Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season…
In ver. 22 the prophet has spoken of the soft, unstable sand holding in and beating back the mighty surgings of the sea; but here he tells of what would seem a still more unlikely thing, that the goodness of God should lead men to fear him. He selects that prominent proof of God's goodness, the giving of the rains and the harvest, as a type of all, and he takes for granted that men ought to have found in this goodness of God an argument for his fear. Now we remark -
I. THAT THIS IS AN UNUSUAL ARGUMENT. We could understand other attributes of God being appealed to as grounds for fearing him - his majesty, his power, his justice, his wrath - but his goodness seems to call for almost every other feeling than that of fear. Joy, gratitude, benevolence, praise, but not fear. We delight ourselves in his goodness, we bask in it as in the blessed warmth of the sun, but we never fear it, or see in it a reason for such regard of God. And it is certain that this expectation of the prophet, that God's goodness should lead us to his fear, was not based on any supposition or belief that there was aught of fearfulness about the goodness of God. Of the devil's goodness when he turns himself into an angel of light, when he quotes Scripture, as he did at our Lord's temptation, and when he pours honey into our cup, - of his goodness we may be afraid. It is but a mask. And of some men's goodness we may be afraid - men who are "false as the smooth, deceitful sea," "adders' poison under their lips;" they betray with a kiss. And men were wont to fear the goodness of the gods they worshipped. They imagined they would be jealous if they saw a man prospering overmuch. Hence to appease them men would inflict loss and injury on themselves. See the story of Polycrates. Nor either because there is aught of fatality attached to the goodness of God. It is not as the beautiful flush on the countenance, which, lovely as it may appear, is a mark of doom clearly discernible to the experienced eye. For no such reasons as these are we to fear God and his goodness. Nevertheless -
II. GOD'S GOODNESS IS A PROPER REASON FOR A HOLY FEAR.
1. For it reveals a Being so far removed above all our conceptions of human goodness, One who stands on so infinitely higher a level of moral excellency, that a sacred awe fills our soul as we contemplate what God is and what his love is, especially his love to us in Christ. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."
"Oh, how I fear thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with humble hope
And penitential tears!"
2. And because God's goodness reveals the intensity and depth of his love, and therefore reveals a corresponding wrath against all who outrage that love. The gentlest mother yearning with affection for her children, - let those little ones be wronged, what a fury will she become towards the wrong-doer, and all because her love is so great! And so, "according to God's love, so is his wrath." There is no wrath like that "of the Lamb."
3. And because God's goodness in its temporal manifestations is but granted for a while. He reserves his right to recall it when he will. Hence if riches, or any other form of earthly good and present earthly joy, - if these increase, set not your heart upon them. It is terrible to have all our peace of heart and mind, all the joy of our life, identified with and dependent upon what one day God may recall. Every channel of God's goodness thus becomes a possible channel of deep suffering and distress. If, then, your delight in the gift have not led you to the love and trust of the Giver, what comfort will you have when the gift is withdrawn? What an argument this for the comment of our text! 4. Remember, again, the depraved nature which we carry about with us, which ever seeks to pervert to evil what God gives us for our good. "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked." Prosperity is a sore temptation, before which many a man falls. God's gifts are the material out of which many build a screen, a wall which shuts them off from God. 5. And because God's goodness heightens our responsibility. How stern the word, "Cut it down; why cumbereth?" etc. Goodness and love and care had been thrown away upon it. If God, then, have pleaded with us by his love, as we know he has, what if our hearts be still estranged from him? "He that from God's mercy gathers no argument for his fear, may conclude thus much - that there is indeed forgiveness with God, but no forgiveness for him" (South). Then let us ask -
"Lord, let thy fear within us dwell,
Thy love our footsteps guide;
That love shall all vain love expel,
That fear all fear beside." C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.