After introducing the benefits of reading the book in verses 1–6, Proverbs 1:7 provides the theological basis for reading the rest of the book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” As opposed to the fool (or simply the naïve), the wise person bases his life upon the foundation of “the fear of the Lord.” But what does this mean?
The relationship between wisdom and “the fear of the Lord” is by no means foreign to the Old Testament, especially those books that are often called wisdom literature (see for example Job 28:28; Eccl 12:13; or Ps 111:10). For it to be such an important and somewhat prevalent concept, it is not explained in detail.
The fear of the Lord certainly entails a profound respect for God. Moreover, in that God is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29), it may also involve a certain amount of trepidation that produces obedience. For example, Psalm 2:11 says, “Worship the Lord with fear And rejoice with trembling.” Whatever the case, the fear of the Lord certainly necessitates a proper perspective on one’s relationship with God. A proper understanding of one’s relationship with the Lord is both the starting point and the foundation upon which a lifelong pursuit of wisdom is built. Such an understanding can be better understood by observing some clear parallels between Proverbs 1:1–7 and Genesis 3.
In Proverbs 1:3, wisdom is said to provide instruction “in wise behavior,” which uses the same term as Genesis 3:6 where the woman looks at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and recognizes, among other things, that it was fit “to make one wise.” Moreover, in Genesis 3:1 the serpent is described as “crafty,” whereas wisdom is said to give “prudence” (literally “craftiness”) to the simple minded. Thus, Genesis 3 paints a picture of the fall of man with strokes of wisdom. It is significant, then, that Moses presents the sin of Adam and Eve not as a gross act of immorality but as an unfortunate act of folly.
The fall was above all a grave miscalculation on their part. The right choice for Adam and Eve was to submit willfully to the authority of their God, who had graciously provided them with all things and who had only asked for their obedience and worship. They were to receive gladly everything they needed from God’s hand, including knowledge and wisdom. Instead, they chose to seek that which would make them wise without reference to the only One who could ultimately provide that wisdom. They opted for a life of self-rule, not submission.
O, how many times we find ourselves living such an autonomous life! For us, the fear of the Lord begins with recognition of and submission to the authority of God over our life. We make foolish, sinful choices when we despise godly wisdom and live our lives as if we are calling the shots. Such an attitude will always end in folly, just ask Adam and Eve.