"See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed." (NRSV 1:21)
Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged. (KJV 1:21)
"Do not fear." What do you think—are these supposed to be comforting words, or are they just a cold command? Remember, Moses is talking to a bunch of Israelites whose ancestors never made it to the Promised Land because of fear.
"This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under heaven; when they hear report of you, they will tremble and be in anguish because of you." (NRSV 2:25)
This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that areunder the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee. (KJV 2:25)
Fear is a pretty powerful weapon, and God knows how to use it—not just against the Israelites, but against his enemies, too. He's going to give the Israelites a reputation that will instill the fear of God (literally) in their enemies. Want more of the action? Continue reading in the book of Joshua.
"Do not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you." (NRSV 3:22)
Ye shall not fear them: for the Lord your God he shall fight for you. (KJV3:22)
Teaming up with Superman? Good. Having God on your side? Priceless. The writer of Deuteronomy surrounds this command with a bunch of national stories (like Moses parting the Red Sea) to prove God's power.
"How you once stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, 'Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so.'" (NRSV 4:10)
Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (4:10 KJV)
What does "fear" mean when it comes to fearing God? Is it actual fear? Respect? Loyalty? Something completely different? Remember that God wants to be feared and loved at the same time. If you're feared, people will do what you want, and if you're loved, people will agree with what you do. It's a wrap.
[S]o that you and your children and your children's children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. (NRSV 6:2)
That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. (KJV 6:2)
Translation: fear God and have a long life. Taking your vitamins won't hurt either. The average life span was significantly shorter in the ancient world, so long life was a pretty big deal.
"So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (NRSV 10:12)
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul (KJV 10:12)
Oh, just that? No big deal. Maybe Moses is trying to make the Israelites think that serving God is simple—in spite of that long list of laws. Sure, the nitty-gritty legal stuff is important and holds the community together practically, but it's the fear of God that holds them together emotionally.
"In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always." (NRSV 14:23)
And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. (NRSV 14:23)
If God has to prove himself, the Israelites do, too. How do you prove your fear of God? By bringing 10% of your belongings to the temple for him. In return, he'll, um, be your god.
"When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes" (NRSV 17:18-19)
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them (KJV 17:18-19)
Does reading the Bill of Rights make you fear the government? No? Well, this book of laws is intended to make even kings fear God. One thing you shouldn't do? Lose the book—tell the people in 1 Kings 22 that.
"Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God." (NRSV 25:17-18)
Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou faint and weary; and he feared not God. (KJV 25:17-18)
The Amalekites are the perpetual enemies of Israel. And when you're writing a piece of literature, anxieties of the time are bound to seep into your writing. The Bible just does it a little more explicitly.
"Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you." Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: "Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it." (NRSV 31:6-7)
Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. (KJV 31:6-7)
Never fear, God is here! When the book of Joshua opens, God will continue to give Joshua this advice. As much as the Israelites are supposed to fear God, they're not supposed to fear anything else. Or else.