“To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion— A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:2-7).
Solomon tells us that the purpose of Proverbs is “To know wisdom and instruction”, and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. Knowledge is the understanding or skill that you get from experience or education, and wisdom is what you do with the knowledge you have obtained. Solomon says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge – what makes a person wise is what they do with that knowledge.
So we first must ask the question, what is the fear of the Lord? Solomon explains — “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path” (Proverbs 2:1-9).
God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His word. To know the Lord you must know the word. If you receive His word and obey His commands, then you will understand the fear of the Lord. We can‘t create our own god and what we think our own god tolerates and doesn’t tolerate. True fear of the Lord comes through the revelation in Scriptures that God is the Creator of all, He knows all things past and present, He knows the heart and thoughts of every person, and He will one day judge us all. Christians, ones who put their trust in Jesus Christ, do not have to fear this judgment because our salvation is secure in Christ. Christian fear of the Lord is a reverence of God – “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
With fear of the Lord comes obedience and a desire to serve God. Solomon says “My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands” (Proverbs 3:1). This is the same command the Lord gave His people in wilderness – “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:11-12).
The Lord is the one who will guide our ways for our good if we submit to Him— “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths… My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3, 5-6, 11-12).
Fear of the Lord is the knowledge that the Lord loves His children and hates sin. Out of love for us, the Lord will discipline His children when we veer off the path of righteousness – “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
JI Packer also defines the fear of the Lord as reverence and explains how it leads to wisdom in his book “Knowing God”:
“Where can we find wisdom? What steps must a person take to lay hold of this gift? There are two prerequisites, according to Scripture.
1.) We must learn to reverence God. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; compare Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 15:33). Not till we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty (‘the great and awesome God’, Neh. 1:5; compare 4:14; 9:32; Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Ps. 99:3; Jer. 20:11), acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.
It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all. Not for nothing does Scripture say, ‘with the lowly is wisdom’ (Prov. 11:2 KJV).
2.) We must learn to receive God’s word. Wisdom is divinely wrought in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God’s revelation. ‘Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,’ declares the psalmist; ‘I have more insight than all my teachers:’ why? – ‘for I meditate on your statutes’ (Ps. 119:98 f.).”
Then Packer asks this question – “How long is it that you read right through the Bible? Do you spend as much time with the Bible each day as you do even with the newspaper? What fools some of us are! – and we remain fools all our lives, simply because we will not take the trouble to do what has to be done to receive the wisdom which is God’s free gift.”
Thank you Lord for the gift of your word which gives us sweet intimacy with You and wisdom to navigate this messy world. Keep reading. (Proverbs 1:1-4:27)