During this quarter we will study the wisdom of many writers of proverbs and other sayings. We don’t know who most of the writers were, but the evidence is that Solomon wrote most of Proverbs during the first years of his reign. Some of the Proverbs were gathered together during Hezekiah’s reign (Proverbs 25:1). All those sayings—including Agur’s (Prov 30:1) and Lemuel’s (31:1)—were inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved so we can learn from them.
What we will observe throughout the study of this book of Proverbs is an established rule or principle which will be a self-evident truth. When we read these Proverbs, we don’t need to have someone interpret them for us. We learn by reading them, by studying them, by pondering them. Here are true principles by which we may live. This book contains not only the wisdom of sages of yesteryear, it is truly the wisdom of God.
The book is a revelation of the gospel in shoes walking the pathway of life. We shall learn that the last message of mercy that goes to the world is not mere high theology (which indeed it is) but it is very practical.
Solomon was given wisdom from God and, consequently, became the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:5-14). Solomon himself was proverbial for His wisdom. His wisdom was and is known for its reasonableness and discretion, especially under trying circumstances. We may call to mind the two harlots who went to him to plead their cases. Both women gave birth to babies. One baby died. Both mothers claimed the living baby as her own. Solomon proposed to settle the dispute by dividing the living child in half. One woman thought this was an excellent idea. The other was horror stricken. This was the mother of the child. Solomon’s proposal revealed the identity of the true mother. Here was revealed the self-evident truth of the real mother. Solomon’s proposition may seem cruel, however, the successful resolution of the case won him the respect, not only of Israel, but also of the nations who heard of such wisdom. And, more than that local application of practical wisdom, Solomon’s proposition has found a permanent place in the history of jurisprudence! You can read this case history in 1 Kings 3:16-28.
There is discussion regarding Solomon’s name. Some believe that it is derived from shalom, translated as “peace.” Be that as it may or may not be, one thing is for certain; early in his life he knew, experientially, the righteousness of God and its fruit of peace, quietness, and assurance (see Isa 32:17). This is forever true. However, Solomon turned from the pathway of righteousness by faith and fell headlong into the pit of selfishness. But by God’s grace he was restored. As a result of his second redemption, we have hundreds of proverbs to warn us and to teach us both righteousness and the folly of iniquity.
The title of this first lesson is Wisdom. This is wisdom from heaven. This wisdom is always joined inseparably from Christ and His righteousness. In 1 Cor 1:30, Christ became, first of all, “for us wisdom from God” then “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” All the wisdom and knowledge of God are hidden in Jesus (Col 2:3). He is the Alphabet of heaven—the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:11). We, like Solomon, learn the heavenly Alphabet by faith alone. It is through “faith that we understand” (Heb 11:3).
The first thing Solomon wants us to learn is found in our memory text: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). In connection with the last part of this verse, read the following verses that deal with a fool’s folly: Prov 13:1. “A scoffer (mocker) does not listen to rebuke.” 15:12. “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him.”
However, notice the one to whom God imparts wisdom: Prov 9:8: “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” Prov 19:25: “Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge.”
Compare these verses with Rev 3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
God’s Word says the one designated as a fool is he who refuses a rebuke and refuses to love the one who corrects him. On the other hand, the wise will appreciate rebuke and will learn discernment. So the admonition of Jesus in rebuking and chastening is to lead us to repentance and to learn to love Him. That which He proclaims is always for the benefit of those who believe.
Now to the first part of the memory verse: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” What is the fear of the Lord? Solomon follows up with this thought in Prov 8:13 – “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…”
E.J. Waggoner remarked with good insight regarding “the fear of the Lord.” He wrote an article entitled “Be Not Afraid.” He penned this in the English journal called The Present Truth:
A.T. Jones wrote of the principle of morality in wisdom:
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Prov. viii. 13. It is not to be afraid of Him and shun His presence, but to hate and shun that which is unlike Him. The love of God is that we keep His commandments. And as hating evil is identical with keeping His commandments, so the fear and the love of God are identical. God wants all men to love Him; and “there is no fear in love.” E.J. Waggoner, The Present Truth [British] April 4, 1895.
One reason why wisdom stands in the lead of all things is that she “leads in the way of righteousness,” which is morals. Prov. 8:20. And that “One greater than Solomon,” the model Man of all the ages, and “the last Adam,” also exalts morals to this same place: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Matt. 6:33. The righteousness of God is the only true morality. The law of God is the only true moral law. And the Book of God, the teaching, the instruction, of God is the only true moral instruction. The Place of the Bible in Education, pp. 134, 135.
David wrote in Psalm 119:99, 100: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.” An example of this is seen in the case of Daniel and his three companions, who, through the fear of God, became, “in all matters of wisdom and understanding” “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers” in all the realm of Babylon; that is, they were ten times wiser even than their teachers. (Dan 1:20).
This last reference shows that we are not talking mere theory. This advice is very practical. Writing a series on the book of Daniel, Jones wrote of the teachings from the schools of the prophets in which the prophets taught the fear of the Lord, which Daniel learned:
“The fear of the Lord IS the beginning of knowledge.” The person who fears the Lord has entered upon a course of knowledge and wisdom which is limited only by eternity. However little he may have acquired of knowledge, as far as the world is concerned, if he has the fear of the Lord, he has eternity before him in which to increase his knowledge. On the other hand, even if one has all the knowledge of all the men in all the world, and does not fear the Lord, his little life soon ceases and all his knowledge is ended.
True science is the complement of true religion,—and it is only the complement, it is never the essence. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and it is only the beginning. It is not intended to be anything but the beginning of knowledge. Therefore he who does not take the fear of the Lord, and use it for the acquirement of knowledge, makes an infinite mistake. And he who takes the fear of the Lord, and uses it for the acquirement of knowledge, and yet stops short of having his knowledge attain to the grade and character of science, just so far frustrates the real object of his receiving the fear of God to begin with. A.T. Jones RH Feb 22, 1898.
To conclude: Wisdom is “the fear of the Lord,” and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” So, in the nature of things, the fear of the Lord is the most important of all things. It is truly the beginning of knowledge, as well as of everything else.