Throughout the Scriptures we are told to fear God and obey him. In fact, the book of Ecclesiastes sums up the whole pursuit of our earthly existence by saying that the whole end of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecc 12:12-14). When we read statements like this it is sometimes difficult for us to understand them. If we are honest, we most often think of fear in terms of being frightened about something. We are most often motivated to fear because something or someone is scaring us.
It is true that God is a consuming fire and to fall into his hands is a fearful thing ( Heb. 10:31, 12:29). When we think of the power and holiness of God and the devastation of human sin, why shouldn’t we fear? Any sinner standing before this perfect holy judge should be terrified of his authority and power and his ability to condemn us knowing every single offence we have ever committed.
Ezekiel 16 gives us a glimpse of the fear of God gone wrong. In reading this amazing chapter, we can see that God never meant for his people to fear him through the motivation of terror, but through the motivation of love. Israel rejected the love and grace of God as a motivation to fear God and would then have to come to grips with fearing God out of terror. Open your bible and walk through each section with me. I promise, it will be worth it.
Section 1: Ezekiel 16:1-14. God is speaking through Ezekiel to the Elders of Israel. They have rejected God and have become complacent about their need for God. They are not fearing God or leading the people in the fear of God. God reminds these Elders that it is God who formed Israel and he did it by calling Abraham out of other nations. They should not think too highly of themselves. God birthed this nation, grew this nation, and turned this nation into his beautiful bride. The grace of God in the birth and formation of Israel is astounding. It is God who established Israel and made covenant with them as his people. He describes them as a young bride in beautiful garments having been carefully prepared and then shown in splendor to the nations. The motivation for Israel to keep God’s covenant and to love him and serve him as God’s people should be on the basis of God’s electing love and grace. Out of gratitude and love, we would expect that Israel’s response would be an unrelenting commitment to their God of grace. The motivating factor for fearing God as his people was always meant to be grace and love.
Section 2: Ezekiel 16:15-59. Instead of loving, obeying and serving God as his elect bride, Israel rejected God to go after the gods of other nations and to live for their own pursuit of glory. In this section of Ezekiel, rebellious Israel is described as a whore. There are some very confronting statements made about just how devastating Israel’s whoring really is. One description in vs. 33-34 shows just how much Israel desired its own idolatry over God. Normally, it is the prostitute who gets paid for their service. For Israel, they loved their own harlotry so much that they were the ones who paid for the opportunity to prostitute themselves to the world. They were not solicited by the other nations, but they willingly and enthusiastically sought out worldly idolatry.
How could you possibly have such a loving and gracious God who forms you from nothing into his beautiful bride and reject him for the debauchery of whoredom with the world? The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will always be known for their wicked immorality and God’s judgment upon them. At least Sodom and Gomorrah never claimed to be God’s people. They were never God’s beautiful bride. In vs.49 we read, “As I live declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.” In other words, your refusal to fear God in love has made Sodom look good compared to you.
In verse 58-59 we read that God will deal with Israel according to their abomination. In Ezekiel 16 we read about what it means to go from what is supposed to be a fear of God based on grace and love to a fear of God based on the terror of his awful judgment.
Section 3: Ezekiel 16:60-63 The most amazing aspect of this chapter is that God then shows his faithfulness in remembering his covenant that he made with Israel and promises an everlasting covenant. Once again God’s grace is more than we can imagine. This time it is promised in the fact that he will atone for all that we have done.
If you claim to be a Christian, you are living in the reality of this new and everlasting covenant whereby God has come into this world and atoned for your sin and has kept his covenant in full on our behalf. The question is now again asked to us. Will we respond to this grace of God by living a life that fears him out of love? Praise God that in Christ we also have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who compels every Christian to truly repent of sin and live according to the fear of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We might revere God’s awesome power, but we live not according to terror but in an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude as the Bride of Christ.