By: Billy Marsh | November 25, 2008
"The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure."
~ Isaiah 33:5-6 ~
During my time with the Lord the other morning, this verse struck me as a unique way of speaking of making God one’s treasure. So I did a quick search and found that this is the only verse in the Bible (as far as I can tell) where the fear of the Lord is explicitly said to be the "treasure" of God’s people. To me that is an interesting notion. How does fear become a treasure? Why does Zion see the fear of the Lord to be of such worth?
This verse will obviously be better understood in the context of the whole of Chapter 33, where Zion is crying out for the grace and mercy of God as they await his salvation and their restoration. I encourage you to go back and read the surrounding chapters to develop a fuller understanding of this passage’s setting. Nevertheless, simply by focusing in on 33:5-6, we have plenty of material to mine.
Zion finds its true identity in the Lord. He is its true king. For when he is exalted, and reigns on high, then the welfare of God’s people will be as he intends it to be. This is why the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. The people recognize their total helplessness and hopelessness apart from the gracious favor and eternal salvation of the One, True God and King. In this case, "the fear of the Lord" takes into account the authority of God’s justice, his indisputable righteousness, and the power of his might to secure their livelihood. For all of the hardships, trials, tribulations, and suffering, Zion knows that without becoming a city where God reigns supreme, they have no guarantee of surviving in this world. Thus, they affirm the absolute sovereignty and supremacy of Yahweh. Only he can be, as the text above asserts, "the stability of your times."
There can be no amount of economic wealth, social status, international fame, or territorial dominion that can compare to the ultimate treasure of the fear of the Lord. In keeping with other familiar passages of Scripture, the city who has found their relationship with God to be the highest of riches, has truly embarked upon the beginning of wisdom (cf. Proverbs 1:7). But, as in other places, the fear of the Lord is more than being afraid, though not exclusive to it. The fear of the Lord is the culmination of the knowledge of God. Look at what happens when the Lord is exalted on high! His identity is supremely manifested in abundance. When God is lifted up in the city of Zion, the people see him for who he is without any distraction or distortion, and therefore, the city becomes a place filled with the glory of God. His justice and righteousness flow freely; he brings unremovable security to their foundations; and he pours forth from the inexhaustible well of his Spirit salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. Therefore, for Zion to find its true place as a city, it must not find satisfaction and contentment in the same way as other nations do such as Babylon and Assyria. Instead, God must be both their king and their treasure. However, in order for this to happen, they must first know him so that they are able to recognize and glorify him for who he truly is. The state of being that will permit them to do so must be the fear of the Lord, since it is the only adequate response to the revelation of the all-glorious God.
John Calvin, in his Commentary on Isaiah: 33-66, reflects on this passage stating:
"The fear of the Lord" is therefore called a "treasure," without which all prosperity is miserable; and this shews more fully the scope of the passage, that the full perfection of a happy life consists in the knowledge of God, which we obtain by faith.
They who are destitute of "the fear of the Lord" are pronounced by him to be miserable and ruined; and, on the other hand, they who "fear the Lord" are declared to be very happy, even though in other respects they be reckoned in the judgment of me to be very miserable (18).
This is the hard part. Our treasure, as the people of God, is rarely, if ever, looked upon by the world as something of any value. The Bible says, however, that what the world despises is for Christians the greatest treasure. Yet in this paradoxical relationship between God and the world, in obedience to His Word, we can find true joy, happiness, and satisfaction. All the while, the rest of the world remains conflicted and discontent, warring and raging in order to find pleasure which will always leave them empty and wanting. Only a true knowledge of God that is both propositional and personal will afford the city of God a secure future and everlasting joy. The fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure because it is the fruit and a demonstration of a people who truly know the living God, and ultimately, treasure him above and beyond all else.
Perhaps you are aware of a void in your life and all of your pursuits and successes have left you unfulfilled. Perhaps as a Christian, you have tried to seek meaning and purpose in places and people other than the God revealed in Scripture. I say to you today, look to his Word and see him as he is in reality. Behold, this is your God! Do you have the fear of the Lord? If not, do you know him in the manner of his exaltation? If so, is the fear of the Lord your treasure? Oh how wonderful it is not only that God has made himself known to us, but also that we can delight in his glory, now and forevermore.