When I was a kid I used to go to Six Flags Over Texas with my dad, and our favorite ride was the Judge Roy Scream. It was a standard traditional wooden roller coaster, no loops, no crazy twists or barrel loops. I loved this ride because of two reasons: my dad would tell me the story of why it was called the "Judge Roy Scream" before we rode it and because my dad loved the ride. The Judge Roy Scream is named after Judge Roy Bean, an eccentric justice of the peace in the 1800's known for his odd rulings and ruthless judgments. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia page which matches the stories my dad used to tell:
One of his first acts as a justice of the peace was to "shoot [...] up the saloon shack of a Jewish competitor". Bean then turned his tent saloon into a part-time courtroom and began calling himself the "Law West of the Pecos." As judge, Bean relied on a single law book, the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas. If newer law books appeared, Bean used them as kindling. Bean did not allow hung juries or appeals, and jurors, who were chosen from his best bar customers, were expected to buy a drink during every court recess. Bean was known for his unusual rulings. In one case, an Irishman named Paddy O'Rourke shot a Chinese laborer. A mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom and threatened to lynch Bean if O'Rourke was not freed. After looking through his law book, Bean ruled that "homicide was the killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman". Bean dismissed the case. "Bean refused to send the state any part of the fines, but instead kept all of the money. In most cases, the fines were made for the exact amount in the accused's pockets. Bean is known to have sentenced only two men to hang, one of whom escaped. Horse thieves, who were often sentenced to death in other jurisdictions, were always let go if the horses were returned. Although only district courts were legally allowed to grant divorces, Bean did so anyway, pocketing $10 per divorce. He charged only $5 for a wedding, and ended all wedding ceremonies with "and may God have mercy on your souls" (traditionally the end of a death sentence).*
Probably the most famous thing about him is he is known as "The Hanging Judge," though he only successfully hung one person during his tenure as judge. The biggest take away from his life is that people feared offending him, and feared his judgments.
I said all of that (and hopefully you are more informed about important Texas history) to show what a reputation can do for a judge, and how his reputation caused fear among his constituents.
Using Judge Roy Bean’s story as an example, I want to explore what the opposite of his story would be.
What would it be like if people LACKED fear of a perfect judge? What if that judge was perfect and handed down no ill judgments, being totally trustworthy? What if God were the Judge in charge over a whole area, and people ignored His laws and statutes and followed other judges' laws that were contrary to His? What if they served other judges and didn't obey the Supreme Judge? What if their lack of obedience was a direct result of not fearing Him?
We need to see the results of a lack of fear of God and its consequences, and we need to look no further than the kingdom of Israel in the Bible, and I chose one account in particular from 2 Kings 17 (NKJV).
1) Every time Israel turned its back on God to worship idols, it was because they lacked a fear of God. Furthermore, instead of fearing the One True God, they feared other gods. This led directly to their captivity by Assyria:
2 Kings 17 5 Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
2) A lack of fear led Israel to a place where worship was impossible, and led to their eviction from their land:
2 Kings 17 13 Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.” 14 Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them. 16 So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17 And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.
3) A lack of fear of God leads to judgment. You see this in everything that happened to Israel and Judah, but you see it in the next section of scripture to non-Jews as well. Look at God's response to the Assyrian immigrants:
2 Kings 17 24 Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. 25 And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.
4) A lack of fear of God leads to ritualistic service verses true worship, which is basically dead, lifeless religion:
2 Kings 17 26 So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Send there one of the priests whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land.” 28 Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord.
Just to clarify here, fear is used two different ways here. The people who moved into the land "feared" God in that they didn't want punishment, but they didn't "fear" Him in that they wished to serve Him and only Him, as He commanded. They continued asking for His blessings while scorning Him in every other way. Sounds familiar.
Their lack of fear led to a big problem: rejection and judgment. We shouldn't expect our lack of fear to result in anything else. This is both national and personal in scope and is the diagnosis of the symptoms of every one of our issues morally as a country and as persons.
Unlike Roy, God is not eccentric, nor does He hand down bad or self-serving judgments. He is perfect in His justice and in His judgments. In sending Israel into captivity, He made His justice known to both the Jews and to the Gentiles. Neither feared Him as they should, and both received perfect justice for their treason to God.
He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. (Deuteronomy 32:4)
When Judge Roy Bean sat on the bench, people held the line to keep from upsetting his delicate balance of patience and wrath. If he was worthy of fear, how much more so God, whose patience is so much deeper and long suffering, but whose wrath is perfect in its ruthlessness and its power to inflict judgment. Fear Him for His person and for His glory! Reverence Him and make His statutes your constant meditation, so that the Judge of all the world will be pleased with you!
Darin is the college/career minister for Bethel Baptist Church in Lonedell, MO. He is looking for his first pastorate and, of course, any opportunity to preach the Word. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.