Yirat: The Fear of the Lord

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What is the Fear of the LORD?  Does this Fear mean we are in danger of judgment when we come into His presence? Can the pictographs of the language of the garden give us any deeper understanding of what this Fear is?  Will anything in this word direct us to Messiah? Let’s investigate. 

There are a number of words for Fear in Hebrew but the majority of uses comes from a single root. This root is Yirah which is given a wide range of meanings but is most often translated as to fear, to be afraid, to be terrible, or to be dreadful. In a few places, it is translated awe or reverence. As we shall discover, this word is widely misunderstood.

But which is it and to what does the Fear of the LORD compel us?  Do we obey YHVH because we hope to escape His wrath and discipline, or do we obey in response to the majesty and magnificence of His presence in our lives? 

First of all, we should recognize how important this Fear is in our lives.  Proverbs Chapter 14 verse 27 tells us that:

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death. 

Not only that, but the psalmist explains this to us in Psalm 111 Verse 10:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. 

This makes Fear, or Yirah, seem like something we should all aspire to achieve, but our dictionary tells us fear is an abstract distressing emotion that is aroused by danger. In fact, David writes this to us in anguish over the oppression he feels from his enemies in Psalm 55 verse 5:

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. 

Now we come to the root of our dilemma. In 1 John chapter 4 verse 18 we find this:  

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.    

How can this Fear of God be a good thing when perfect love casts out this very fear? 

To answer this let’s begin by investigating the pictographs found in the ancient language given to man before the corruption that happened at the Tower of Babel.

The fear and fearfulness in our previous verses are each Yirah which is spelled Yood Reysh Aleph Hey.

Ancient Language

Modern Hebrew            

Yood     is the picture of the hand or arm   and means to work or a mighty work or deed. 

Reysh   is the picture of the head    and means the leader, the master, or the prince.

Aleph    is the picture of the ox   and means the strong leader, the head of the family, or God the Father.

Hey     is the picture of the man with uplifted arms    and means to behold, to pay attention to what follows, or the Holy Spirit as the Revelator. 

Here we can see that whatever this Yirah is, it is a mighty work of the prince for the Heavenly Father to which we are to pay attention. It is also valuable to note that the last three letters, Reysh Aleph Hey form the root word to see. So, this Yirah comes from seeing this mighty work.  This is precisely what is recorded in Exodus Chapter 3 verses 3 through 6 where Moses encounters God in the burning bush:

And Moses said I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 

Moses sees and experiences awe at the great sight, the bush that is not consumed by fire and experiences a humbling reverence for the moral holiness he sees there in God. 

There is no dread in this encounter.

There is something else quite unexpected to be found here. Both our first two scriptures contain the phrase the fear of the LORD. The rules of grammar tell us that when one noun follows another the first is in the construct state, meaning that the two nouns are to be taken together to form one concept. Our word for fear, Yirah, ends in a Hey which makes it a feminine noun. When in this construct state the Hey is changed to a Tav. This denotes that the first noun belongs to the second, or that the fear of the LORD is the fear that belongs to the LORD

What does this tell us?  When David used Yirah in Psalm 51 it was revealingly accompanied with trembling and horror. But when Yirah is combined with LORD into one concept Yirah becomes Yirat and Yirat belongs to the LORD. The fear of the LORD is His fear, not ours. We know the LORD cannot fear in the same sense David knew fear, so the Scriptures have to be describing something else. 

What was it that Moses was receiving from God at the burning bush if not dread? He was for the first time experiencing the majesty of the LORD in love. John was right when he wrote there is no fear in love. The two cannot exist together. The dread and distressing fear that is accompanied by trembling and horror come as a result of unbelief where the flow of His awe, holiness, wonder, and mystery is not allowed.

What else can we learn as we replace the Hey with the Tav, as Yirah becomes Yirat and we realize that Fear becomes something that belongs to the LORD?

Tav     is the picture of crossed wooden sticks       and means to seal, or a sign, or a covenant.

The pictographs for Yirat which is spelled Yood Reysh Aleph Tav describe this for us: The mighty work of the Prince for God the Father happened at the sign of the cross.

In the death of Messiah for our sins, we can finally see and understand that God the Father has revealed and extended His true heart and intentions to us. His Yirat was never intended to be anything but a blessing for those who choose to place their trust in Him.​

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Diona Chandler says:

    I truly enjoyed this article

  2. Praise the Lord as ever…Now i can understand clearly what God has intended.

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