“The fear of the Lord is the beginning[i] of wisdom[ii]….” is a statement in Proverbs that seems as old and worn in this modern age as it is familiar. (Prov. 9:10) We tend to gloss over the statement as if it were a simplistic notion from a different time in human history, like an obsolete tool that has little present use or a crude instrument that causes more damage than the good it was once thought to produce (as if we now know better than to consider fear to be helpful in these enlightened times). But, we ignore this time worn adage to our detriment.
We tend to think of “fear” in visceral terms, as we might fear being mugged on an inner city street or fear someone breaking into our home to do us harm, but that is a crude, simplistic idea of what it means to fear God. When we gloss over terminology or statements that do not immediately sit well with us, we fail to grasp what is intended, and we close ourselves off from deeper understanding. The term, “fear”, in modern parlance, as it relates to God in the Bible, has taken on a base meaning that clouds a deeper and more real understanding.
Fearing God in one sense and in very simple terms means being mindful or respectful of God. We must fear God, be mindful of Him (respect Him) to have godly wisdom. We must be mindful of God and respectful of who God is, and that is the place to start on the road to wisdom. We must consider the perspective of God to understand our place in the world and how we relate to the world and to God.
If there is a God who created us and the world that we live in, should we not be mindful of such a God? Should we not try to understand the world from such a God’s perspective?
Should we not be mindful of the sort of being such a God is? In considering a God powerful enough to create the Universe, and us, the response of fear includes elements of not just consideration and respect, but of awe – and maybe even some visceral fear as well. That is, after all, a natural response of a finite, tenuous being like a woman or a man, whose life is but “dust in the wind” to an infinite, all-powerful, eternal, Creator God.
The emphasis in the phrase in the original Hebrew is on “the beginning of wisdom” (not on fear, as we might suspect). Fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, a wisdom that only an all-knowing God can impart to finite beings such as we are. And, incredibly, we find that God is not poised to strike us and cut us off. God invites us to come near and to partake of His wisdom! (Prov. 8)
Fear of the Lord is the beginning, but love is the ending! God is Love (1 John. 4:8), and perfect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:7)
How thankful I am, Lord, for Your incredible love! For your faithfulness! Thank You for being approachable as I came awkwardly and hesitantly before You. Thank you, Lord, for Your loving kindness and Your mercies that are new every morning! Thank you that that You do not leave us in fear, trembling, but You tell us to fear not and bid us come and to learn from You as a Father comforts a child on His lap. What a great and awesome and loving God You are!
[i] Teillah means beginning; (figuratively) the initial and foundational step – the necessary stage which permits further progress.
[ii] Oma means wisdom, skillful application of knowledge; used in relation to believers as a subset of faith given by God, especially for problem-solving in keeping with the preferred will of God; revelation in the renewed mind as the Lord guides believers t deal with situations God’s way; act wisely; wise. Biblical wisdom is not merely developed human character; but rather it is the vehicle to grasp what is successful in God’s eyes. It applies to God’s persuasion (the inworking of faith) to the practical situations of life. Oma (“wisdom”) occurs more than 100 times in Proverbs alone. It always stands distinct from mere philosophical or theoretical knowledge. Faith and wisdom are closely connected (see James 1:11). Hearing from God (receiving faith) and wisdom go hand in hand. (cf. Hab. 2:1-4; and Prov. 2:9-10) Being clever or shrewd can be a merely human trait, but biblical wisdom is divinely imparted.
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