The Beginning of Wisdom

The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge” Proverbs i.7a.
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh” Proverbs ix.10.

The current Christian understanding of the terms ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ are quite different from the way these words were understood by the writers of the Hebrew Bible. The meaning of these words have indeed evolved over the centuries. However, in order to understand God’s message in the Scriptures, we have to go back to the biblical understanding of these terms.

While we tend to drive a wedge between “wisdom” and “knowledge,” counting one superior to the other, the author of Proverbs uses these terms interchangeably. While modern man understands “knowledge” as an intellectual attribute, the Bible considers both “knowledge” and “wisdom” as a moral quality.

Biblical “wisdom” or “knowledge” is experiential knowledge of God. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (ix.10).  Wisdom is the knowledge of God and His commandments (The Torah or God’s Word) and the ability to translate that knowledge into appropriate action. Wisdom manifests itself through a life of humility and obedience to God. Therefore, real education that makes us wise in God’s sight happens between the covers of the Bible and in one’s daily walk with God. Filling our minds with tidbits of “information” is no substitute for studying and obeying God’s eternal Word.

The fundamental factor that drives us towards a life of obedience to God – and away from sin – is “fear of God.” It is a reverential attitude that appreciates God’s justice, power and love. The God of love is also the God of justice and holiness. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. The God of Israel delights to see a healthy “fear of God” in His people. When Israel was terrified at the sights and sounds that marked Yahweh’s appearance on Mt. Sinai, God said, “Would that they might always be of such a mind, to fear me and to keep all my commandments! Then they and their descendants would prosper forever.” (Deuteronomy v.29) It is unfortunate that many Christians do not even consider the “fear of God” as a necessary component of a healthy spirituality. Over-familiarity with matters related to spirituality, combined with pride, has ushered in a spirit of rebellion and indifference to God’s righteous requirements.

Indeed, the primary motivation to obey God should stem from our love to God. If we should ever grow cold in our love towards God, the safety net – “fear of God” – should provide enough motivation to keep us from ungodliness and unrighteous behavior.

All who fear Yahweh will hate evil.” (Proverbs viii.13 NLT)
Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear Yahweh and turn your back on evil.” (Proverbs iii.7 NLT)

The realization that God monitors and weighs our actions (Proverbs v:21) and that He is capable of chastising us should provide a necessary counterbalance to our inclination to sin against Him. The absence of such a healthy reverential fear wrecked the lives of many who professed to love God. King Solomon realized these things a bit too late. He began his life with the “fear of God.” Later, he let curiosity lead him in all ungodly directions. However, towards the end of his life, in Ecclesiastes, he apparently realized that “knowledge” without its moorings in the “fear of God” is useless.

“Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NLT)