THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF KNOWLEDGEProverbs 1:1-1:33
Key Verse: 1:7
The book of proverbs is primarily written by Solomon who received wisdom from God. He spoke 3000 proverbs and 800 were written in this book. The proverbs provide various wise instructions to life problems related to family, marriage, work and social behavior. The content of proverbs is more practical than theological. Readers can have best advice to live a godly life. Chapter 1 is an introduction of the proverbs. And it contains core message of the whole proverbs. May God help us to learn the wisdom of God through this study.
Part I. The author and the purpose of wisdom
Verse 1 says â€śThe proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:â€ť Solomon, the son of David was a wise king. 1 Kings 3-4 describes well how he became wise. Solomon loved God and offered a thousand burnt offerings to him. In his dream, the Lord told him "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." It was a blank cheque from God. Solomon said â€śI am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" God was pleased with his request and gave him a wise and discerning heart as well as riches and honor. Solomons wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs.â€ť Although Solomon wrote the proverbs, the true author is God. Proverbs 2:6 says â€śFor the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understandingâ€ť
V2-6 show the purpose of the proverbs. V2 says â€śFor attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight.â€ť Wisdom is the ability to use your experience and knowledge in order to make sensible decisions or judgments. Discipline is the practice of making people obey rules or standards of behaviour, and punishing them when they do not. Wisdom and disciplines are two important key words in the Proverbs. In this verse, these two words were shown together which implies that they are mutually related. When we read the bible, we know that God wants us to be wise. Jesusâ€™ parables describe about wise servant, wise virgin, and wise manager who received Godâ€™s reward. In contrast, there were people who called themselves wise from manâ€™s perspectives but became foolish through rejecting Godâ€™s wisdom. So, we need to know true wisdom before God to have his evaluation that we are wise.
True disciplines are based on the right wisdom. In this world, discipline is essential step in every aspect of life. How to become a top student? It requires process of discipline. A famous phycologist (Dr. Gerald Corey) says that no matter how good idea and theory one has, it does not change his/her life without discipline. The bible also emphasizes godly disciplines. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says â€śtrain yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.â€ť Godly discipline is much more valuable than physical training. Through godly discipline, our character changes. To know what to discipline, we need Godâ€™s word, full of his wisdom. When we have godly wisdom, we can know what to and how to discipline our life. Through the study of the proverb, we can have the most valuable wisdom and disciplines.
We also can be insightful. Verse 2b â€śUnderstanding words of insightâ€ť. It implies understanding of the essence of the matter.
V 3 further described the purpose. â€śfor acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;â€ť
Interestingly, the word â€śprudenceâ€ť is written in 17 times in the whole bible and 15 times in the Proverbs beginning with V3. Dictionary defines that prudence is care and good sense that someone shows when making a decision or taking action. Prudent men are not easily swayed by emotion and atmosphere. For example, how was your shopping on last boxing day? Did you purchase impulsively or prudently? Prudence is essential part of wise life. We need prudence in decision-making to do right, just, and fair things. Our life should be disciplined and prudent so that we may not be swayed by unrighteous, unjust, unfair atmosphere. For this, we need to seek Godâ€™s way. For example, we learn how Joseph prudently handled the matter when he found Maryâ€™s pregnancy. It was a shocking to him but he overcame his emotional turmoil and sought what is right before God. To be prudent, one must pray and seek Godâ€™s way. This book teaches what is right, just, and fair.
Verse 4 says â€śfor giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youngâ€ť The simple is a person who lacks judgment or are inclined to evil. They need prudence. Similarly, the young needs knowledge and discretion. Some may think in our internet generation, the young are more knowledgeable than the old since they quickly access to numerous information as much as they want. Knowledge in this verse means godly and true one. Knowledge and discretion are the two core ingredients for young manâ€™s wise life. The young man has infinite possibility. The youth is the prime time of life. However, the possibility is influenced by what knowledge they have in their youth. Especially, all kinds of harmful and ungodly information are available nowadays, influencing their value system. In this sense, the best example in the bible is Daniel. He grew up with godly knowledge. When he was only a teenager, he discerned what is right and wrong. He knew when to say Yes or No. So, even though he was a captive, he refused to eat the royal food and wine which can defile himself based on his knowledge and discretion. God used him as a very influential leader throughout his life time.
