Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 15:33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, And before honor is humility.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.
I’m sure if you’ve been around church very long you’ve probably heard that proverb many times, but what exactly is the Fear of the Lord and why is it the beginning of wisdom?
The command to “fear the Lord” (which we see throughout Scripture in different forms) has been somewhat problematic with both the Church and unbelievers. The unbelievers often turn away because they see God demanding we stand in terror of Him, and the Church often underplays it and defines it a merely respectful reverence. While the reverence aspect is certainly involved, both the Hebrew and Greek words (yir’ah and phobos respectively and their variations) are used for panic, dread, terror, you know the classic definition of fear. The fact is both are right, but reverence and terror seem to be contradictory so how do they converge?
Pastor Matt Chandler once used the analogy of this trip that he had taken, somewhere in South America. If i’m recalling the story correctly, his group had climbed over this mountain and came across this huge waterfall. He talked about how breathtaking and awesome it was, but also powerful and deadly to somebody that didn’t take care in how they approached it. The same is true for God and more so. In fact, if you look at a dictionary, the definition of reverence will lead you to Awe, and the definition of awe will lead you to fear. This convergence of reverence and terror is even referenced in Scripture.
1Chronicles 16:23-30 23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
24 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and he is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy are in his place. 28 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
29 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
30 tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, whereis my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
Why should we fear Him? Well, because He is a just God, and we have broken His law. As a just judge He will punish all sin, and everyone has sinned for in our natural state our hearts are wicked. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans.6:23, Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9). The thought of that SHOULD scare you. It certainly did many of those that encountered Him directly, especially the first time. Moses (Exodus 3:4-6), Gideon (Judges 6:22-23), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) are but a few examples. If it the thought of being on the wrong side of God doesn’t scare you it is pride, a low view of God, or both.
In his, famous book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains: God is the only comfort, He is also the Supreme terror: the thing we most need, and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible, ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. they need to think agin, They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger–according to the way we react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.
This brings me to the beginning of wisdom. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon (the presumed author) talks about the futility of life. How all the accomplishments of life (of which nobody has more than him) were all worthless because everything a man does will be taken in death and he will be remembered no more, making life “vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:5, 5:13-17, 9:5). Furthermore our sins require consequences not only in this life, but the judgement in the next (Revelation 20:13-15,Daniel 12:2) Yet there is hope, for God promises protection from His holy wrath to those who seek refuge in Him.
Proverbs 22:3 & 27:12 The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 14:26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Psalm 103:13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
Psalm 31:19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
See the connection between wisdom and fear? It would be foolish to know you are in earthly danger and not seek protection, how much more so when the danger is divine? As a loving God, He shown grace to us and made a way out, through Jesus Christ, for those that repent. Now in a similar fashion to how Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 2:10, there are two types of sorrow, the worldly kind that leads to death and the godly kind that leads to repentance, so it is with fear. There’s a fear of the Lord that leads to repenting and revering the Lord and there’s the ungodly kind that hides in terror of the wrath to come. Likewise how “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17), so is fear without repentance. This distinction is noted by Moses at Sinai with the Israel trembling before the mountain as God descended upon it.
Exodus 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
Likewise there are points in Scripture where people are said to fear God, acknowledging His power, but still live in wickedness and don’t repent. Some examples being the servants of Pharaoh during the plagues (Exodus 9:20), The Assyrians resettling Samaria after conquering Israel (2 Kings 17:24-41), and in Nebuchadnezzar who has a cycle of recognizing the power of God, but insisting on elevating himself to a position of deity (Daniel 2:46-47, 3;1-7,26-29, 4:28-37).
The holy fear of God is wisdom because it leads us toward obedience in His statutes. They are for our good and not our harm.
Proverbs 2:1-11 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
Deuteronomy 4:40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
Proverbs 4:1-2 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
2 for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
Psalm 93:5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.
You may say, “All this talk of fear, what of faith?” Well faith is just as important. The holy fear of the Lord and true faith in Him are inseparable. Fearing the Lord is often tied in Scripture to keeping the commandments of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:6, Joshua 24:14, 1 Samuel 12:24) and as referenced earlier faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Hebrews and Ephesians also mention the connection to saving faith.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
Some may be thinking Fear is Old Testament and Faith is New Testament, after all the Bible says not to fear 365 times (once for every day of the year) right and John states in his first epistle states “There is no fear in love”. Again there are two different types of fear, and the holy fear of the Lord is not what John is referencing. The Testaments do not conflict and neither do faith and fear. The New Testament directly addresses fearing God, even from Christ’s Own mouth.
Luke 1:50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Acts 10:35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Holy terror drives us away from sin while a righteous faith trusts in His promises. Lacking either you call God a liar, either not trusting Him at His word to forgive as He said He would or believing He won’t punish or discipline you for your sins taking advantage of His grace and mercy (hyper-grace).
I bring all this up because it easy to lose our sense of fear of the Lord. It seems fewer and fewer churches properly address this, if at all. Faith and grace are the popular topics with health and wealth not far behind. Without the fear of the Lord a church loses it’s wisdom. From teaching hyper-grace(Proverbs 8:12 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…), to prosperity gospel (Proverbs 22:4 By humility and the fear of the Lord Are riches and honor and life). even to falsely prophesying in the name of the Lord (Deutornomy 18:20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’) Lack of holy fear has lead us astray. Let us return to the fear of the Lord with faith in His promises in Christ.
Job 28:20-28 “From where then does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
And concealed from the birds of the air.
22 Destruction and Death say,
‘We have heard a report about it with our ears.’
23 God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24 For He looks to the ends of the earth,
And sees under the whole heavens,
25 To establish a weight for the wind,
And apportion the waters by measure.
26 When He made a law for the rain,
And a path for the thunderbolt,
27 Then He saw wisdom and declared it;
He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
28 And to man He said,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’ ”
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.