fear of the Lord

The Blessings of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-7)

  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This is how JR Tolkien begins the tale of Bilbo Baggins. Baggins is a respectable, orderly and predictable hobbit. In the first few pages, he is encountered by the great wizard Gandalf. Gandalf looks at this respectable, yet boring hobbit and says, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone.” Bilbo stared back at Gandalf in full agreement. He replied, “I should think so - in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them. We don't want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”[1] Bilbo had no time for adventures because they were ripe with inconveniences, as they were, “nasty disturbing uncomfortable things.”

      Bilbo would go on an adventure and his adventure changed his life forever. We are about to go on an adventure through the book of Proverbs. It may be a disturbing and uncomfortable journey, but it may also change your life forever. Adventures bring excitement and intrigue. They bring challenges and pitfalls. They expose weaknesses and hidden strengths. Adventures are revealing. And I pray that our adventure through the book of Proverbs will be revealing and yet invigorating. Proverbs is a book of wisdom. The book is mostly made of wisdom gathered from King Solomon, although there is a collection of sayings taken from other sources as well. Solomon is the main author of Proverbs, but he is not the one who compiled it together as a book. 

      Solomon became king as a young man. He had his faults, but early in his reign he was given the golden ticket from the Lord. The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him what He should give to him. Solomon replied,

“You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:6-9)
And the Lord answer Solomon prayer,

Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” (1 Kings 3:11-14)

Solomon asked for wisdom and God answered that prayer in abundance. And Solomon’s prayer continues to bless us as we have the treasure trove of wisdom left for us to glean from as we journey through his Proverbs.

      Over the next several weeks, we will examine the wisdom in the Proverbs. Lord willing, we will see the wisdom of work, friendships, parenting, relationships, money, communication, and education, but every adventure must first have a beginning. 

The Beginning of Wisdom

      The first seven verses of Proverbs are known as the preamble. In these seven verses, the goal of the book and encouragement to approach its contents with excitement is laid before us. Proverbs 1:1-7,
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs is a book of wisdom and the very beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.

      Every Christian should memorize Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Someone may have two PhD’s and tenure at the most prestigious university in nation, but still not have knowledge. True knowledge only begins with the fear of the Lord.  This is very important, because Proverbs primarily is not speaking about intellectual aptitude. Proverbs is focused on the direction of that aptitude. If someone does not have the fear of the Lord, then they do not have true knowledge. Someone may have a tremendous mind to understand the world, but will never use it as it was intended until they fear the Lord.

      When I was four years old, my family lived in Cedar Rapids, IA. The Midwest was known for tornados. I’ll never forget the first tornado that I witnessed as a four year old. I remember going out my front door to see the trees bending with the power of the wind, trash blowing down the street, lightening filling up the sky and the booming of thunder that felt like it was right on top of me. It is hard to grasp the feelings of a four year old, but I knew that I did not want to mess with the power that I witnessed that night. Even though I saw the ferocity of the storm, I was safe from it in the arms of my parents. John Piper says, “The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it. . . . Oh, the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself![2]

      The beginning of knowledge is to understand the awesome power of a holy and righteous God and that God’s hatred towards sin. The beginning of knowledge is to fear the Lord as our Judge. It is appointed for a man to die once and then face judgment. We all will be held accountable for our sin.  So how can we be safe in the storm of God’s wrathful judgment? The answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to be our refuge in the storm by taking our judgment for us on the cross. Jesus has promised us protection from the storm. He died in our place and on the third day rose from the dead and ever lives to intercede for his people to protect us from the wrath to come. The fear of the Lord is “to turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:9b-10).

      So as we begin this adventure in our search for wisdom through the Proverbs, have you had your beginning with God? Do you fear the Lord? Have you turned from idols to serve the living and true God and wait for His Son to deliver from the wrath to come? Do you recognize the awful power of God, but stand safe in his arms protected from his ferocious power? If you do not fear the Lord, you will never gain true wisdom.

      Of course I say that because I have the assumption that you want wisdom. I believe that everyone wants to be happy. Everyone does things because they believe those things will ultimately make them happy. I eat ice cream at 10 pm because I believe that yummy goodness will bring me a bit of delight. Other times, I chose not to eat ice cream at 10 pm because I believe a favorable number on the scale the next morning will bring me more happiness than a giant bowl of Moose Tracks. My choices are dictated by my own understanding of happiness in that moment. I believe that you should pursue wisdom with all your strength, because I believe that God’s wisdom will ultimately make you the happiest.

The Benefits of Wisdom

      The entire book of Proverbs offers countless examples of the benefits of wisdom, but as Duane Garrett writes in his commentary, the prologue…

Challenges the reader to commit himself to the mastery of this book. It offers the significant benefit of acquiring the key to attaining capability in life. By this book, one can learn the principles that determine success or failure in the major arenas of human activity, including business, personal relationships, family life, and community life. Verses 2–6 describe the purpose of the book, that is, to teach wisdom to the reader.[3]

Garrett also provides four categories of benefits listed in these 5 verses. The categories are: practical, intellectual, moral and life’s mysteries. Let me read the verses again and see if you can see these four categories before we break them down together.

To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. (Proverbs 1:2-6)

I believe it is more beneficial to study this book thematically rather than verse by verse, because the book gives categories that affect every area of my life. One of the reasons people do not read the Bible is because they do not believe the Bible is relevant to their lives. You will see through these four categories just how relevant this book is for our lives.

