7 Here we have the theological foundation of the book—the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Ps 111:10). This statement is different from the purpose statements given so far. It tells us what is basic to the understanding of the book: Reverential “fear” (yirʾâ, GK 3711) of the Lord is the prerequisite of knowledge. This term can describe dread (Dt 1:29), being terrified (Jnh 1:10), standing in awe (1 Ki 3:28), or having reverence (Lev 19:3). With the Lord as the object, yirʾâ captures both aspects of shrinking back in fear and drawing close in awe. (The expression “the fear of the Lord” occurs fourteen times in the book.)
Such fear is not a trembling dread that paralyzes action, but neither is it a polite reverence (Plaut, 32). “The fear of the Lord” ultimately expresses reverential submission to the Lord’s will and thus characterizes a true worshiper. In this context it is the first and controlling principle of knowledge (“beginning” can refer to the first thing, the chief thing, or the principal thing). Elsewhere in Proverbs the fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) or the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33); it is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13), and it results in a prolonged life (10:27).
By contrast, fools disdain wisdom and discipline. They are not able to grasp this prerequisite, for in their pride they have chosen to reject the teachings of wisdom. Verse 7b is the antithesis of verse 7a. The term ʾewîlîm (“fools”; GK 211) describes those who are thick-brained, conceited, and stubborn (Greenstone, 6). They lack understanding (10:21), do not store up knowledge (10:14), fail to attain wisdom (24:7), talk loosely (14:3), are filled with pride (26:5), and are contentious (20:3). They are morally unskilled and refuse any correction (15:15; 27:22).
Fools are people who “despise” wisdom and discipline; they treat these virtues as worthless and contemptible. This attitude is illustrated in Genesis 25:34, where Esau despised the birthright, and in Nehemiah 4:4, where Sanballat and Tobiah belittled the Jews.
Proverbs is not merely a ‘how to’ book. Your quest for wisdom begins with the ‘fear of the Lord’ who is in covenant relationship with his redeemed people (v. 7a). The use of the covenant name of God, Lord (YHWH in the Hebrew), ties Proverbs to the rest of the Bible. Because we are spiritual children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:29), we are in covenant relationship with the Lord, which means that Proverbs, along with the rest of the Old Testament, is written for us.
The Lord is the source of all true knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is an attribute of God: ‘With Him are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding’ (Job 12:13). His wisdom is displayed in his works: ‘It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens’ (Jer. 10:12; see also Prov. 8:22–31). Wisdom is imparted to men through God’s Word: ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple’ (Ps. 19:7).
God imparts wisdom to those who seek him: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him’ (James 1:5). The early chapters of Proverbs plead with the naive reader to earnestly pursue wisdom. The New Testament reveals that the ultimate expression of wisdom is found in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30–31).
You cannot discern the true nature of life and the world apart from the Lord who is the root of all knowledge. The one who tries to be wise apart from God is a branch cut off from the root. For this reason, only the godly are truly wise. The humble workman or the faithful homemaker may be wiser than the Professor of Philosophy at Oxford or Harvard.
What does it mean to fear the Lord?
To fear God is to regard God with reverent awe. He alone is holy, awesome, and glorious (Isa. 6:3). He is worthy of our respect. Because God is righteous, we should be concerned about the consequences of displeasing him. Our fear is not one which leaves us cowering and terrified but rather is like the respect a son should have towards his father. The fear of God leads to wise and pure living: ‘By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil’ (Prov. 16:6b).
To fear God is to submit to him, turning from self-assertion and evil: ‘Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil’ (3:7). We are not autonomous beings, free to assert our own will and decide what is right for us. We must acknowledge the Lord’s sovereign moral governance of the universe. We should be open to his training and correction and trust that his way is always best. To fear God is to know God. To know God is to have life (19:23a). When you fear God, you no longer fear men (29:25).
The fear of the Lord is not a beginning like the first stage of a rocket which is cast aside after it has served its purpose. Rather, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom in the same way in which a foundation is the beginning of a house: everything that comes after the foundation is built upon it.
Don’t be a fool! Fools despise wisdom and instruction (v. 7b)
Proverbs contrasts two types of individuals—the wise and the foolish. Foolishness is not merely a mental defect. Rather, folly is a moral deficiency which leads to all kinds of disasters and sins in life. Fools lack sense, and they lack the sense to know that they lack sense. Fools are unteachable because they are proud. ‘Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil’ (3:7). They reject God’s wisdom and they hate discipline. A fool ends up wasting his or her life, ultimately coming to ruin (1:30–32).
What do you seek? We live in a world full of fools playing games. They imagine that their accumulation of fame, fortune, and pleasure will make them winners. In spite of our investment of billions in educating our young people, test scores are down and juvenile crime is rising. Some students are learning facts but remain foolish. Spurgeon writes, ‘To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are the greater fools for it. There is no fool as great as a knowing fool.’ Our young people are being taught materialism and hedonism instead of the fear of the Lord. Ultimate moral and spiritual values are excluded from the classroom. Parents need to heed the message of Proverbs by taking responsibility for the training of their children in wisdom.
Sadly, many churches are failing to impact on our culture because they are pandering to these misplaced man-centred values of the world rather than proclaiming the fear of the Lord. Sometimes Proverbs is taught merely as a book of practical tips for earthly success so that people can win at the game of life. But wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, and it grows in personal relationship with him. We need churches that unashamedly declare the truth of God to believers who treasure wisdom.
God’s offer of wisdom to all who seek it from him is not merely a maxim; it is a promise. Skill for living does not come upon you suddenly but grows as you apply yourself to understanding and applying the wisdom of God contained in his Word. Ultimately, you can only become wise through Christ, who both embodies wisdom and makes his people wise. Pursue wisdom!
