14 Fear of the Lord, godly. One’s prospects in this life depend on reverential fear. This verse contrasts the one who “always fears” (mepaḥēd tamîd) with the one who hardens his heart. The first is blessed, and the second falls into trouble. The verse gives no object for “fear”: various translations have assumed that the Lord is its object (so NIV), especially in Proverbs. But yirʾâ (“fear”) is not used here. Perhaps the verse means fear of sin. In other words, the one who is always apprehensive about sin and its results will be more successful at avoiding it and finding God’s blessing. Or perhaps the blessing is the avoidance of sin, for, ʾašrê ʾādām (cf. Ps 1:1, ašrê hāʾîš, “Blessed is the man”) describes the heavenly bliss of the one who is right with God.
14 This proverb presents the oxymoron blessed is the human being (ʾašrê ʾādām, see 3:13) who trembles (see 3:24) continually (cf. 5:19), probably an equivalent of to “fear of the Lord.” Trembling here refers to the fear of reverence, not of bondage; of caution, not of distrust; of diligence, not of despondency. Instructively this verb in Piel occurs both times (cf. Isa. 51:13) with the person whose inner psyche is fixed in its hostility to God and people, presumably to indulge sinful pride and/or sensual pleasure. His opposite is the one who hardens (maqšeh) his heart (see I: 90). When one hardens his heart his psyche can no longer feel, respond, and opt for a new direction. The hardened heart is fixed in unbelief and unbending defiance to God (Exod. 7:3; Ps 95:8); insensible to admonition or reproof it cannot be moved to a new sphere of behavior. Durham glosses it “stubborn-minded” The imprecise inner core parallels assume that the trembling heart is one that is open heart to God and responds to the prompting of his Spirit to redirect his life away from this hostility. In its outer frame, the parallels contrast their fates. The God-fearer maximizes life as God intended and without sin’s penalties.122 Godly fear and true happiness are inseparable. By contrast, the person fixed against God will inevitably will fall, an important metaphor for defeat/destruction (11:5, 14, 28; 13:17; 17:20; 22:14; 24:17; 26:27; 28:10, 14, 18), into evil (berāʿâ, see 17:20), the ruin that belongs to his vile behavior (see 10:27; 14:2, 27; 15:33; 16:20; 19:23; 23:17f; 29:25; 1 Cor 10:12; Philippians 2:12; 1 Pet 4:8.) But not every calamity is the manifestation of the divine judgment (see Job 1–2; 27:2–6; 42:7). Paradoxically, saints fear God and are bold as lions (28:1).
28:14. How blessed is the man who fears always, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
This proverb follows logically on the heels of the previous one. Verse 13 initiates the process, but verse 14 is the life that issues from that event. There must be the event of confessing and forsaking sin. But, if that is genuine, there will come a lifestyle that is characterized by new direction.
The first line views ‘the man who fears always.’ There is no object of his fear stated. Some translations have added ‘the Lord’ (niv, rsv, nrsv). But, the word translated ‘fears’ is not used of the fear of the Lord (cf. Prov. 1:7, 9:10; 23:17). That word speaks of holy reverence and awe, whereas our word here is a strong one that described a quaking dread (Prov. 1:26, 27, 33; 3:24, 25). It is in an intensive verbal form and the accompanying ‘always’ stresses the continuous nature of the fear. The only other occasion of this verb in this form is found in Isaiah 51:13, and there it also has our same word for ‘always.’ The implied object should be considered sin, or its consequences. Of course, in view of what has taken place in verse 13, the necessary and appropriate fear of the Lord stands everywhere behind this fear of sin and its consequences.
‘A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless’ (Prov. 14:16). The result of living such a lifestyle is to be ‘blessed’ (cf. Ps. 1:1).
The adversative form of this proverb then sets forth the contrast (‘But’) of the first line—both in attitude and outcome. Instead of one who ‘fears always,’ we have here ‘he who hardens his heart.’ Presumably, the hardening is toward God, His word, the truth about the man’s sin, and anyone who might represent any of the above. The example of Pharaoh immediately comes to mind (Exod. 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34, 35; 10:1, 20, 27). Also, we should not forget that a similar hardness of heart set in on the people of Israel not long afterward (Exod. 17:7; Ps. 95:8). We are reminded that incomplete repentance renders a person no better off than the entirely unrepentant person (cf. Rom. 2:5).
The result is that such a person ‘will fall into calamity.’ The word translated ‘calamity’ is, more literally, ‘evil.’ It has here, however, the sense of sudden downfall. Such a man ‘falls into’ it as into a trap. ‘A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy’ (Prov. 29:1).
