Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 29. Proverbs (2)
Prov 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
I feel a coward! I often want to say to groups studying the Bible, hey, let’s move away from the comfortable and easy stuff, let’s study the more difficult parts of the Bible, and yet here in this part of the Scriptures I wanted to shy away from some of the most basic and fundamental truths of the Bible – and perhaps that is why I wanted to avoid them, because they are so basic and really need thinking about. So forgive me, and come with me, please, to this very basic verse early on in Proverbs. Let’s chew on it, let’s wrestle with it and see what it might say to us today.
Our obvious starting point has to be to consider the word, ‘fear’ but more especially, ‘fear of the LORD’. The expression, “the fear of the LORD” occurs a number of times in the Scriptures: 2 Chron 17:10, 19:7,9, Job 28:28, Psa 19:19, 34:11, Prov 2:5, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:16,33, 16:6, 19:23, 22:4, 23:17, Isa 11:2,3, 33:6, Acts 9:31. Moreover there are countless other injunctions to fear God. When Scripture speaks of “the fear of the LORD,” it refers to a characteristic or attitude that a person can hold. I confess I used to play this down and speak of ‘awe and respect’ for God but in reality it is stronger than that. Let’s consider one such use of this phrase, “the fear of THE I AM” (see Ex 3 – remember that’s what LORD in capitals in your Bible means).
Let’s consider what the psalmist David taught: “listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psa 34:11) He then spoke about behaviour that avoided wrong speech, that turned from evil and did good, seeking and pursuing peace (v.12-14) i.e. this behaviour would be a response or outworking of this attitude. But then David gives two things the Lord does, things that should cause us to have a holy, awesome, even fearful respect for God: i) “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (v.15) and then ii) “the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (v.16)
Wow! This is a God who acts against wrong. He watches over the righteous and responds to their cries, but those who do evil…. He wipes them out!!!! Now whether He does this quickly now, or delays and then does it, or even waits until the Final Judgment, is really irrelevant; the fact is that He IS going to hold ALL sinners accountable and He will bring judgment on those who refuse to repent. Now if that doesn’t make Him scary, I don’t know what does!
Now the next word that bears consideration here is ‘knowledge’ which in ordinary usage simply means a body of facts or information. Knowledge is often linked with ‘understanding’ but understanding means realizing the significance of something. Knowledge at this moment refers to observing and recognising and taking in this verse. Understanding speaks of realizing its significance. So, the fear of the Lord refers to the attitude that has come to learn that ‘THE I AM’, the Eternal One, the one Abram, Moses etc. encountered is one who holds people accountable and when they fall short, He deals with them, e.g. Eli in 1 Samuel, Saul in 1 Samuel, and so on. ‘Understanding’ this phrase means we realise that His demand for accountability puts us in the firing line, it puts ME right in front of Him, having to account to Him. This is what this is all about.
But there is another word we need to consider: ‘beginning’. Now that is tricky because the writers here and elsewhere are saying that the starting point for any real knowledge about existence starts at this point. That drives us back to the word ‘knowledge’ which in this use must be more than that basic usage – information, facts, data etc. – it must mean the basic, fundamental knowledge of what life is all about.
Really understanding what this world, this life, is all about starts here, it starts with the realization that a) there IS an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God as revealed in the Bible and b) He is not far off but is here and c) He involves Himself in the lives of the people on earth – His earth, the earth He designed and made and thus d) He acts for those who are righteous (living according to His design) and against those who are unrighteous (living by rejecting His design and contrary to it). The end product, as far as we are concerned, should be fear of Him, an awesome, scary respect, that recognizes that He holds ME accountable and without His grace, His mercy and His salvation I am doomed.
When we truly understand this, then when we are confronted with the news of His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, we will grab at it like a drowning man at a straw, and we will receive it with gladness and wonder and thankfulness.
And the rest of the verse? “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” OK, quickly. ‘Wisdom’ = the knowledge of how to do, or how it works. Wisdom comes to realise that the knowledge and understanding we have been considering needs to be applied to me. ‘Discipline’ = taking control of oneself and bringing change. A footnote in your Bible probably says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denote one who is morally deficient.” The person who ‘falls short’ does so in God’s sight. It is God who declares them what they are. They are what they are because they refuse wisdom, they refuse to take note of these truths that will be put before them at some points in their lives, and they refuse to respond accordingly.
So, sorry, we nearly missed the wonder of this verse that is clearly a highlight verse. Think on these things, act on them, for they are fundamentals of life, and a key to how we live and to our future destiny.