It might not be as familiar as Psalm 23 or John 3:16, but Proverbs 1:7 ranks near the top of the most well-known passages from the Bible. The author reminds us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” I love the book of Proverbs, in part because it is filled with one-liners like this one, that seek to give us a quick bit of insight into how we can structure our lives well.
While many of the Proverbs are pretty straight forward, this one always left me with a bad taste in my mouth, mostly because of my misunderstanding of the word, “fear”. Like many people in the deep South, I was brought up with the belief that God was angry, constantly looking for an opportunity to punish human beings for our sin. If you did something wrong, let’s say cuss or drink, then God would ultimately punish you. This was, and still is, presupposed in much of the religion in the Deep South. My own mother was told that her dad died of a brain tumor because of an unconfessed sin in his life! Yes, friends, like many of you I was taught to fear God because God was on the warpath.
But as I got older and began to read and live into the teaching of Jesus, I realized that the way he talks about God was anything other than angry. He teaches us that God loves us, cares for us, and wants us to live well in the world. One of Jesus’ closest followers tells us that far from needing to fear God, that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Friends, if you want to know who God is, then the best thing to do is to look at Jesus. He provides the framework and proper lens for us to see God! If that is the case, then what are we supposed to go with Proverbs 1:7?
As it turns out, we need a better understanding of the word “fear”. In the Hebrew consciousness, the word fear doesn’t mean to be afraid. Instead, to “fear the Lord” means to have a great wonder and awe. The book of Proverbs is not asking us to think of God as a cosmic tyrant. That couldn’t be any further from the truth! To fear the Lord means to have a love and reverence for the Creator of all things. A proper understanding of Proverbs 1:7 is a baseline for how to see God and each other! So, as we begin our journey through the Proverbs together, let’s begin by knowing and trusting in these short words of wisdom.
Grace and Peace,