Practical – the book is to educate people with wisdom and instruction. The meaning of wisdom would include the arena common sense, how to cope with daily problems, and occupational skills. Studying proverbs will help you become a better employee at your job, and instruct you in how to speak to your spouse and how to choose friends. It reminds loud people like me to be quiet in the morning to allow people to wake up. It holds tremendous practical and relevant advice.

Intellectual – It does not give just practical advice, but intellectual knowledge. This is implied with words like understanding and knowledge. This book provides intellectual knowledge not only to the youth which is the primary audience, but to the wise. It says, “Let the wise hear and increase in his learning.” We never outgrow our need to learn. Living with a learning position helps to keep us humble. Young and old should practice the art of learning on their never-ending adventure to gain wisdom.

Moral – The book pushes a biblical morality. There are right and wrong ways to live. The words to learn instruction in righteousness, in justice and equity all apply to morality. In a society that is increasingly becoming more lax in its morality, it would benefit us to give ourselves to examine the specific morality the Bible advocates, especially in our speech and relationships. When Solomon addresses the simple, he is addressing the immoral person. The immoral person is simple because he forgets that he will answer for all his deeds. Someone is simple because they do not have a proper fear of the Lord; therefore they have no knowledge making them simple. It is there lack of morality that makes them simple not their intellect.

Mysteries of life – The one who has wisdom can understand proverbs and wise sayings and riddles. The deep questions of life can be answered as one seeks the wisdom held in the book of Proverbs, but these things can only be understood when one has a proper disposition before God.

      All that is to say, there are tremendous, absolutely tremendous, benefits of seeking the wisdom found in the Proverbs. If you want to be truly happy, you will study the proverbs. If you want to have happy friendships, study the proverbs. If you want to have a happy bank account, study the proverbs. If you want happiness, study the Proverbs and live God’s way, but know there is a battle for your true happiness.

The Battle for Wisdom

      With all the benefits of wisdom built on the beginning of wisdom in the fear of the Lord, it seems like a no-brainer. Why would anyone not choose wisdom? Well the answer is seen at the end of the Prologue in verse 7. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” There is the way of wisdom and the way of folly. Wisdom gives her reasons and folly gives her reasons. There is a battle for what you will believe will ultimately bring you joy. 

      The first nine chapters of Proverbs address your heart, so that you will be prepared for all the nuggets of gold that fall on the following pages. You must to first understand the why before you will ever get to the what. At the end of the opening section Proverbs 9 pits wisdom and folly together again. Notice how wisdom has built her house and calls out to the simple, but so does folly!! Wisdom calls to the simple, Proverbs 9:1-6,

Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

And folly calls to the simple, Proverbs 9:13-18,

The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (Proverbs 9:13-18)

The battle is on.  Wisdom makes her case and folly makes hers. Which will you choose?

      This battle should not surprise us, for it is a battle that the church has always faced. The world thinks the things of God are folly, but we believe Christ is the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:24 refers to Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” and 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “And because of him (referring to God) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” The battle is not new, but it is very real. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. He has made his case. Jesus says, “Whoever is simple, let him turn to me.” Jesus invites you to leave your simple ways and to walk in the way of insight. 

      God wants us to live in wisdom. God wants us to live in Christ. Proverbs are really just practical ways we can choose Christ. We choose Christ in our friendships. We choose Christ in our communication. We choose Christ in our money. We choose Christ. To study Proverbs is to study how we can live for Christ. There is a purpose in our lives. God wants to use the lives of his church to display his glory to the nations. Paul writes of his mission as a minister of the gospel in Ephesians, which provides another reason we should battle for wisdom in our adventure through the Proverbs. Paul writes,

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:7-10)

Beloved, do you see why studying the Proverbs is so powerful? We want to display the manifold wisdom of God to the nations and to the heavenly community. We want to show that we have been crucified with Christ and the lives we now live we live by faith in the Son of God.

      We show we have faith in the day to day activities of our lives. We show our faith in how we treat our spouse, raise our kids, work at our jobs, handle our money, and speak to our neighbor. And we must always remember that we cannot do this in our flesh. We cannot “white-knuckle” our way to obeying the Proverbs. If we are not careful, the study of Proverbs will become just another avenue to create legalists. We heed the Proverbs by the grace of God given through the power of the Holy Spirit as we grow in the fear of the Lord. Growing in wisdom in all the various aspects of our lives is a life-long process as we walk by faith not by sight. The righteous will live by faith. We battle to believe that God’s way is better than the world’s way. We battle to open ourselves to Lady Wisdom and close ourselves off to woman Folly who is loud, seductive, but knows nothing. And we fight this battle in the Spirit, for all who are led by the Spirit are sons and daughters of God.

      If you want to live for Jesus in the day to day, let us choose wisdom, the wisdom of God. Let us choose Jesus Christ. Let the adventure begin. Let our proverbial adventure disrupt our lives so that we can be further transformed into the image of the Son as we live in the blessings of wisdom.

[1] Tolkein, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973. Pg. 3
[2] Piper, John. The Pleasures of God. Multnomah Books. 2000. Pg 186-187.
[3] Garrett, D. A. (1993). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs (Vol. 14, p. 67). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
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