Is God ever afraid? Does God ever experience “fear”? Over at Christendom Chris has posted on Deut. 32.27 where it is written: ‘but I feared provocation by the enemy, for their adversaries might misunderstand and say, “Our hand is triumphant; it was not the LORD who did all this.’
So how should we approach this passage? We could consider it to be another ‘problem passage’ (a problem because it doesn’t fit with our theology) and seek to explain away its apparent plain meaning. Or we could adjust our theology to fit with its apparent plain meaning. Or we could ignore its existence altogether and change the subject or even just pretend not to hear people when they bring it up :P
Without getting into the books to explore the accuracy of the translation, here’s a few thoughts.
How we understand the inspiration of the Scriptures and the nature of language will have an impact on what we do with this passage. If we believe for instance, that the nature of this inspiration means that there is a 100% correspondence between the words used in the Scriptures and their reference, that they ‘capture’ the truth in its entirety, then we will probably want to resist the notion that God feels ‘fear’ (perhaps because of the fears this stirs in us) and will be inclined to “find another meaning” in the passage. However, if we believe that God communicates through the Scriptures but that this does not mean these acts of communication are any different in nature to normal acts of communication, then we may be more inclined to understand the use of ‘fear’ as analogical, not perfectly capturing the truth in its wholeness, but nevertheless communicating something true about God.
This last option is not man’s best attempt at pointing to the truth, but God working through and within the bounds of human language.
So what does this passage tell us about God? When we read the words ‘I feared’ placed on the “lips” of our Creator, how are we to relate them to “fear” as we know it? As Chris writes, the words chosen by the author of Deuteronomy certainly convey “how strongly God feels about the defaming of his name”. But do they serve simply to convey this, or is the author saying that God was actually afraid? Perhaps more importantly, are these the words chosen by the author or were they first God’s words which he actually spoke?