Why does a glimpse of God inspire fear?

Do you ever imagine what it would be like to actually see God? How do you think you would react? Would it be a good experience or a bad experience?

Genesis 28 gives us some answers to these questions. This chapter tells us that Jacob saw Yahweh in a dream. His reaction to seeing God may be an accurate picture of how we will react when we actually see God. As you read the story, notice what emotional reaction Jacob had when he realized he had seen Yahweh.

Gen. 28:1 ¶ So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan.

Gen. 28:2 “Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.

Gen. 28:10 ¶ Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.

Gen. 28:11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.

Gen. 28:12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Gen. 28:13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.

Gen. 28:14 “Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Gen. 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Gen. 28:16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Gen. 28:17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Gen. 28:18 ¶ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top.

Gen. 28:19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.

When Jacob saw Yahweh, he was afraid. In verse 17, the word “afraid” and the word “awesome” are both from the Hebrew word “yare”. Below are some more verses that contain the word “yare”. What does “yare” mean?

Gen. 19:30 ¶ Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters.

Gen. 26:7 When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “my wife,” thinking, “the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.”

Gen. 31:31 Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.

Gen. 32:11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.

Gen. 43:18 Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.”

The Hebrew word “yare” indicates a belief that the object being feared was a threat and was capable of doing harm. People also experience fear when they realize they are not in control.

When Jacob saw Yahweh above the ladder, Jacob had a glimpse of Yahweh’s true nature. Jacob had a glimpse of Yahweh’s power, majesty, and holiness. Jacob had a glimpse of the reality of who God is. Jacob’s response when he saw God was to be afraid, because he realized he was not in control and he realized that Yahweh is a threat and is capable of doing harm.

What will happen when we see God? Will we be afraid? I believe we will because we too will have a glimpse of the reality of God’s power and holiness and we will be overwhelmed with how utterly insignificant we are compared to God.

Let me close with the following verse:

Prov. 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

If we want to be wise, we have to start by fearing God the way Jacob feared God when he saw Yahweh above the ladder.


Further Reading

How do we know if we truly fear God?

How much can we push God?

How do we prepare to meet God?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”