Verse 5 says â€ślet the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidanceâ€”â€ť We see that the proverbs are needed to the wise and the discerning as well. They had better wisdom and discernment than the simple and the young. However, they still need to be strengthened in their life through continuous learning. Wisdom school has no graduation.
The last purpose is in Verse 6. â€śfor understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.â€ť Proverbs 2:4 says that wisdom was like hidden treasure. So, through understanding the proverbs, we can find treasures. As these eight different purposes show, God wants to give us godly wisdom, discernment, and prudent life through this book.
Part II. Beginning of knowledge
In verse 7, Solomon declared â€śThe fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.â€ť Verse 7a is the key word of the whole Proverbs along with Pr 9:10 which is â€śthe fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdomâ€ť The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.
This verse shows the fundamental distinction between the proverb and other wisdom books in the world. Other books have many sounding good advice. People are also enjoying words from fortune cookies â€śWealth awaits you very soonâ€ť or â€śYou are very talented in many ways.â€ť The proverbs teach the wisdom of God who is the author of the world. The authority of this book is divine rather than human. The first thing to have true wisdom is to acknowledge God.
The beginning means the first step or first button of knowledge. As we know, knowledge is exploding in a very fast pace. According to a study about doubling time of human knowledge, human knowledge doubled every century until 1900. Now it does every 12 months, and by the year of 2020 it will only take 73 days for the volume of medical knowledge to double. The world is flooded with countless information. We donâ€™t know which knowledge is most important to know. The proverb answers that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. According to the book of James, wisdom and knowledge come both from heaven and earth. Those who fear God can have true knowledge and wisdom.
This verse also tells importance of fearing God in ungodly and secular world. Human history divides into two different streams; one stream that fears God and the other that does not. In the book of Genesis, we see two different lines i.e. Cain and his descendants who rejected God while Seth and his descendants who acknowledged him. In Noahs times, Noah and his family feared God while the rest of the world did not. The book of Samuel also shows how David feared God while Saul feared people. Hence, it is so important to have fear of God first before learning rest of knowledge. It is the prime knowledge. God himself trained his people to have this knowledge. The best example is Abraham. When God said to Abraham about the sacrifice of Isaac, he obeyed and tried to kill him. God stopped him and said "Do not lay a hand on the boy, Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." God wanted to see whether Abraham has that knowledge or not. Previously, Abraham feared men and made many shameful mistakes. God waited and trained him for many years to plant this knowledge in him. With that knowledge, Abraham was ready to obey and follow God.
Moses gave direction to Israelites before they entered their promised land â€śAnd now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,â€ť (Deuteronomy 10:12) Joshuaâ€™s final message to Israelites after entering the land was similar. â€śNow fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.â€ť (Joshua 24:14). However, when Israelites did not fear the LORD, they followed other gods, bringing his punishments upon themselves.
This lesson is true in our days as well. In 1962-1963, US supreme court removed bible reading and a prayer with 22 words from public schools. â€śAlmighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.â€ť Since they were removed, what happened? SAT scores sharply dropped. Sexually transmitted disease increased. Teenage pregnancies and teen births began to skyrocket. The rates of adultery, divorce, cohabitation and domestic abuse have increased dramatically. The top five complaints of teachers before the ban (1940-1962) were talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls and getting out of turn in line. After 1963, they were rape, robbery, assault, burglary and arson. In 1980, Ten Commandments were also prohibited from classrooms. When the fear of God was taken out from heart of people, the country is morally and spiritually in catastrophe now.
