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The Fear of the Lord

A few notes I’ve been compiling regarding Proverbs 1:7….

First, I wanted to look at how the fear of the Lord is described and defined in the book of Proverbs in particular:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” ~Proverbs 1:7

“If you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” ~Proverbs 2:4-7a

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” ~Proverbs 3:5-7

“The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate…. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” ~Proverbs 8:13; 35-36

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” ~Proverbs 9:10

“In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” ~Proverbs 14:26

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” ~Proverbs 14:27

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.” ~Proverbs 16:6

“Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” ~Proverbs 23:17-18

Next, I wanted to see how the fear of the Lord is described and defined elsewhere in Scripture…so here are just a few out of many passages discussing the fear of the Lord:

“Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD…. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” ~Psalm 34:11, 14

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” ~Psalm 111:10

“And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.'” ~Job 28:28

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?…. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen…. You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his rules, and his commandments always.” ~Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 20-21; 11:1

These verses in particular brought it sharply to my attention once again how the fear of the Lord, the love of the Lord, and obedience to him are so intertwined that they cannot be disconnected without the destruction of them. It seems to me that a biblical definition — by which I mean a definition of these terms drawn from Scripture itself — sets the love of God and the fear of God together in such a way that they must both be present, lest neither is complete. A number of New Testament passages explicitly build on this concept, also describing its result in godly obedience:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” ~John 14:21, 23-24

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” ~1 John 2:3-6

Throughout all of these passages, I also couldn’t help but notice how the fear of the Lord directly leads to a departure from evil, from separating one’s self from sin — which reminded me of this beautiful passage, penned by the apostle Paul:

“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” ~2 Timothy 2:19

But there were a few more things that I noticed from these passages, as well….

It is intriguing to me how fear and knowledge are linked in Proverbs 1:7; “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The latter part of the verse clearly implies that the fool had at least some knowledge, even though the first part explicitly states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. So, when I compare Scripture with Scripture, I find that indeed the fool knew something, but refused whatever knowledge he had. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Rom. 1:28

Thus, the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of knowledge; for from apart from this fear of God, the knowledge of the truth that one might have (even without the further instruction in wisdom that Solomon is preparing to give to his son) is refused. Moreover, I find that this fear — and the resulting knowledge and wisdom — comes only by faith (Hebrews 11:1-3). Scripture is very clear that true knowledge of God, belief in the truth, and fear and love of God is only by faith; for it is explicitly stated that those who prove themselves fools “did not see fit to acknowledge God.” This, again, implies that something was made known to them apart from faith, though they refused to retain it as knowledge, in order to believe a lie, calling darkness, light and light, darkness. And this is sin and there is no fear of the Lord in it. “For whatever is not from faith is sin.” ~Romans 14:23

What ultimately undermines the retention of this knowledge in faith, and its resultant growth into wisdom and the hatred of evil, is the rejection of the revelation of God. The question of Genesis 3:1 is the root of this, as it is a rejection of the knowledge that God has revealed. “Has God said?” How many different ways that this can branch out, watered by the thirst of sinful pride!

When the context of the commandment is questioned — or subtly redefined — when ulterior motives and false or slanted context is proposed (as in Genesis 3:1), then what is happening is that the Word of God is being questioned upon a different basis than from what is true and real. And hence it is that men, counting themselves wiser than God, refuse the knowledge that he gives — they do not like to have God, as he defines himself, in their paradigm. As they question his command — his revelation — they redefine the context and thus redefine the meaning and intention of his law-word. This is the manner of a fool — and this is sin. And thus it is that no one has excuse before God (Romans 1:20).

This reminds me of a tangentially-related subject: we do learn via our senses — there are numerous passages of Scripture commanding to listen, hear, see, and then to remember what has been perceived through the use of the eyes and ears and hands — but the way that we come to gain and retain knowledge is not entirely of our senses, for we are spiritual creatures. We, as made in the image of God, have innate categories of thought, a capacity for language, and a logical framework for thought itself. The old idea of tabula rasa is not taught in the Word of God and is actually antithetical to it.

In summary, then, knowledge and wisdom are not inaccessible — knowledge and wisdom and the fear of the Lord may be sought out and found, as we, on the other side of the coin, repent, seeking to replace our definitions and our own wills with the will of the Father.

“Who can utter the might deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise? Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” ~Psalm 106:2-3