Psalm 130:4 teaches us is that forgiveness is the fertile soil for growing a right fear of God. Without God’s forgiveness we could never approach Him or want to. Without the cross, God would be only a dreadful Judge of whom we would be afraid. It is divine forgiveness and our justification by faith alone that turns our natural dread of God as sinners into the fearful, trembling adoration of beloved children.
Psalm 130:4 is one of those verses that makes your eyes screech to a halt on the page: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” It sounds all wrong. “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be loved” would make sense. So would “But with you there is judgment, that you may be feared.” But that is not what it says.
Stranger still is the fact that the psalmist just doesn’t look afraid of God. Quite the opposite. Straight after v. 4, he goes on to write of how “his soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen [wait] for the morning” (Ps. 130:5–6). He fully embraces the fact that “with the Lord there is steadfast love” and “plentiful redemption” (Ps. 130:7).
That is because the fear of the Lord that Scripture commends and which the gospel produces is actually the opposite of being afraid of God. See, for example, Exodus 20, where the people of Israel gather at Mount Sinai: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’ ” (Ex. 20:18–20, emphasis added).
Moses here sets out a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have the fear of Him will not be afraid of Him.
A Filial Fear
The right fear of God is, quite explicitly, a blessing of the new covenant. Speaking of the new covenant, the Lord promised through Jeremiah: “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.