There is a story about a prison guard. One time the prison guard helped a prisoner with his literacy and taught him how to read and write. When the prisoner was released, the guard expected him to live a new life. However, later he was imprisoned again with a charge of document fraud. This shows why the first knowledge should be fear of the Lord. In the bible, there is an opposite case. We remember two criminals on the cross next to Jesus. . One of the criminals insulted Jesus â€śArent you the Christ? Save yourself and us!â€ť But the other criminal rebuked him â€śDont you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.â€ť He asked Jesus â€śJesus, remember me when you come into your kingdomâ€ť When they committed crimes, they did not fear God. But on the cross, one of them was penetrated with fear of God, which led him to true repentance and entrust his life into Jesusâ€™ hand. We can see that fear of the Lord is beginning of the knowledge of salvation. Isaiah 33:6 says â€śHe (The LORD) will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.â€ť
When one has fear of the Lord, he/she can have wisdom and knowledge that resolve their life problems. In the proverbs, various life problems are shown such as work, marriage, family, etc. Despite different nature of the problems, we could learn that acknowledging God as God should be our first step. Some of us may want to resolve our life matters. But rather to depend on life skills, we should humbly seek the will of God who holds all solution in his hands. Proverbs have full of wise advices which come from God who knows our life. Those who have fear of God will accept them as Godâ€™s instruction while fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Part III. Sinnerâ€™s enticement and wisdoms call
Verses 8 through 33 contain Solomonâ€™s warning about sins and the role of wisdom. Verse 8-9 says â€ś Listen, my son, to your fatherâ€™s instruction and do not forsake your motherâ€™s teaching.  They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.,â€ť Here, my son is young disciples who hear his wisdom. It is not necessary to limit the audience in blood relationship. Elisha called Elijah father (2 Kings 2:12) and Paul called Timothy my son (1 Timothy 1:2). We can understand verse 8 that Solomon directed young people to listen to godly teaching from their physical and spiritual parents who plant fear of God in them. When they pay attention to the teaching, they have a garland to grace their head and a chain to adorn their neck. As you remember, Roman Emperor wore a glorious garland on the head. The winner of the Olympic Games also wore a garland on the head and medals in a neck. Fruits of godly education is glory and honor.
Verse 10 through 14 show the warning about sinnersâ€™ enticement. â€śMy son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, â€śCome along with us; letâ€™s lie in wait for someoneâ€™s blood, letâ€™s waylay some harmless soul; letâ€™s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purseâ€ť Sinners do not fear God. Without hesitation, they would attack innocent souls and take their life to have properties. They are like the king Ahab who killed Naboth to take his vineyard. David also killed Uriah and took his wife.
This verse also gives warning about power of the allurements through peer-pressure. Here they said â€ścome with us, letâ€™s lie, letâ€™s waylay, letâ€™s swallowâ€ť In our social life, we may join something out of peer pressure to maintain a relationship with others. Living as a child of God in an ungodly environment, we need wisdom to overcome such pressure. What is Solomonâ€™s advice? â€śmy son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths;â€ť (15). He told the consequence of such sinners in verse 16-19. â€śfor their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.â€ť Their act was like spreading a net in full view of all the birds. Birds are not as smart as man. But they are not fool to enter the net spread before their eyes. They have a basic prudence. But sinners do not have because they are blinded to ill-gotten gain without fearing God. They think their plot seemed perfect and their sins can be hidden before God. But God knows everything and they will lose their lives in the end.
Verse 20-33 describe wisdomâ€™s call. Solomon personified wisdom as if she is actual person. It is not clear why wisdom is expressed in feminine term. It can be understood that it is poetic expression or grammatical gender occurring in translating Hebrews to English. Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raised her voice in the public squares. At the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech. Wisdom is not silent but passionately visits the crowd to tell the truth. With broken heart, she invites people who are vulnerable to sins. What is her message? She gave chance of repentance, warning of judgment, and promise of blessings. V22-23 says â€śHow long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.â€ť We see that wisdom calls aloud to give chance to sinners while the consequence of rejecting her is destruction. V 24 â€śbut since you rejected me when I called, you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebukeâ€ť V 29 â€śSince they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke.â€ť To such people, calamity, disasters, distress and troubles overtake them. Even thought they call to wisdom, she will not answer. However, what will happen to those who accept her? She promised â€śbut whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.â€ť Wisdom invites sinner for salvation. Response to wisdom is timely important.
This act of wisdom reminds us of Jonah who proclaimed Godâ€™s message in Nineveh. Ninevites heard his message and had national repentance from the lowest to the king, even animals. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. Likewise, God sent his servants as the messengers of wisdom to proclaim his messages. John the Baptist spoke the message of repentance. â€śRepent, kingdom of God is nearâ€ť
Thank and praise God for his wonderful wisdom to cry out to us for our salvation. Wisdom that brings us salvation is Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:24 says â€śChrist the power of God and the wisdom of Godâ€ť Jesus is wisdom incarnate. Those who accept Godâ€™s wisdom, Jesus, will be saved while his judgement will be poured out to those who reject him.
In this chapter, we clearly learn three things for our wise life: fear God, listen to his teachings, and accept wisdomâ€™s invitation. May God help each of us to fear him and follow his wisdom humbly.