The introduction to the book of Proverbs begins with a thesis statement that serves as a foundation upon which the rest of the book is built, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Here we are told that fearing the Lord is crucial to right understanding and right living. And while this concept of fearing God is indeed crucial, it can also be easily misunderstood.
What is the fear of the Lord? When we go looking for the answer to this question, we are often presented with two interpretations that exist on the far extremes. Some are quick to emphasize that the word fear is most naturally understood as a kind of terror, anxiety, or fear of judgement. On the other hand, others will swing far to the other side and emphasize that this idea of fear carries a sense of reverence, awe, and respect and should not actually include any element of ‘real fear,’ at all.
In the middle, however, is where the best, most helpful answer can be found. God is perfectly holy, just, and righteous, and just like the prophet Isaiah pronounced “woe is me!” when he witnessed a vision of God, there is a genuine sense in which God’s immense power and greatness should stir a sense of genuine fear in all people. At the same time, for those who are in Christ and who have no condemnation left to bear, this concept of fear does also genuinely include a sense of reverence, awe, respect, and submission that leads us to listen to his words, obey his commands, and agree with him about what he says.
All truth and knowledge come from God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, he is all-knowing, and he is all-powerful. When the book of Proverbs tell us that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, it means that truly knowing God— respecting and listening to his revelation about the world and aligning ourselves with all of his ways that have been revealed to us—allows us to begin to live our lives they way they were meant to be lived and understand life as it truly is. This fear carries a sense of submitting ourselves humbly and gladly to everything that God has revealed. It means understanding who we are before God, believing what he says about right and wrong, and living our lives accordingly.
When we know God, when we know his word, and when we joyfully follow his commands, Proverbs tells us that this is the beginning of wisdom and the beginning of the path to living the good life. And so, as God’s people, freed from the terror of judgement, may we submit ourselves joyfully to God who is the source of all knowledge and truth, and in so doing, may we find that we have everything we need to live our lives wisely even as the book of Proverbs commends!
All the best,