- The Explore the Bible Lesson for June 7 focuses on Proverbs 1:7-19.
Since early childhood, I have been driven by a desire for knowledge and understanding. I was the student who constantly asked questions in school. I would read Wikipedia articles for fun—and sometimes still do. I just graduated from seminary with my master’s degree and, Lord willing, I hope to pursue further studies soon.
Yet as valuable as school and individual study may be, these are not the ultimate or most important sources of knowledge. That honor belongs only to a right relationship with God.
Proverbs 1:7 functions as a sort of “thesis statement” for the rest of Proverbs, the unifying principle that binds together the various sayings, teachings, and aphorisms found in this diverse and unique book. It says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
It is important to understand that “fear of the Lord” is not exactly the same kind of “fear” you might briefly feel when your life and wellbeing are in danger. This is not a mere animal reflex, a fight-or-flight jolt.
No, fear of the Lord is best understood as reverence and awe for God, which in turns prompts humble submission to his word and will. It is only this posture, this humility and faithfulness before almighty God, which can provide a foundation for true knowledge. God himself is truth and therefore is the source of all truth; if you want knowledge, you must receive it from him.
I pity the fool
Proverbs 1:7 contrasts true wisdom with foolishness. Specifically, our passage warns that “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” We often understand a “fool” to be a stupid person. While this is not exactly wrong, the Old Testament definition of a fool is more. A fool is an immoral person, someone who ignores or rejects the will of God.
Sadly, fools often consider their rebellion to be a mark of wisdom. As far back as the serpent’s deception of Eve in the Garden, Satan has been tempting humanity with the delusion that true understanding comes not from trusting and obeying God, but from rejecting his word.
The rest of our passage elaborates upon this idea. The writer encourages his son not to neglect his parents’ teaching (1:8-9) and describes foolish people (1:10-19). These fools are aggressively sinful. They seek opportunities to harm innocent people for selfish gain. Yet their lives spent in pursuit of “ill-gotten gain” will prove to be their own punishment. The path of foolishness is a path of self-destruction, a path that leads to ruin and separation from God.
The world often rewards a certain kind of sinful “wisdom,” a shrewdness and cunning that maximizes one’s own self-interest at the expense of others. It probably wouldn’t take more than a few minutes for you to think of several examples of people whose selfishness and manipulation of others has apparently been rewarded with prosperity.
Yet this temptation is not limited to others. Each and every one of us is a sinner, a person born with a sinful nature and trapped under the curse (Ephesians 2:1-3). And our sin leads us to devise various ways to get what we want, regardless of how it harms others and regardless of what God wants.
The wisdom of God revealed
So, what hope is there for sorry fools like us? Our sin has alienated us from God, and we by nature do not “fear the Lord.” Can we ever receive wisdom from above? Have we any chance of ever grasping understanding from God?
The answer is, “Yes.” God, in his grace, has spoken to humanity many times and in many ways (Hebrews 1:1), revealing his heavenly wisdom and guiding others back into a relationship with him. Yet for generations and generations he did not reveal the full measure of his wisdom. His revelation was partial and incremental, slowly but surely building to its fullness and climax. Now, in Jesus Christ, God has given humanity his most full and definitive self-revelation (Hebrews 1:2).
The Apostle Paul describes Jesus, particularly Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, as “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The great paradox of the cross is that God’s greatest revelation of his divine wisdom appears like absolute foolishness to the hardened and unbelieving heart (1:18). Just as “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), fools despise the cross as stupidity.
But the believer knows Jesus and his cross are “the beginning of knowledge.” Christ provides us with the lens through which we view the rest of reality, and because of the reconciliation we have with God through Christ’s blood, we now have a restored relationship with our heavenly Father. We now can once again fear the Lord.
Earthly study is an invaluable gift. But no number of degrees can confer true wisdom. Understanding starts not in the classroom or the library, but at the feet of the living God. Only when we know and fear him can we start to truly understand the world in which we live.
Joshua Sharp is a writer and Bible teacher living in Waco. He holds a Master of Divinity from Truett Theological Seminary.