28:14. This proverb is a beatitude for the man who fears always. But what does he continually fear? This could refer to the fear of the Lord. However, that is not clear, since “fear” here is a different Hebrew word than that usually used in the phrase “the fear of the Lord,” and the Lord is not specifically mentioned here. The antithetical second line helps to clarify. A person who hardens his heart to his foolish sin will fall into calamity. He is boldly arrogant in his sinful way, unwilling to repent (cf. v. 13) and to hear wise reproof. Lacking sensitivity and insight, he has no fear of the dreadful consequences of his sinful ways. The wise, in contrast, will fear the consequences of such a sinful lifestyle. In the end, of course, that kind of fear is really inextricably bound to the fear of the Lord as well. Proverbs 14:16 is similar, although it seems to lay greater emphasis on the fear of the Lord (since “fear” there is the same Hb. term as the “fear of the Lord”).
Ver. 14. Happy is the man that feareth alway.—The happiness of fearing alway:—
He who sincerely confesses and forsakes his sins will be afraid of sin for the future, having felt the smart of it.
- What is the fear that men ought to maintain alway? It is a fear of God for Himself, and a fear of other things for God, or in reference to Him. We ought to entertain—
- A filial and reverential fear of God. Slavish fear will never make a man happy. Slavish fear is mixed with hatred of God; filial fear with love to Him.
- We must entertain a fear of jealousy over ourselves.
- A fear of caution and circumspection. This makes a man walk warily.
- Some things in relation to which we should entertain this holy fear.
- With respect to himself. Happy is the man who keeps a jealous eye over himself. Be jealous over your principles, your hearts, your tongues, and your senses.
- With respect to our lusts and corruptions. He is happy who can say he fears nothing so much as sin. Fear the sin of your nature; sins by which you have been formerly led astray. These forsaken lovers will again make suit to you, and will get in upon you, if you grow secure. Fear little sins. There is no sin really little, but many most dangerous ones that are little in man’s esteem.
- With respect to our graces. Grace is a gift to be stirred up. It is in hazard of decay, though not of death. The way to keep the treasure is to fear.
- With respect to our duties. The whole worship and service of God is called fear; so necessary is our fear in approaching Him.
- With respect to our attainments. They are in hazard of being lost.
III. The necessary qualification of this duty. “Alway.” This fear must be our habitual and constant work. This fear should season all we do, and be with us at all times, cases, conditions, places, and companies. Because—
- We have always the enemy within our walls. While a body of sin remains within us, temptations will always be presenting themselves.
- Because there are snares for us in all places and in all circumstances. There are snares in our lawful enjoyments; snares at home, in the field, waking, and at table. Many ditches are in our way, and many of these are so concealed that we may fall completely into them before we are aware. At all times we are beset.
- The advantage attending this duty. “Happy.” For—
- This prevents much sin, and advanceth holiness of heart and life. He that fears to offend God is most likely to keep His way.
- It prevents strokes from the Lord’s hand. Where sin dines judgment will sup. Holy fear prevents falls.
- This fear carries the soul out of itself to the Lord Jesus Christ, the fountain of light, life, and strength. Improvement:
(1) You who are in a joyful frame, join trembling with your mirth.
(2) You that are in a mourning frame, fear alway.
(3) You that have not met with Christ; what shall I say to you? Fear lest your sharing in Christian privileges leave your affections more deadened, and your consciences more seared. To all of you I say, “Fear alway.” (T. Boston, D.D.)
A holy fear:—
What is this Bible-enjoined fearing? It is not the paralysis of terror, the shrinking and subsiding into nothingness of the craven spirit within. It is the ballast of the soul. Calm cautiousness. It is our Scotch maxim, “Ca’ canny!” Retrospective, introspective, perspective, circumspective. Nervousness of experience, caution, cannyness of reflection, the fearing here embodies.
- The action. “Feareth.” It is evangelical fear, for only the gospel can bring it. It is three-faced. The first outlook of it is towards God. The fear of God is not that turbulent tornado of terror that tears up and destroys; it is the gentle fall of the summer rain on the thirsty soil; it is the soft dew-descent of the Holy Ghost; it is the fear of God for himself. It is the holy hush in His almighty presence, the calm instinct of regeneration that gives sympathetic dignity to the soul. It is the “strength of the Lord.” Another outlook of this fear is towards yourself. Your worst enemy is your next-door neighbour, and on his gate is your own name. He is yourself. To draw illustration from mining, your heart is full of inflammable gas. Sin fills every chink, and it is all ready for the tempting flame. Another outlook of this fear is towards your surroundings. Look up, look in, but also look round. The world is an intertwined network of devildom. Take care, beware!
