The book of Proverbs presents us with a choice: wisdom or folly? The wise man tells us that both “lady wisdom” and “woman folly” are calling out to us. Both try to entice us and woo us to them but with different promises. “Woman folly” promises the thrill and satisfaction of doing what is wrong. “Lady wisdom” promises counsel, stability, and life. While the excitement of what “woman folly” offers might be enticing, there is a clear distinction between those who choose her and those who choose “lady wisdom”: a love of truth and fear of the Lord.
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” Proverbs 1:22
“Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 1:29
Let's make some application of this. The biggest difference in people who are trying to do what is right and those who are focused on self is a proper fear of the Lord and a love of truth. This is true even in the religious world. Why are there so many differences between religions and denominations? Because some have decided how they want to practice religion before they ever opened a Bible. When we worship however we prefer without regard for scripture, we make worship all about ourselves; it is no longer about God. We have not chosen truth; we have “hated knowledge.”
There is a verse in 2 Thessalonians that should scare us to death!
“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12
The previous verse mentions those who “refused to love the truth.” When we refuse to accept what scripture says is truth, eventually we will come to believe what is false and God allows this to happen. This is what happens when we put self first.
We have a choice: wisdom or follow? Truth or falsehood? Knowledge or ignorance? God or self? Whose call will we answer? Lady wisdom or woman folly?
“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”
Peer pressure is nothing new. The wise man warns his son about the dangers of peer pressure in Proverbs 1:8-19. We must be very careful about the friends we choose. We must be very careful about the children we allow our children to be around. I have seen parents try valiantly to raise their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” except they were not careful about their friends. Too often, all the other hard work goes up in smoke because “evil companions corrupt good morals!”
I have a 10, 7, and 4 year old. It is easy for me to be watchful over who they spend time with. But a day is coming when I will have little direct influence over who they spend their time with. So, it is imperative that I teach them this lesson now. “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” I have to teach them – as Solomon did his children – that running with the wrong crowd only sets you up for failure.
I cannot help but think of the first Psalm: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers.” But it is not enough just to rid ourselves of evil influence. We must fill ourselves up with that which is godly: “but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night.”
We should consider what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that you whole body be thrown into hell. If you right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that you whole body go into hell.” Shouldn’t we apply this teaching to our friends? If your friend causes you to sin, cut them off. For it is better to lose a friend than to have hundreds of them and go to hell.
As school is about to start back, now is a good time to talk to your children about who they are spending their time with. Most kids spend 8 hours a day with other children and we have to make sure we teach them this old proverb: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”
Proverbs 1:7 provides the theme for the entire book: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The theme of “the fear of the LORD” is a refrain seen throughout the book. This phrase – or some form of it – is used over 15 times. Obviously, Solomon wants his children to understand that wisdom cannot be built on a human foundation. The correct foundation is in understanding how one relates to God. Once that foundation is settled, then we can build up.
When we look at each use of the phrase “the fear of the Lord” a few categories of thought make themselves clear.
First, there is no true knowledge or wisdom outside of God. This is clear from the thesis statement of 1:7 we already noted. But note 9:10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. This verse says that we become knowledgeable when we know of God. It is not enough just to know a lot about many things. We have to know something about the right things. What are we spending our time on? Proverbs 15:33 makes the same point but circles back around to our standing before God: The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. If we cannot recognize who we are in the grand order of things, then we are done before we ever begin.
Second, if we have a proper fear of the Lord, then we will hate evil. How can we know who God is in all His holiness, purity, and justice while maintaining a relationship with anything unholy, impure, and unjust?
- 3:7 – Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
- 8:13 – The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
- 14:2 – Whoever walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises Him.
- 16:6 – By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
- 23:17 – Let not your heart envy sinners but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
- 24:21 – My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise.
Jesus said, “Man cannot serve two masters.” Who are we going to serve?
Third, “fear of the LORD” benefits life. We’ve all heard our parents say (or have said it ourselves), “If you know what’s good for you…” Too often we feel that God is taking away all our toys and fun by forbidding us from certain pleasures. I am reminded of a line from Lord of the Rings: “I am not trying to rob you. I am trying to help you!” Proverbs teaches that the fear of the LORD will benefit us, not rob us.
