There are a number of OT words for fear, with meanings that encompass “dread,” “terror,” “wonderful,” “stupendous,” and “awe.” The OT emphasis is not, however, on the emotion aroused. The focus is on the object feared, and on how fear functions in our life.
Because God comes in awesome majesty, and “is beyond our reach, and exalted in power, in his justice and great righteousness…” (Job 37:22, 23). It is right for men to hold him in reverence and awe. Fear of God, a respect appropriate to who he is, is a great treasure (Isa. 11:3, 33:6). The person who maintains a healthy sense of who God is will avoid evil (Prov. 16:6), listen to God’s voice (1 Sam 12:14), and keep the Lord’s commandments. Thus the OT presents the fear of God as a reverence appropriate to relationship with our great God; a wholly good and healthy thing.
The OT also contrasts fear of God with fear of men. What other persons think or do should not dominate an individual’s thoughts. This kind of fear “lays a snare” (Prov. 29:25), for mere men are not to be lord over our conscience or choices.
The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. Proverbs 29:25
The OT also seems to suggest that a person who lacks fear of the Lord will have no protection against wickedness, and may be gripped by dreadful hallucinations (cf. Prov. 10:24, 28:1). Only one who knows how great God is, and who has a personal relationship with him, is freed by his fear of God from the the terror of the unknown future, which robs life of peace and joy.
The fear of the wicked will come upon him… The wicked flee when no one pursues, But the righteous are bold as a lion. Proverbs 10:24, 28:1