In the first chapter of Proverbs, verse 7 the author declares that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”[i] If fear leads to knowledge of God, would not knowledge make us less fearful of God? Yet being fearful of God, according to Proverbs, is the doorway to wisdom and not fearing God is an act of foolish people. Throughout the wisdom literature, fear and wisdom are integrated into the scriptural ethos. So in order to understand the intention of the wisdom writing we must understand the symbiotic relationship between fear and wisdom.
The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary tells us wisdom is: “1 a : accumulated philosophic or scientific learning : KNOWLEDGE b : ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : INSIGHT c : good sense : JUDGMENT d : generally accepted belief: 2 : a wise attitude, belief, or course of action”[ii]
Wisdom appears to have three components; knowledge, insight and judgment. The Biblical history books provide knowledge of God’s involvement in human affairs. The books of the prophets give us insight into God’s justice and mercy while the law book establishes Judgments by which we measure human commitment and obedience. These three building blocks determine how Wisdom is gained, perceived and applied in our lives and in the world.
What is the role of fear in Biblical wisdom? The dictionary defines Biblical fear as
“3: profound reverence and awe esp. toward God.”[iii] Fear does not imply apprehension or trepidation of God’s wrath. When we revere or are in awe of someone or thing, we acknowledge it as a source of something desirable or worthy. Reverence and awe entails an acknowledgement of where wisdom comes from. We are in “awe” of this wisdom and seek it because it is foolish to reject God’s gift of wisdom. Fear of the LORD indicates that we should revere the source of wisdom and apply it in accordance with God’s purpose. The simplest, though not the only, definition of Biblical wisdom literature is recognizing and venerating the source of knowledge and allowing it to teach us how to understand and apply God’s wisdom in our lives.
[i] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha, Proverbs 1:7 (Kindle Locations 28042-28043). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 398109-398110). Merriam-Webster, Inc. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 152230-152231). Merriam-Webster, Inc. Kindle Edition.