Fear is something that is generally seen as only negative. Granted, fear can be funny, like when someone hides in a closet wearing a gorilla suit and jumps out to startle an unsuspecting victim. It can also be quite profitable, as demonstrated by the millions of dollars made in Hollywood each year on horror films.
But fear, for the most part, is something people see as undesirable. We’re told time and time again that we need to overcome our fears. We need to take control of our fears. We need to move past our fears. Even FDR jumped into the act and said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Which makes David writing about how he desires to “bow down…in the fear of [God]” an entirely foreign concept to most people.
When people hear from a preacher that they need to fear God, they usually file it away in the “More Reasons for Me to Avoid God” category. Why would you want anything to do with someone whose basic level of relationship is fear?
Insights from the Septuagint
7But I, in the abundance of your mercy,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
8Lord, lead me in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
This is almost verbatim from what the English translation of the Hebrew reads. The only difference to note is the use of the word “mercy” for “steadfast love”, which appears in the ESV.
God’s steadfast love for us is demonstrated by His mercy. We do not receive the punishment we deserve for our sins, but rather God poured out His wrath on Jesus Christ, who was nailed to the cross in our place, so that we might live.
Law & Gospel
The negative picture of fearing God many have is rooted in the Law. God’s role in their lives is the cosmic sheriff, ready to pick of any unsuspecting lawbreakers. The Bible even seems to support this, as Paul in Gal. 3:24 refers to the Law as his “schoolmaster” (“guardian” in the ESV). Why follow a God that repeatedly reminds me of my failures when I have been given the opportunity to follow the gods of self-esteem and of self?
While it is absolutely necessary for us to address sin in our lives and to fear the consequences of sin (i.e. death – Rom. 6:23), David’s fear of the Lord flows not from the Law but from the Gospel. Notice that David bows down in fear only after he confesses he is able to approach God because of His “steadfast love”. What this means is that David not only acknowledges sin in his life, but acknowledges that God has atoned for that sin. He basks in the mercy that God has given him and then reveres God for His perfection and His patience.
His fear is once again illustrated in David’s reliance upon God’s righteousness instead of his own. David prays, “Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness.” David’s fear enables him to confess that he contributes nothing to righteousness. He not only needs God’s perfect righteousness, but he is desperate for it (as shown by the fact that he brings up his many enemies). So David bows down in fear because he recognizes his need for God.
This is exactly the same situation we find ourselves in. Hopeless and helpless because of our sin, God sent his Son at just the right time (Rom.5:6) to die in our place. Because of the “steadfast love’, the mercy, of God, we are given the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:21 – I will continue to quote this verse often) in place of our own.
Each day, we are led in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not our own. Each day, we respond with reverent awe (fear) at who God is, at what He has done, and that He has done it for us. And each day, we have access to the God of the universe – a God that loves us (John 3:16), blesses us, and leads us in righteousness that He Himself has provided for us.
 You can’t even qualify that statement further by saying David needs God to do…something. David simply needs God and confesses this.