a fear which teaches us to be more careful and wise, not one which drives us to despair."

Some of the old Scottish theologians referred to a 'legal repentance'. Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 223)

"There was what they called a legal repentance: that is, a heart broken by the law, broken by the fear of God and by fear of judgment. And there was legal sanctification, where one mortified sin because of the dread of God, because of fear of His sanctions and fear of His chastisements. These older theologians said it should not be like that with God's children! In fact, they said, you will never get real repentance or real sanctification if your motivation comes only from the law. That is servile: a craven fear inducing compliance with God's requirements."

On the other hand, there is what they called an 'evangelical repentance', Macleod, p. 223)

"which is not a response to the terrors of the law but a heart broken by the love of God… It is the assurance that God is merciful which leads to grief and hatred of our sin and to our turning from it to God."

So, put positively, the fear of the Lord is (John Frame, ST, p. 706)

"that basic attitude of reverence and awe that inevitably carries with it a desire to do God's will."

The fear of the Lord carries with it

a desire to do God's will.

The fear of the Lord results in obedience. Later in this chapter, Isaiah 33:14ff says,

"The sinners in Zion are terrified;
trembling grips the godless:
'Who of us can dwell
with the consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell
with everlasting burning?'
He who walks righteously
and speaks what is right,
who rejects gain from extortion and
keeps his hand from accepting bribes,
who stops his ears against
plots of murder and shuts his eyes
against contemplating evil—
this is the man who will
dwell on the heights, whose refuge
will be the mountain fortress.
His bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail him.
Your eyes will see the king
in his beauty and view
a land that stretches afar."

Herman Bavinck defines the fear of the Lord this way, (RD, Vol. 1, 237)

"This term expresses the inner disposition of the devout Israelite toward the holy laws that the Lord has instructed him to keep."

E.J. Young describes the fear of the Lord as,

"the complete and entire devotion of the whole man to the Lord."

Bavinck continues, (RD, Vol. 1, 237-238),

"This is evident from the fact that this fear of the Lord passes into and is bound up with an assortment of other religious attitudes such as believing…, trust…, taking refuge…, leaning on…, hold on to…, hoping, expecting, even loving God… The Lord's claims do not remain outside and above the Israelites as the object of their terror and fear but become the object of their love. They ponder them with their intellect and observe them with their will. They are their delight all day long."

Now what does all this mean?

First, Christians, recognize that the Bible is true and that it presents a true view of things.

Knowing the Bible and obeying it—that is wisdom and knowledge.

At times you may have doubt. The propaganda of the world make at times seem so persuasive. It may seem that people can indeed sin with impunity. It may seem that they will never be stopped. But don't give in to such doubts.

Remember Asaph in Psalm 73. For a time he envied the wicked. He said of them, (verses 4-5, 8-10)

"They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens
common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues
take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance."

But he later saw the truth. He wrote, (Psalm 73:16–19)

"When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!"

Secondly, be in awe of God.

Recognize that His commandments are not mere suggestions. We need to take His will seriously. We need to have such a high view of God that we will conform our lives to His will even when everyone else around us is disobeying.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian,

you need to fear God.

God's Word is true. Judgment is coming. (2 Thessalonians 1) You need to flee from the wrath to come. The only way to escape it is to go to Jesus. He can wash away your sins. He can make in new and give you a place in glory. Go to Him today.