1:7 Now we come to the key verse of the book (see also 9:10). The fear of the Lord is the beginning or chief part of knowledge. If a man wants to be wise, the place to begin is in reverencing God and in trusting and obeying Him. What is more reasonable than that the creature should trust his Creator? On the other hand, what is more illogical than for a man to reject God’s Word and to live by his own hunches? The wise thing to do is to repent of one’s sins, trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and then live for Him wholeheartedly and devotedly.
Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Just as a wise man in this book is one who is willing and anxious to learn, a fool is one who cannot be told anything. He is intractable and conceited, and only learns lessons the hard way, if at all.
1:7 The fear of the Lord. The overarching theme of this book and particularly the first 9 chapters is introduced—reverence for God (see v. 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 14:26, 27; cf. also Job 28:28; Ps 34:11; Ac 9:31). See Introduction: Historical and Theological Themes. This reverential awe and admiring, submissive fear is foundational for all spiritual knowledge and wisdom (cf. 2:4–6; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Ecc 12:13). While the unbeliever may make statements about life and truth, he does not have true or ultimate knowledge until he is in a redemptive relationship of reverential awe with God. Note the progression here: 1) teaching about God; 2) learning about God; 3) fearing God; 4) knowing God; and 5) imitating God’s wisdom. The fear of the Lord is a state of mind in which one’s own attitudes, will, feelings, deeds, and goals are exchanged for God’s (cf. Ps 42:1).
1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. This is the core maxim of the book: the quest for wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (cf. 9:10 and Ps. 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”). “Knowledge” and “wisdom” are closely tied together in Proverbs: “knowledge” tends to focus on correct understanding of the world and oneself as creatures of the magnificent and loving God, while “wisdom” is the acquired skill of applying that knowledge rightly, or “skill in the art of godly living” (see Introduction: Purpose, Occasion, and Background). On the fear of the Lord, see notes on Acts 5:5; 9:31; Rom. 3:18; Phil. 2:12–13; 1 Pet. 1:17; 1 John 4:18. The reason that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom is that the moral life begins with reverence and humility before the Maker and Redeemer. The idea of a quest for knowledge sets biblical wisdom in the broad context of the ancient Near Eastern quest for truth, and this verse also validates such a quest as legitimate and good. Thus it affirms a kind of “creational revelation,” the idea that one can find moral and theological truth through observing the world. At the same time, it distinguishes the biblical pursuit of knowledge and wisdom from those of the surrounding cultures, for it asserts that submission to the Lord is foundational to the attainment of real understanding (cf. Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10). By using the covenant name “the Lord” in preference to the more generic “God,” this verse makes the point that truth is found through Israel’s God. (For fearing the Lord in Proverbs as the right response to his covenant, see 1:29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 10:27; 14:2, 26–27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 31:30; see note on Ps. 19:9.) In addition, the verse asserts that fools despise wisdom and instruction, thus setting up the alternative between the two ways of wisdom and folly. This contrast dominates the entire book, as the way of wisdom, righteousness, and the fear of the Lord is set against the way of folly, evil, and scoffing.
1:7 Wisdom is to be sought from God, anticipating that we seek wisdom from Christ, the incarnate God (John 1:14; Col. 2:3).
1:7 Fear of Yahweh A reverent attitude toward Yahweh.
The fear of Yahweh is an important concept in Proverbs and the ot. It indicates awe for God (compare Job 1:1, 1:8; 2:3; Eccl 12:13). A person fears God by being loyal to Him and faithful to His covenant—obedient to His commands. The fear of Yahweh involves humility and righteous living (Prov 3:7; 8:13; 14:2; 16:6; 22:4). Its benefits can include blessing, Yahweh’s protection, and long life (10:27; 14:26–27; 19:23; 28:14).
In Proverbs the fear of Yahweh is where wisdom begins (vv. 7; 9:10; compare Psa 111:10; Prov 15:33). However, there is a reciprocal relationship between the two: Fearing Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, but receiving wisdom helps people better understand the fear of Yahweh (2:1–5). Those who do not fear Yahweh are said to hate knowledge, and they will eventually come to ruin (vv. 29–33).
Piety is an important virtue in wisdom literature of the ancient world, but Proverbs is alone in its assertion that the fear of Yahweh is where wisdom begins. Fear of Yahweh motivates wise behavior and is required to gain what the book promises.
1:7 The fear of the Lord. This idea is the controlling principle of Proverbs, and is ancient Israel’s decisive contribution to the human quest for knowledge and understanding. The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge. This “fear” is not distrustful terror of God, but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as Creator, Savior, and Judge.
Although Israel’s covenant relationship with God receives little overt attention in Proverbs, the use of the divine name most closely associated with the covenant, the Lord (Hebrew Yahweh, Ex. 3:15; 6:3 and notes), is significant. It indicates that God’s redemptive covenant with His people and the special revelation that accompany it are foundational for true wisdom. In Deuteronomy, “fear the Lord” means living by the stipulations of the covenant in grateful response to God’s redemptive grace (Deut. 6:2, 24). The temple built by Solomon later became the visible expression of Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord, which again is described as the “fear” of the Lord (1 Kin. 8:40, 43). There is an important link through Solomon and the temple between biblical wisdom and the covenant theology found elsewhere in the Old Testament.
is the beginning of knowledge. See also 2:4–6; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10. The Hebrew means either the starting point of knowledge, or its basic, ruling principle. The latter is in view here. While in His common grace God enables unbelievers to know much about the world, only the fear of the Lord enables one to know what anything means ultimately. Relying on this light, wisdom pursues the task of reflecting on human experience. See “The Wisdom and Will of God” at Dan. 2:20.
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