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,
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
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Thirteen: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.