The Fear of the Lord and Wisdom

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7, ESV). Divine wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Many people no longer fear the Lord today. In America, they do abortions, having no fear of God. They approve of gay marriage, having no fear of God. In the Philippines, they cheat, gamble, and worship idols, having no fear of God.

We begin with the question—What does it mean to fear the Lord? The rabbis taught that the fear of God can mean two things—reverential fear and fear of retribution.[1] I think it is both. The fear (Heb. yira) of God is reverence for God or piety. (BDB) Reverence means an eagerness to listen to God, a readiness to obey God, and willingness to live for God. The emphasis of the fear of the Lord in Proverbs is reverential awe towards God.[2]

But the fear of the Lord is also the fear of God as judge. It is the fear of offending God who will judge us someday. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body . . . But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Lk. 12:4-5)! Heb. 10:31 says, “‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (cf. Rev. 14:7). The two are intertwined. When you fear God as judge, you will revere Him. When God is the object of fear out of fear of offense, divine retribution, or divine presence, there is reverence.

Now Solomon connects the fear of God and wisdom. The fear of the Lord, he says, is the beginning of wisdom. The word, “beginning” (Heb. reshit), means, “first phase, step, or element in course [sic] of events.” (BDB) The fear of the Lord is the first step in becoming wise. It is the first phase of wisdom. If you fear God, you begin to be wise. Wisdom begins in the fear of the Lord. This is the main theme of the book of Proverbs.

But Solomon also says that, “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The fool in Proverbs is not someone who is looney tunes. The fool is someone who rejects wisdom and instruction. His rejection of wisdom indicates a lack of the fear of God.

Solomon says that as you pursue wisdom, you will meet fools who reject it. You will meet fools who despise wisdom and instruction. You will meet fools who do not fear God.

The fool will also try to persuade you to follow his rejection. That is why Solomon tells the young man that if sinners entice him, he should not consent (v. 10). Hence, when people tell you to do sinful things, say no to them. That is the fear of the Lord. That is wisdom.

Do you desire to know how to live wisely in this life? The first thing to do is to fear the Lord. Be willing to listen to God, to obey God, and to live for God. Live out a holy dread against offending God. Expect to meet fools who do not fear God. They will encourage you to sin. Do not consent. Fear God and not men.

[1] Cohen, “Proverbs,” The Soncino Bible (rev. ed., ed. A. J. Rosenberg; London: Soncino, 1985), 3.

[2] TWOT, s. v. ירְאָה 907b.

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