A Meditation on Psalm 25:14

Kevin J Youngblood

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,

and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14)

The biblical concept of “the fear of the LORD” has long fascinated and often confused me. I was reminded of this fascination this morning as I read Psalm 25:14. What kind of foundation for friendship is fear? At first blush, this sounds like the beginning of a very unhealthy relationship. Of course, the problem is that we cannot seem to overcome our own cultural understanding of the word “fear.” I like to think of it this way. The term “the fear of the LORD” is an irreducible concept. That is to say that it cannot be understood by simply adding up the sum of its parts. The fear of the LORD is not simply fear + of + the + LORD. It is very much like the word “butterfly.” “Butterfly” cannot be understood in terms of butter + fly. Such an approach would be entirely misleading. Yet, those for whom English is a second language must surely think “butterfly” an odd designation for the particular insect so designated in English.
The fear of the LORD has nothing to do with the kind of terror, dread, and avoidance associated with the English word “fear.” Whatever it is, it is the only basis for friendship with YHWH – a friendship I surely cherish and want to deepen. Of course, no genuine friendship can be based on terror, dread, and avoidance. So what does the psalmist mean when he says that YHWH’s friendship is for those who fear him? I think, perhaps, the psalmist is engaging in a delicate balancing act. Friendship is normally thought of as a relationship between equals, between peers. Friendship with YHWH, however, could never be like this. The ontological imbalance is overwhelming. God is eternal, I am temporal. God is a necessary being, I am a contingent being. God is sovereign, I am subject. It would seem that friendship with God is out of the question, and yet God condescends to befriend inferiors, to befriend his creatures, those who are in fact contingent on God (Exod 33:11; Judges 5:31; 2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; John 15:14-15; James 2:23; 4:4). I wonder if John 15:14-15 might not be a good commentary on Psalm 25:14. Here Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Friendship with God is predicated upon two things: God’s gracious condescension in which he extends his hand of friendship and our recognition of his utter holiness and perfection which demands the highest respect, a respect that expresses itself in trusting, volitional obedience. While “respect” is not quite powerful enough to capture all that is intended in the word translated “fear” in Psalm 25:14. It points us in the right direction. Perhaps if we couple it with the word “awe” we come close. I might then paraphrase this verse as follows: “YHWH’s friendship is for those who show him awe-inspired respect.”
Father in Heaven,

What an awesome thing that you have extended to us your friendship! Thank you for condescending to commune with us in such an intimate way. Lord Jesus, thank you for being the incarnation of this friendship, for bringing it before our eyes in such a visible, tangible way. Holy Spirit, please form in us the awe-inspired respect that God deserves. Work in us that obedience that confirms and deepens our friendship with you, with the Son, and with the Father.