Proverbs 10:27

Proverbs 10:27 "The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened."
Proverbs 10:27 Baptist Church Elma NY
Throughout Scripture but especially in the Old Testament, the fear of God is clearly connected to longevity. Solomon connected long life to the fear of God frequently throughout his writings and this wouldn’t have been anything surprising to his Jewish readers because Moses did the same thing throughout the Pentateuch.  When God gave the Law to the Jewish people, He made the fear of God the foundation for all virtue and blessing.  One could easily argue that everything in regard to morality hinges on the fear of God.  If you fear God, you will acknowledge Him.  If you do not fear God, you will ignore Him.  If you fear God, you will hear Him.  If you do not fear God, you will disregard His word.  If you fear God, you will obey Him.  If you do not fear God, you will disobey Him.  If you fear God, you will reap the benefits of obeying Him.  If you do not fear God, you will reap the consequences of disobeying Him.  For the Old Testament Hebrew, long life was the ultimate blessing of God.  For Solomon’s audience, long life was the ultimate incentive for choosing virtue.  Because of the Old Testament emphasis on the fear of God coupled with the human obsession with long life, there is a common misunderstanding with Bible verses like this.

Bible readers today are inclined to do what ancient Tanakh readers did in the Old Testament – interpret verses like this as a guarantee for long life for those who fear God.  Frankly, it’s understandable given the human obsession with avoiding death.  Instinctively, the human spirit fears death and by nature, does everything possible to extend life.  Despite existing in a painful world, we long to keep living in it.  Despite losing mobility, strength, comfort and liberty in old age, we long to keep living.  We’ll pay whatever it takes to keep living.  We’ll do whatever it takes to keep breathing.  When our bodies are at their worst, we still cling to them desperate to continue living despite clearly declining.  This obsession with long life skews our interpretation of Scripture.  This fear of death makes us read the prospect of long life incorrectly.
 
This verse is not promising long life to anyone who fears God.  The Bible does not teach that a God-fearing soul receives supernatural protection from anything that causes death.  Neither Moses nor Solomon taught that the fear of God is the fountain of youth.  Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible promise to put a bubble of protection around a man, woman, boy or girl who chooses to fear God.

What does the Bible teach then?  
What is Solomon saying then?  


Solomon is teaching the benefits of fearing God.  He is teaching the byproduct of choosing to fear God.  The fear of God helps extend a person’s life but it doesn’t guarantee long life.  Fearing God will lead a person to acknowledge God, hear God and ultimately, to obey God.  The choices that result from fearing God are going to be choices that steer a person away from dangerous activities and from life-threatening people.  Fearing God will keep you from drunkenness, gambling and fornication.  Fearing God will keep you from theft, violence and arrogance.  The fear of God keeps a person from behavior and persons that will cause harm, disease and death.  It is a virtue that firstly, brings pleasure to God and secondly, brings protection to its host.
 
Long life is a likely byproduct of the fear of God but it is not a guaranteed promise of God.  The fear of God will keep a man from sin but it will not keep a man from ignorance or mistake.  You can have a healthy fear of God but lack a healthy fear of electricity.  You can have a healthy fear of God but lack a healthy fear of gravity.  You can have a healthy fear of God but lack good family genes.  You can have a healthy fear of God but lack good national leaders.  You can have a healthy fear of God but lack sound military leaders.  The men and women who are tragically having their lives cut short in Ukraine as a result of war are not only the souls who don’t fear God.  Death is no respecter of persons and it doesn’t care who fears God or not.  Death takes those who fear God and those don’t fear God.  Death takes God-fearing souls by cancer, heart disease, car accident, violence, war and by any number of creative ways.  Death just has a harder time taking God-fearing souls because it typically can’t use poor moral decisions to take such souls.  It typically can’t use capital punishment, sexually transmitted disease, drug overdose, alcoholism, gang wars, retaliation for a crime or any number of ways directly resulting from immoral behavior.

The Bible is full of examples of people whose lives were cut short and not as the result of personal wickedness.  Abel feared God and yet his life was cut short because of a man who didn’t fear God.  David’s infant son didn’t live a long life but his death wasn’t the result of his immorality – it was the result of another man’s immorality.  Rachel didn’t live beyond child-bearing age but her death wasn’t the result of her immorality – it was the result of medical complications in child-birth.  Stephen’s life was cut short but not because of his sin – it was the result of mob violence and Christian persecution.  Jairus’ daughter originally died at age 12 but not because of her or anyone’s sin - it was simply the result of living in a cursed world where sickness snuffs out life.  Jesus Christ didn’t make it to middle age but not because of any moral error – it was the will of God for Him so that He might save the world from its sin.

Everyone dies in our world and for some, natural disasters, sickness, disease and tragic accidents rob us of many years with our loved ones.  When this happens, God is not breaking a promise to the God-fearing population of our world because He never promised protection from these heart-breaking realities of our world.  What God does promise in His word is that the virtue of fearing God will help prevent an unnecessary early death due to immorality.  The righteous don’t always live longer than the wicked – they just don’t give death more opportunities by wickedness.

Fear the Lord to bring pleasure to Him, not to obtain long life from Him.  In the process of pleasing God, you’ll be increasing your chances to do so longer by taking some instruments from death’s toolbox.

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