Proverbs: The Beginning of Knowledge — Jesse Tubbs

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

The wise sage was a university professor. He was hounded by a young student that constantly pleaded, “Give me knowledge.” One day the wise man walked along the riverside. The young student was close behind, and continuing his plea, “Give me knowledge.” The old man slowly walked out into the water, the young man following closely. Suddenly, the sage grabbed the student and pushed him down under the water until the young man began to struggle for breath. Finally, the old man jerked the student out of the water and said to him, “Now, what do you want?” Gasping, he cried loudly, “Give me air!” The sage said, “When you desire knowledge as badly as you wanted air, you shall have it.”

Knowledge is the thing that we must want. Information is usually all we get, and much of that us useless. Solomon goes on to say that “wisdom is the principal thing” (Prov. 4:7). How does man process knowledge? It is easy to see why Proverbs is such a wonderful book to help man unravel the mysteries of life and living.

First, we need to begin with the “beginning.”  There is a simple and literal meaning – it is the starting point. There are highly intelligent people that do not have this knowledge. Paul describes the proud and disobedient people of the last days as “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim.3:7). According to Strong’s Concordance, the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of, or it is the principal part of knowledge.

But what is this kind of fear? In our common English, we use this word for phobias, or of things that are possible dangers to us. I have a fear of snakes and things that go bump in the dark. This cannot be the kind of “fear” that the wise man had in mind. Why? It is because the New Testament tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Let us consider godly men of the Old Testament and learn from their experiences. Consider Job’s fierce devotion. He is described as a man that “was perfect and upright, and one that feared God…” (Job 1:1). When Satan shows up, God repeats this same description. Just in case you are still not convinced that Job fears God, you can see Satan confirm the same: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (verse 9b) Job was a wealthy man, having a big family, farms, and servants. Job was also wealthy in spirit and respect toward God. At Satan’s bidding, Job lost all the physical and earthly stuff, but he remained steadfast in his reverent standing toward the Lord.  “In all this, Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:22). Mocked by his wife, scolded by his friends, and wounded in body and spirit, there is nothing left for him but his God. And that is enough. See Job’s new attitude in chapter 42:5-6:  “I had heard about you from others; but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”

Adam illustrates the various kinds of fear and knowledge.  First, we see Adam and his wife were naked, “and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).  Then the serpent deceived them, leading to disobedience and disrespect for the Lord. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, “and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:5-7). Did they not learn things that were not previously known? They did, but there is a significant difference in simply collecting information and growing in the knowledge that Solomon instructed. We will see a different kind of fear as we look at Adam’s next reaction to the Lord. Their eyes are opened, so what do they do? They know that they are naked, so they sew leaves to cover their bodies. When they heard the voice of the Lord, they hid themselves from His presence (vs. 7-8). In Adam’s own words, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was AFRAID, because I was naked…” (Gen. 3:10, emphasis mine).

Did Adam and Eve “fear the Lord” as required by the proverb? No, they did not revere or respect God because they disobeyed His words. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with God alone but overreached to achieve god-likeness. The result was losing their innocence and confidence in the Lord’s presence. When you fear the Lord, you are not afraid of the Lord.

We have learned that life can be complicated. Do you know anyone who likes to impress people with what they know? Then you are disappointed when, at living life, you discover him to be dumb as a box of hammers. God put us here to live, and that life should be an enjoyable thing. Scripture tells us that Jesus came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yes, until we begin to navigate all the paths of life using our own little moral compass.

Solomon was not always the wise man. Read Ecclesiastes and see him struggling with life. He was set on making sense of it all; he tried everything. “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it…” (Eccl. 1:8). It made no sense, regardless of the experience. Solomon tried everything, “wine, women, and song.” Yet he concluded that it was “all vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). Reading the book, I kept wondering: If a smart man like Solomon can’t put the puzzle together, what is a dummy like me supposed to do?

Then Solomon figured out what he was doing wrong. He was looking at everything horizontally, as in “under the sun” (Eccl. 1:14). When your standard for knowledge and wisdom is from human sources, your conclusions are bound to be faulty. When Paul came to Athens, he found people that were ignorant of God. This is because they “loved to hear and to talk about anything new” (Acts 17:21-23). Their limited knowledge of The Holy was only enough for them to hang out a sign, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23). Solomon finally realized the folly of horizontal thinking.

Proverbs was written to help people understand the mysteries and dark sayings. It is a road map to help navigate the difficult paths of life (Prov. 1:2-6). In a world filled with con-men sits a simple manual, designed “to know wisdom and understanding” (v. 2).

This was vividly illustrated in the book of Nehemiah. Everybody knows about the wall-builder and his extraordinary leadership in completing the wall in 52 days. Equally important, was Nehemiah’s influence in restoring Bible reading and worship in Jerusalem. Once gathered, the people implored Ezra to bring out the “book of the law” (Neh. 8:1). They built Ezra a wooden pulpit, so Ezra stood on it and read out of the book of the law. Note that the reading was done distinctly so that it gave the sense and “caused the people to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). No doubt, God wanted the people to hear and understand His law.

Worldly wisdom says, “Knowledge is gathered from learning and education.” It would be correct if it were understood that God is the source, and that reverence and respect are the only acceptable way to approach Him. In a godless education, that knowledge leaves out the most important part:  God.

The mention of “fools” sets up a dichotomy in the verse. The fool does not get wisdom because of his outright rejection of the source of true knowledge. The Psalmist reveals the true vision of the fool’s heart:  “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).   The fool hates knowledge like it is his kryptonite (cf. Prov. 1:22).

In conclusion, our examples show us that respect, reverence, and awe are central to our learning God.  Worship is in the very essence of true knowledge: God.  Be filled with it!  (Eph. 3:19)

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