Continuing a theme of spiritual matters, this seventh mandate delivers a command to Hermas to fear God only. “For, fearing the Lord, you will do all things well.” The angel pairs fearing God with keeping His commandments, which was one of the fundamental points that John was trying to get across too. In contrast, Hermas is instructed not to fear the devil, “for, fearing the Lord, you will have dominion over the devil, for there is no power in him. He in whom there is no power ought on no account to be an object of fear; but He in whom there is glorious power is truly to be feared.”
These are timely words, I believe, because after the previous mandate wherein we’re told of both good and bad angels vying for our attention we may be beginning to get scared of the devil and his minions. But when you line him up against God, he is nothing. If we fear God, not only can we say “what can man do to me?” but we can also say “what can the devil do to me?” Rather, we read, we should fear “the deeds of the devil, since they are wicked.” This makes sense, given that every command so far has included a warning that failure to obey God’s laws will lead to a forfeiture of salvation (if taken far enough).
Two types of fear is then identified. Both are fears “of the Lord” but have different angles. First, there’s the fear of God which is paired with avoiding doing evil deeds. We’re afraid of God, so we want to avoid pissing him off, so to speak. The second kind of fear is more of a “reverential awe” if you will, wherein our “fear” of God is what motivates us to do good. The difference between them is slight, but very important. The first type is attrition – fear of God forces us to avoid sin. It’s like a kid cleaning up his bedroom under the watchful eye of a loving but firm parent. The second type of “fear of God” is contrition – it’s part of our willing devotion and service to Him. This would be like the child cleaning his room before the parent forces him to. The actions are almost identical and the results are almost identical, but the underlying motivation drastically changes the character of the “fear” that’s at work.
He doesn’t say it, but I think the second kind of fear is the type of fear that we’re supposed to have. The first kind is sort of a preparation or practice run, helping us learn the higher fear, where it’s less about being scared and more about being in awe (I’d say ‘respectful,’ but that seems an understatement of how we ought to treat God). Besides, in this light, it makes even more sense for Hermas’ teaching angel to go on to say “Wherefore the fear of the Lord is strong, and great, and glorious. Fear, then, the Lord, and you will live to Him, and as many as fear Him and keep His commandments will live to God.”
Finally, Hermas asks why the angel said that living to God requires both fearing God and keeping God’s commandments. The answer is simple: although all creation fears God, not everyone keeps God’s commandments. On one hand this sounds wrong because those who don’t know Him “have no fear of God.” But I think this still works out, because those who “don’t” fear God will be made to fear God in the end.
In summary: don’t fear the devil, because he’s powerless against God. Instead, fear God, to the end that you desire the good works he has in store for you.