…that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.
(Deuteronomy 6:2 ESV)
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)
Some thoughts on the fear of God or the fear of the LORD:
I’ve read the commentaries and the debates. Sometimes semantics from dictionaries or commentaries just don’t get you far. In some ways, thinking existentially helps us here. Most likely and often, the authors of the Bible mimic the power structures they encounter in real life.
The fear of the LORD probably is reflective of Suzerain treaties and relationships. Relations between the leaders of unequal city-states or tribes. You owe your allegiance to the suzerain. Maybe you pay some taxes, maybe you send some men for his army, you get the picture. And so the language of fearing the LORD ought to be thought as originating from this political relationship.
Again, to make the ontological move to “the LORD is our suzerain,” is not necessary, and should not be the first theological move. One reason for this is that mimesis can often be a form of political resistance.
Even though a vassal state may show allegiance to the suzerain in political practice, the vassal’s citizens also enact through cultic ritual the “fear of the LORD.” This is as if to say, “We may pay lip service to a human, but our true allegiance is to YHWH.” This may seem contradictory and problematic, and it is, but we need not judge the ancients in our analysis, since we are not much better (if at all).
Instead, the practice is simple. Pay homage to the human suzerain to survive, materially. But the cultic homage of YHWH, the “fear of the LORD,” is a communal enactment of identity, and act of resistance against perceived unjust powers.
Therefore, we are not necessarily committed to the theological images of God in the Bible that depict God as suzerain or Caesar, but instead, the Bible in using these images suggests that our allegiance and identity ought to be found in God.