- 10:27 – The fear of the LORD prolongs life but the years of the wicked will be cut short.
- 14:26 – In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.
- 14:27 – The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
- 19:23 – The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.
- 22:4 – The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.
- 28:14 – Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
- 31:30 – Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
God is worthy of all glory, honor, praise, and majesty. He wants to share that with us. He has no desire to keep us from wonderful things. But when we sin and settle for the temporary pleasure this world offers we rob ourselves of what is truly wonderful. We need to raise our standards. We cannot allow ourselves to be fulfilled by what sin offers when God is offering so much more.
By fearing the LORD, we come to understand essential truths. By fearing the LORD, we cannot maintain a relationship with sin. Through fearing the LORD, we will be blessed beyond measure.
The thesis of the book of Proverbs is in 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This is a major theme repeated throughout the book and is attached to various blessings. Solomon’s goal was to teach his children what it meant to be wise and use the knowledge acquired through life. But such information is nothing without an appropriate relationship with God.
We may think that wisdom comes through observation and experience. To some degree, this is correct. But Proverbs 20:12 puts our observations and experiences in their proper context – even they were created by God: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.” We are dependent on God for everything, even the ability to observe. This also helps us to understand what it means to fear the Lord.
The term translated “fear” can mean anything from “respect” and “awe” to “terror.” If we understand that we are dependent on God for even our seeing and hearing, then we are already in a good frame of mind to fear God. It is not merely respect, but it is not necessarily paralyzing terror either. It is an understanding that we are utterly dependent on God for everything. A recognition that He is the creator and we the creature. It is a recognition of our place in the order of things. We, like the Israelites, see the glory and fire of God on Mt. Sinai and we recognize what God can do. Imagine the smoke and fire descending around you. Imagine the thundering voice of the one who just ravaged Egypt speaking. Doesn’t that create fear? The Israelites told Moses to go and talk to God alone and whatever He said, they would do. If they had to hear His voice again, they thought they would die. Notice God’s response to this in Deuteronomy 5:24-29:
“And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”
It was not enough to know the Ten Commandments. It was not enough to have the Law of Moses. God had to be in the rightful place of their hearts. This is what Solomon has in mind when he says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” We must begin our search for wisdom in the correct place and that is at the feet of the LORD God!
Proverbs 1:2-6 provides Solomon’s goals for the entire book.
“To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.”
It is clear that Solomon is addressing these lessons to the younger generation. He uses two words that make this clear. The first is the word “simple.” While this could be used as an insult, the idea in proverbs is one without experience, someone who is naïve or ignorant. When we use this term to describe someone who is older and should know better, it is not a good thing. But this is the natural state of a child or adolescent. My 9-year-old son has not experienced enough life to understand these concepts already. He is simple and naïve. It is to someone like him that Solomon addresses these lessons. This point is driven home further by the repeated use of the phrase “hear my son.” The parallel structure of verse 4 equates “the simple” with “the youth.”
One of the most important abilities children must develop is the ability and focus to think through things: their attitudes, actions, and decisions. This requires a depth of understanding and knowledge that comes with experience. Solomon’s goal is to short-circuit this process by teaching what he has learned. “To give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth.” The word for prudence can be understood negatively as “shrewd, cunning, or deceptive” and is used of Satan in the garden. But in Proverbs it is always positive and, according to Longman, “describes one’s ability to use reason.” The term discretion is used as a parallel to prudence and means to think, plan, or devise.” These are lessons that must be learned if we want to succeed in life and the sooner we learn them the better off we will be.
There is within Solomon’s prologue a bit of a paradox: “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” To an extent, Solomon says that the wise will become wiser. If we truly want to grow in knowledge and wisdom, then we must understand that we need to be able to learn from others. We must have the humility to know that we don’t know it all. Socrates was told by the Oracle at Delphi that he was the wisest man in all the earth. He didn’t believe it because he knew how much he didn’t know. This caused him to seek out others in a quest for wisdom and knowledge.
If we are going to be wise servants of God, we must understand that we do not know it all and that we should be willing to learn from others. Such is one sign of true wisdom.