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What Does Awe Mean in the Bible?
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What Does Awe Mean in the Bible?

Awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. The word appears many times throughout the Bible, expressing the emotions and attitudes God’s people felt when encountering His power, glory and holiness. As we explore the meaning of awe in Scripture, we can better understand how to rightly respond to God’s majesty.

Introduction

The Bible often describes moments when God’s people were filled with awe in His presence. These awe-filled encounters produced a range of emotions – from trembling fear to profound reverence and wonder.

Experiencing awe before God is very different from the casual use of the word in everyday language. Many things in our world may evoke a feeling of awe – like witnessing the beauty of nature or observing an incredible work of art. But this type of awe is fleeting and focused on the creation.

The awe described in Scripture points us to the Creator. It stems from glimpsing the glory, power and holiness of God Himself. This awe strikes at the core of our being, bringing us to our knees in reverent fear mingled with breathless wonder.

As we explore awe throughout the pages of Scripture, here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Awe stems from encountering God’s power and glory
  • Awe draws us to reverent worship and submission
  • Awe produces profound joy and gratitide
  • Awe reminds us of God’s holiness and our unworthiness
  • Awe leads us to deep repentance and renewed faith

Let’s explore each of these elements in turn as we seek to understand the meaning of awe in the Bible.

What does awe mean in the bible?

Awe Stems from Encountering God’s Power and Glory

In Scripture, awe usually results from seeing a display of God’s power and glory. When Moses encounters God in the burning bush, he hides his face in reverent awe (Exodus 3:6). At Mount Sinai, the Israelites tremble with awe when God’s presence descends in thunder, lightning and smoke (Exodus 19:16-20). Elijah wraps his face in his mantle when God passes by in the powerful wind, earthquake and fire (1 Kings 19:11-13).

These visible signs of God’s power and glory produced an overwhelming, spine-tingling awe. The people realized they were witnessing something far greater than themselves – the very presence of the Almighty. This provoked stark feelings of insignificance and fear.

Isaiah 6 gives a vivid picture of this awe-filled fear. When Isaiah sees the Lord on His throne in the temple, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). The visible glory of God brings Isaiah to his knees in awestruck terror.

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In the New Testament, Saul falls to the ground when he beholds the blazing glory of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). In Revelation, John also collapses in fear when he sees the glorious, risen Christ (Revelation 1:17). God’s overwhelming power and majesty provoke an awestruck, spine-tingling fear.

These examples show us that awe begins with a fresh encounter of God’s glory and power. Awe flows from seeing, hearing or experiencing God in all His magnificence. As creatures, we are right to feel awe in the presence of our all-powerful Creator. Awe puts us in our place and reminds us of our utter dependence on Him.

Awe Draws Us to Reverent Worship and Submission

While awe may begin with fear, it should ultimately draw us closer to God in worship and submission. We see this in Isaiah’s vision. After Isaiah expresses his fear of judgment, God atones for his sin and commissions him as a prophet (Isaiah 6:6-7). No longer terrified, Isaiah responds in willingness and awe, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). His awe now mingles with joyful obedience.

We see this pattern throughout Scripture. In Exodus 34, Moses’ face shone with awe-filled wonder after encountering God’s glory on Mount Sinai. The radiant glory reflected Moses’ newfound intimacy with God.

At Mount Sinai, the Israelites’ initial terror at God’s presence transformed into worshipful awe as they collectively declared, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3). Their awe moved them to covenant commitment.

After witnessing Jesus calm the storm, the disciples “were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'” (Mark 4:41). Their awe inspired worshipful wonder at Christ’s power.

Psalm 65 declares, “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion…By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation…You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water” (Psalm 65:1, 5, 9). Here awe flows from God’s righteous acts and turns into exuberant praise.

As these examples show, awe rightly moves us to reverent worship, wholehearted obedience and joyful exultation in who God is. Awe humbles us and loosens our grip on self-rule. It inspires grateful submission to our gracious Lord.

Awe Produces Profound Joy and Gratitude

While awe may involve an initial fear, it ultimately yields joy and thanksgiving. We see this clearly in the angels’ song of praise when Jesus was born. An angel appears among trembling shepherds saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:9-10). The joy of Christ’s birth dispels their fear with awe-filled rejoicing.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people respond to His miracles with awestruck joy and gratitude. After Jesus heals ten lepers, one turns back “praising God with a loud voice” and “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:15-16). His awe produced ecstatic joy and thanksgiving.

When Peter and John heal a lame beggar, the man leaps about “praising God” while onlookers stare in amazement (Acts 3:8-10). Their awe gives way to joyful praise.

Paul declares that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). In this way, awe at God’s mercy should yield profound gratitude, driving us to turn from sin. Psalm 5:7 captures this, saying, “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.” God’s abundant grace evokes thankful, worshipful awe.

As God’s beloved children, we need never remain in terror of Him. Like a child nestling into the arms of a loving Father, we can find comfort, security and indescribable joy in His presence. The awe He evokes is meant to draw us close to Him in thankful worship.

Awe Reminds Us of God’s Holiness and Our Unworthiness

Awe also reminds us of the gap between God’s perfect holiness and our sinful unworthiness. After witnessing Jesus’ miracles, a centurion declares, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8). His awe reflects his sense of inadequacy before Christ’s power and purity.

Isaiah’s vision highlights this vividly. When Isaiah encounters God’s glory, he instantly becomes aware of his guilt and corruption. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,” he cries (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah’s profound awe immediately discloses his sinfulness.

In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it is the Pharisee who is self-impressed while the tax collector stands far off trembling in reverent awe at God’s holiness and his own unworthiness (Luke 18:9-14).

A fresh vision of God reminds us of the gap between His flawless purity and our remaining corruption. This provokes the reverent fear of awe. Yet Scripture calls us to draw near God’s throne of grace with reverence and bold confidence because of Christ’s atonement (Hebrews 4:16). Though we are unworthy in ourselves, clothed in Christ’s righteousness we can approach our Holy God.

Awe Leads Us to Deep Repentance and Renewed Faith

The realization of our unworthiness should produce heartfelt repentance. When Peter witnesses Jesus’ miraculous catch of fish, he “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'” (Luke 5:1-8). Peter’s awe instantly reveals his sinfulness, driving him to repentance.

After Jesus heals a paralyzed man, the crowd experiences awe-filled amazement at God’s authority and power on display. In response, they glorify God (Luke 5:17-26). Their awe leads them to turn their gaze to the right place – the glory of Christ. Awe has a way of breaking down our stubborn pride and realigning our affections.

Throughout Scripture, awe serves as a wake-up call, reviving dried-up faith and complacent spirits. A fresh encounter with God’s glory reminds us of His sovereign power and our desperate need for Him. This shatters self-reliance and kindles renewed reliance on God.

Awe also assures us of God’s faithful promises. As we behold His majesty, we gain confidence that He is strong enough and loving enough to fulfill His word to us. Awe strengthens sagging faith, anchoring our hope in His steadfast character.

Conclusion

Awe plays a vital role throughout Scripture, transforming God’s people in remarkable ways. As we have seen, it stems from direct encounters with God’s power and glory. It provokes reverent fear and worship. It yields profound joy and thanksgiving. It reminds us of God’s unmatched holiness and our own unworthiness as sinners. And it leads us to deep repentance, renewed faith and unshakable confidence in God’s steadfast promises.

May these reflections inspire us to regularly pursue fresh glimpses of God’s splendor. As we behold His majesty through Scripture, prayer, worship and time in His creation, may deep awe take root in our hearts. And may it produce the range of beautiful responses we see modeled throughout the pages of Scripture.

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Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.