Book of Proverbs Part 2.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
We live in a bizarre culture today. Christians are accused of being greedy if we avoid debt (Prov. 22:7), work hard and save for the future (Prov 6:6-8), so that we can be generous to those in genuine need (Prov 19:17). Whereas our culture thinks that life is to be enjoyed in the present, debt isn't a problem if you can meet your repayments (Prov 22:7) and you don't need to worry about tomorrow, (Prov 27:1). Christians are accused of being prudish and hateful for believing that conjugal love must only be expressed in the commitment of marriage between one man and one woman for life (Prov 5:15-19). Whereas our culture sees commitment as an optional extra to love, love as an optional extra to sex, and sex as a marketable commodity and a recreational sport (Prov 2:16-19, 5:3-14).
Why have so many people believed so many foolish things? It hasn't always been like this. A long time ago, “King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” (1 Kings 10:23–24). Solomon was wise enough to write a wisdom instruction manual that was simple enough for the simplest person to understand and apply to his or her life. He deliberately tried to sum up his wisdom in short, pithy sayings that were full of vivid pictures to make them as memorable as possible. These were then compiled into the Book of Proverbs in our Bibles.
Unlike in Solomon's day, hardly anyone will even pick up a Bible for five minutes to seek the wisdom of Solomon, never mind travel across the planet to hear it. After all, who needs wisdom when you can trust the scientists to always get it right, when you can trust the media to always tell you the unbiased truth and when you can trust the politicians to faithfully provide everything you want? Of course, no one is quite that foolish. Scientists, media pundits and politicians repeatedly let us down. Bad consequences keep happening as a result of their bad decisions, just as they happen as a result of our own bad decisions. Yet, people do not change. They keep going back to the same solutions, expecting different results this time. Why? Solomon tells us why in his introduction to Proverbs:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Prov 1:7)
So why do people keep making poor decisions that bring more problems into their lives? Because, “fools despise wisdom and discipline.” That sounds harsh, but it is true. God offers His wisdom in the Bible about how to avoid the problems that they brought on themselves. God then disciplines them with a fatherly discipline that lets them suffer the consequences of their choices, in the hope that this will motivate them to change. Yet, because they are fools, they despise God's wisdom, they despise God's discipline and keep on suffering the same consequences while expecting a different result.
Why does Solomon make the fear of the LORD the beginning of knowledge? Wouldn't he have been wiser to make the love of the LORD the beginning of knowledge? No. Solomon was wiser than that. Solomon knew that if the only thing that people believed about God was that He was a loving God, then He could be safely ignored without any consequences. This inadequate belief would also make no sense of the suffering and injustices of the world. After all, suffering would be proof that such a god could not be loving or was too weak or too incompetent to do anything about it. Therefore all the bad stuff that happens in the world is just random and meaningless and there's really not much we can do about it. What a wonderful excuse for carrying on doing the stuff that gives you short-term pleasure and ignoring the long term problems that come as a result! After all, those long term problems are also just random and meaningless.
So what does it mean to “fear the LORD”? Why has this got to be our starting point? Because it reminds us that we live in God's universe, according to His rules. It is because the LORD is a loving God that His rules are intended to protect us from suffering and harm and give us access to His blessings and our flourishing. However, those same rules mean that if we break them, we will suffer harm that we could have avoided. That harm may be immediate, as would happen if you punched a police man. It may be delayed, as would happen if you kept on smoking and eventually developed cancer. It may even be eternal, as would happen if you refused God's offer of forgiveness in Jesus.
Solomon wants us to have enough wisdom to understand that we are living in God's universe and have broken His rules and that there are consequences for this in this life and in the next. With this as our beginning, we can then go on to truly appreciate how amazing it is that God should want to forgive us at the expense of His Son, who bore the consequences of our foolishness on the cross. It is only then that we can move beyond the beginning of wisdom and go on to find “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” in Christ (Col 2:3). After that, we can respond to His love and forgiveness with gratitude and a new commitment to living His way, according to His rules.
Proverbs is a wonderful guidebook for living wisely and enjoying God's blessings in a fallen and foolish world. So what should we do to get this wisdom? Solomon tells us:
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” (Prov 2:1–8)
Do you want God's victory in your life? Do you want Him to be your shield? Do you want Him to guard your course and to protect your way? If so, you need to start accepting God's words and storing up His commandments in you. You need pray for insight and understanding. You need to do the hard work of digging into Proverbs to find its treasures with all the energy and commitment of a silver miner. However, the knowledge you find there will only ever become wisdom if you apply it to your behaviour and if it motivates your decisions. God love goes far beyond just forgiving you. He loves you so much He wants to equip you to live in wisdom according to His rules. He wants you to avoid the harm He warns you about and He wants you to find the blessings He says will come from doing what He tells you to do.