The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(Proverbs 1:7, English Standard Version)
I argued in yesterday’s post how God has hardwired wisdom into all of creation, and that wisdom is an applied skill in working with the grain of his design, and not against it, so that we may have a good life. An immediate question arises: if this is true, wouldn’t that mean a good life is available to all who recognize and pursue this, whether or not they believe in God?
To a degree, yes, it is available to all. God displays a grace common to all humanity so that when they follow the kind of wise living described in the pages of Proverbs (and the wisdom literature of the Scriptures), they will benefit, quite apart from their willingness to believe in him.
However, I believe the verse above reveals a kind of access to wisdom and knowledge that will lead to the truest and most satisfying life, which only comes by fearing Yahweh. We cannot truly grasp wisdom in all its facets so that we may grow in applying it to our living without first recognizing God as the source. The source of all wisdom, and all that is truly good. Fear—reverence, awe, and humility—before the Creator is the beginning of knowledge. Belief is the threshold we must cross to enter into the possibility of a truly good life.
Seen this way, this verse is the theme of Proverbs. If you had to squeeze all thirty-one chapters down into one sentence, this would be that sentence. It’s why we begin here. Which means it’s quite important to understand what the fear of Yahweh is, if it is going to be the controlling idea throughout the book, and our study.
Here’s how the commentary, Proverbs: Wisdom That Works, describes it:
What is the fear of Yahweh? The structure of this verse is itself suggestive. Hebrew poetry was written in parallel lines—an A-line, then a B-line, and the B-line clarifies the A-line. So how does the second line help us here?
The key word is the word “despise.” That is an emotional word, a word of contempt and relational aloofness. It is the arrogance of being above instruction, too smart for it, too good for it, too busy for it. Such a “fool” might be a gifted person, but he does not “feel the need for moral cleansing.”
What then is the fear of Yahweh? It is not a cringing dread before Yahweh. It is not a guilty “Oh no, here comes God. I’m in for it now.” The fear of Yahweh is openness to him, eagerness to please him, humility to be instructed by him (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of Yahweh is a willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of Yahweh is surrender to his will (Genesis 22:12)…..The fear of Yahweh is when we realize, “I am not the measure of all things. I am being measured.” That reverence toward God, perhaps surprisingly, builds our confidence and flows out as a “fountain of life” into everyone and everything we care about (Proverbs 14:26,27). It takes us to a place of maturity where no one has to follow us around with a tedious list of do’s and don’t’s, constantly telling us what to do. We are motivated from deep within. We know what is right, and it is what we love, because it is of God.
Read that bolded text above one more time. For it is that last bit that is so important on our adventure toward wise living and a good life, dear friend. It was what formed our dinner conversation as a family last night, as our children started defining a good, wise, God-fearing life as merely seeing Proverbs like a list of commands to be followed. That is not the aim. Rather, the proverbs are the qualities that comprise a life of beauty that is ours for the taking. And how we take that life of beauty is by fearing, respecting, standing-in-awe-of, and loving the God who designed them. A relationship is how we begin. And, it’s how we continue, until the end.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: ch. 6
Aug. 20: ch. 7
Aug. 21: ch. 8
Aug. 22: ch. 9
Aug. 23: ch. 10
Aug. 24: ch. 11
Aug. 25: ch. 12
Aug. 26: ch. 13
Aug. 27: ch. 14
Aug. 28: ch. 15
Aug. 29: ch. 16
Aug. 30: ch. 17
Aug. 31: ch. 18
Sept. 1: ch. 19
Sept. 2: ch. 20
Sept. 3: ch. 21
Sept. 4: ch. 22
Sept. 5: ch. 23
Sept. 6: ch. 24
Sept. 7: ch. 25
Sept. 8: ch. 26
Sept. 9: ch. 27
Sept. 10: ch. 28
Sept. 11: ch. 29
Sept. 12: ch. 30
Sept. 13: ch. 31
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