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May 23, 2020

The Beginning of Wisdom (1): The Fear of the Lord

Today I want to take a brief look at the quality we see held up in multiple places as the beginning of wisdom, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7; Prov. 9:10; Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10).

If we want to know what wisdom is, and Scripture repeatedly says it begins with this single quality, the fear of the Lord, we should try to determine what that quality involves. It’s easy, I think, for any of us to assume we’re most of the time going to pretty easily know what the Bible means since we’re reading it in English and it was written to be understood. But the Bible shares one feature with all ancient literature, and it’s that it has to be read carefully and reflectively, not least because it does not always convey its meaning immediately and without much interpretive effort. This is especially true of Wisdom Literature.

Interestingly, in the passages noted above, the precise meaning of the phrase the fear of the Lord is not given – meaning that Scripture expects us either to already know or to be prepared to go searching for it. As I hope to show in this series of posts, a key tenet of a wisdom-seeker is not assuming he or she already knows and so doesn’t need to go looking. Myself, I think if we go looking for the meaning of the phrase, closely attending to words and phrases and other contextual clues, we will find it.

For instance, the first 6 verses of Proverbs 1 describe the wisdom of Solomon, a man especially illumined by the Lord so that he was the wisest man who ever lived or ever would live (I Kings 3:12). Following this list of how Solomon’s wisdom might affect one’s life, we read about “the fear of the Lord.” It seems to be a summary of the attitude we should have as we read Solomon’s words, illumined as they are by God. By heeding Solomon’s words, we fear the Lord who gave Solomon surpassing wisdom – and this is the beginning of wisdom for us.

But let’s not stop with this seeming straightforward exhortation: heed Solomon’s words. A wisdom-seeker who is not granted, as Solomon was, direct insight by the Lord, but who is instead told to pay attention to Solomon’s words, will take that to heart and begin attentively contemplating Solomon’s words. In the next few posts, I will try to show what that looks like.