top of page

Hebrew Spirituality: The Jewish Roots of Fearing God (part 1)

Post Title: The Jewish Roots of Fearing God

I encourage you to pause and read the following words out loud, savoring every syllable of David's psalm.

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in you I trust;

let me not be put to shame;

let not my enemies exult over me.

3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;

they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;

teach me your paths.

5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all the day long.

6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,

for they have been from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me,

for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD;

therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

9 He leads the humble in what is right,

and teaches the humble his way.

10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,

for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD,

pardon my guilt, for it is great.

12 Who is the man who fears the LORD?

Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.

- Psalm 25

Powerful, is it not?

Psalm 25 is the text that will inform our minds and cause our spirits to soar throughout this study. It is so profound, one of my favorites in all the Psalter. As Psalm 25 directs our meditations and reflections, it draws our attention to a critical component of Hebrew spirituality that needs to be active in our lives as followers of Jesus. It is the biblical idea of fearing the LORD [yirat YHWH].

But first let's ask, "What is the goal of Christian spiritual formation?"

To become like the Messiah, Jesus. Years ago, a memorable advertising campaign featured Michael Jordan with the tagline, “I want to be like Mike.” So likewise, the heart cry of a disciple is, “I want to be like Jesus.” But the difference is that our Lord, by his Spirit, indwells and empowers us to follow him, to walk after him. That is good news, indeed!

One of the keys to Christian spiritual formation is understanding the principles undergirding biblical meditation. We recently examined the subject in detail The Jewish Roots of Meditation. Allow me to overview some of the essential ideas as they relate to the topic before us.

  1. The goal of biblical spirituality is not ecstatic experiences but an intimate relationship.

  2. The Bible exhorts us to meditate and explains how.

  3. Biblical meditation—unlike Eastern meditation—has content. The content is God’s words and works, indeed, God himself.

  4. Biblical meditation—unlike Eastern meditation—has intentional sound. It is a speech act, a response to the God who speaks.

  5. From the perspective of Yeshua’s Bible, to meditate is to articulate thoughts of worship, wonder, and praise in some focused and fervent way.

The process of Christian formation is to bring every thought captive to Messiah and to give him priority of place in all things. As we bow down before the one, true God, he causes us to stand upright and straight in a world bent over by slavery to sin. Meditation is an essential part of Hebrew spirituality.

What can we learn from the Jewish roots of another core component of spiritual development, the fear of the LORD?

In Psalm 25, our theme text for this teaching, notice especially verse 14. “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” The friendship or the secret counsel of the LORD (sod Yahweh) is for the ones who fear him, and to them, he reveals his covenant.

I need to remind you that all spiritual growth and maturity occurs in the intimacy of a covenant relationship. Because of his steadfast love and mercy, God initiates and inaugurates an I-Thou connection; by grace we are saved through faith. The faithfulness of God is the foundation of all biblical studies. Covenant speaks of intimacy with relational obligations and blessings.

Here are some important words the psalmist uses to characterize God:

  • Mercy [rachamim] - 6

  • Steadfast love or lovingkindness [hesed] - 6, 7, 10

  • Goodness [tov] - 7, 8

  • Upright/Integrous [yashar] - 8

  • Truth [emet] - 10

These are all covenantal terms, speaking of the character of God. Notice also how the deeds of God reveal his covenant faithfulness. The Holy One of Israel,

  • Hears - 1

  • Makes known - 4

  • Teaches - 4, 9

  • Leads - 5, 9

  • Remembers - 6, 7

  • Instructs - 8

  • Guards - 21

  • Redeems - 22

Where are we in all this? Our key text is, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). Those once in sin (8), whose guilt has been pardoned (11), know humility (9) as instructed by the fear of the LORD (12). The result is they now keep his covenant and testimonies (10) and, in ever-increasing ways, know his steadfast love and faithfulness (10).

The point is that covenant—biblically speaking—is a mutual agreement with reciprocal commitments.

We have confidence in the LORD for his ways are from of old, David reminds us. In return, God asks for complete loyalty and fidelity from us to the covenant, which to use the picturesque language of the Bible, is to walk in His ways. But, unfortunately, we tend to abstract spirituality, which obscures the concrete picture painted for us in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Biblical spirituality is a walk.

We are not trying to get out of the constraints of this body into some separate realm of spirituality. On the contrary, we are to walk in this body and this world in a holy and sanctified way. It is not an altered state of consciousness or an exalted ecstatic experience we seek; it is a lifelong journey of faithfulness with and to our God.

Yeshua modeled this faithful covenant relationship and calls his followers to imitate him, to walk so closely after him that they are covered in his dust. All of this is the work of his indwelling Spirit—a sanctifying process that begins with the fear of Yahweh, the one Jesus teaches us to call, Our Father, Lord of heaven and earth (Luke 10:21; Matt 6:9).

Our next task is to explore what the Bible says about the fear of the LORD. The answer will surprise, and I hope, delight you.

Read more: Next Post


Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.

Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.


This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

bottom of page