- The time for this action. The longest day has a nightfall. In this activity of the soul no swinging bell heralds a release; without a break or gap the night-shift succeeds to day, and the day-shift to night, and the same worker is in both. “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” At all times, in all circumstances, in all companies, you are in danger of going to the bottom. Alway fearing is alway safe.
III. The consequence of it. “Happy is the man.” Because for time and eternity he is ready. It is never waste of wind or time to keep to the path, even though it wind and wind like an eternal corkscrew. He is happy because this fear saves him from the fear of man. That fear ever bringeth a snare. The Christian filled with the gospel fear of God is happy, too, because it empties the soul. You and I are unblessed to-day because we are too full. (John Robertson.)
The happy influence of fear:—
He is not an unhappy man whose heart is continually governed by this fear. It has a happy influence upon his soul, to guard it from the temptations of Satan and the world, and to keep it close to the Redeemer. It tends not to obstruct but to promote the exercise of faith and hope and joy in the Lord. Thus fear is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and a blessed means of establishing the heart in the love of God. It is a happy sign of an interest in the everlasting covenant of mercy, and in that special favour of God which is the source of all our joys. But wretched is the man who is not afraid to sin against his Maker and Judge. His heart is hard as the nether millstone. (George Lawson, D.D.)
Holy fear is a searching the camp that there be no enemy within our bosom to betray us, and seeing that all be fast and sure. For I see many leaky vessels fair before the wind, and professors who take their conversion upon trust, and they go on securely, and see not the under water till a storm sink them. (H. G. Salter.)
But he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.—Hardening the heart:—
The whole system of moral and religious duty is expressed as the “fear of God.” The religion which makes fear the great principle of action, implicitly condemns all self-confidence, all presumptuous security; and enjoins a constant state of vigilance and caution, a perpetual distrust of our own hearts, a full conviction of our natural weakness, and an earnest solicitude for Divine assistance.
- What he is to fear, whose fear will make him happy. The primary object of fear is sin. The dread of sin produces the dread of temptation. The continual recurrence of temptation and the imbecility of nature make many doubtful of the possibility of salvation. In fear many have fled from possibilities of temptation into deserts and monasteries. But this is not the worthy way of meeting fear. And in cloisters men do not escape from themselves. True fear is a constant sense of the Divine presence, and dread of the Divine displeasure. True fear inspires prayer.
- What is meant by hardness of heart. Hardness of heart is a thoughtless neglect of the Divine law: such an acquiescence in the pleasures of sense, and such delight in the pride of life, as leaves no place in the mind for meditation on higher things. To such men Providence is seldom wholly inattentive. They are often called to the remembrance of their Creator, both by blessings and afflictions; by recoveries from sickness, by deliverances from danger, by loss of friends, and by miscarriage of transactions. As these calls are neglected, the hardness is increased, and there is danger lest He whom they have refused to hear should call them no more. This state of dereliction is the highest degree of misery.
III. How, or by what causes, the heart is hardened. The most dangerous hardness proceeds from some enormous wickedness, of which the criminal dreads the recollection, and finding a temporal ease in negligence and forgetfulness, by degrees confirms himself in stubborn impenitence. A less dangerous hardness consists, not in the perversion of the will, but in the alienation of the thoughts: by such hearts God is not defied; He is only forgotten. Of this forgetfulness the general causes are worldly cares and sensual pleasures. Such men are usually either stupidly or profanely negligent of these external duties of religion, which are instituted to excite and preserve the fear of God. A great part of them whose hearts are thus hardened may justly impute that insensibility to the violation of the Sabbath. Many enjoyments, innocent in themselves, may become dangerous by too much frequency. Whatever tends to diminish the fear of God, or abate the tenderness of conscience, must be diligently avoided.
- The consequence of hardness of heart. “Shall fall into mischief”—both into wickedness and misery. He that hardeneth his heart shall surely become both wicked and miserable. (S. Johnson, LL.D.)
 Ross, A. P. (2008). Proverbs. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, p. 225). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Waltke, B. K. (2005). The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31 (pp. 418–419). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Kitchen, J. A. (2006). Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 636–637). Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
 Finkbeiner, D. (2014). Proverbs. In M. A. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (Eds.), The moody bible commentary (p. 959). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). Proverbs (pp. 648–650). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.