When one speaks of the fear of the Lord, one really is embracing a heart attitude of reverence and awe. Indeed, Moses at Sinai said he trembled with fear. The people were afraid at the manifestation of His presence in “fire, darkness, gloom, tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and a voice which made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them” (Hebrews 12: 18-21 RSV). Their reaction in short was, “you go talk to Moses.”
Steve Fry suggests in his devotional book, I Am, they totally misunderstood His intent. Certainly it was a show of power, but Steve assesses that He was, as it were, disrobing himself as a husband on His wedding night to demonstrate the strength and protection now available to His betrothed. This whole period at Sanai was to teach Israel how to worship. His intent was not to drive them away, rather to inspire awesome worship, confidence, love and loyalty in Him as the Mighty One who delivered them from oppression. Likewise, the fear of God which He requires is not to drive believers away, rather to inspire reverence and awe. The psalmist commands that the Lord is great and greatly to be praised and He is to be feared above all gods (Ps. 96:4). He is then contrasted with worthless idols as Creator of the heavens, in whose presence is honor, majesty, strength and beauty
Most of the manifestations of power exhibited in the conflict between Pharaoh and God were meant to show in no uncertain terms that this God is the only real God, as Pharaoh finally conceded. This was a power encounter between the living God and the false gods of darkness in whose worship Egypt was deeply entrenched. He is Lord over the Nile, life source of Egypt, over their gods of various insects, darkness, creeping things, fertility gods and so on. He is to be feared above all Gods.
After delivering Israel in a most magnificent manner, Moses reveals the passion of his heart to know this God called “I am that I am” more intimately by first asking for His presence to go with them...no small thing. After God answers affirmatively, He asks the Lord to show him His glory. The meekest man on earth asked Him to show him his glory. God hides him in the cleft of the rock, a real place, but also a type of Jesus of course. God amazingly reveals His Name and lets all His goodness pass before Moses who is not allowed to see His face. He could not live through that revelation. Human beings, this side of heaven, are not made to take that kind of glory and beauty. But as He passes by He declares His name, the Lord, saying, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious; I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”.
In the very next scene, after revealing the Ten Commandments, Jehovah descends in a cloud and expands his revelation. He is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, slow to anger, forgiving iniquity, transgressions and sin, but who, “will by no means clear the guilty even compounding the consequence to later generations.” There is the goodness, and the severity.
What God asks is that we come clean before Him and acknowledge our absolute need for a Savior who forgives. The fear of the Lord is clean enduring forever (Ps. 19:9). May all fear the Name of the Lord.