Read Psalm 103:13
One of the most misunderstood words in the Bible is the word fear. Anyone who has studied the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek realize that English translations of words from these two are challenging at best. Hebrew words require can understanding of the culture from which they derive. While it may be argued that this fact is true in regard to any language, it seems even more so when it comes to Hebrew because Hebrew words are emotive and convey different understandings based on the emotion being expressed at the time. It can be said that few English words accurately express what is actually being said in Hebrew. Culture and context must be considered when choosing an English equivalent but even then the true meaning is seldom captured.
This brings us back to our dilemma with the word fear. Often when this word is heard in English, the hearer understands it to mean an emotion which arises because someone or something is dangerous and may cause harm. Clearly this is the intent when we encounter this English word translated from some of the Greek on Hebrew passages. However, there exist times when this would be a misunderstanding of the original ancient word. The verse from Psalm 103 is one of many places in Scripture where this confusion can easily be demonstrated. This verse speaks of God’s compassion. Compassion usually is not associated with an emotion arising from a perceived danger. God does not show compassion on those who are concerned about God being harmful toward them. So how are we to understand this word?
In this instance we have to look at the original Hebrew word. When we do so, we must realize that in their culture God is seen as extremely powerful and deserving of great reverence. The God which has given so much to and done so much for the Israelites is one who is deserving of all devotion, love and praise. Coming from this viewpoint, the Hebrew word here is better understood as worshiping or revering. This is not totally foreign to the English word fear, Webster lists as one definition of the word, “Extreme reverence or awe.”
The proper message being conveyed by the psalmist is that we experience great compassion from the God we have revered and stood in awe before.