The Beginning of Knowledge (Proverbs 1)

Earlier this month I posted an article on chapter 2 of Proverbs. I aim to go in order from this point on. But that very effort, that ‘from this point on’ language leads me think that I might as well stop and tell you my current undertaking for Affectionately Dependent.

I’ve always thought it would be a great exercise to write through a whole book of the Bible but had no real plans to do that here any time soon––it’s a big undertaking and commitment and I simply have never prioritized the time to do it. Yet, Lord willing, Proverbs will be the first book I will write through!

This desire came mainly from glimpses into the first handful of chapters during occasional reading that got me thinking how incredibly concerned Solomon is, indeed God is, with our affections and our dependence. Affectionate Dependence is all over the pages of scripture but it caught me a little off guard in Proverbs. The very title, at least in our culture, sounds moralistic. It sounds like something Benjamin Franklin would have written on quiet afternoons in colonial New England. Well, that really wasn’t my impression to any great degree––I’ve known the book’s helpfulness before and knew it wasn’t really moralistic––but I was slightly surprised at what Solomon had to say. Therefore, in these posts I aim to share what I learn and faithfully herald the gospel truth of Proverbs.

Just at first, I want set before you a working definition of Wisdom. As we will see, Solomon gives us a great starting point to what he means by wisdom in the seventh verse. Yet, It’s bigger than that. It’s bigger not because I want to jam and stuff Affectionate Dependence in there, but because proverbs is more than one verse and Solomon continues for some twenty chapters further revealing his purpose for the book––which is overall and supremely to give us wisdom.

In reading Proverbs, then, I’d argue when our eyes find the word ‘wisdom’ we should think of a definition like this:

Wisdom is fearing and delighting oneself in the Lord because of awe and adoration of God that reaches to the heights of eternity and to the depths of daily life in order to give glory and affection to what is infinitely glorious and desirable. Thus, being wise is leading a life calibrated to the perfection and supremacy and power and worth of Jesus Christ.


Proverbs 1:1-7

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

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.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

We are given a title to this book. It’s The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel. Then, we are given 5 ‘to’ statements showing the purpose of the Proverbs. They are:

  1. To know wisdom and instruction (vv. 2)
  2. To understand words of insight (vv. 2)
  3. To receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity (vv. 3)
  4. To give prudence to the simple and knowledge and discretion to the youth (vv. 4)
  5. To understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles (vv. 6)

He interrupts the list between 4 and 5 writing, “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.” He’s saying, may the wise hear this and become wiser, and the one who understands understand more deeply, have better guidance. Meaning, It’s not for some and not for others. Not only does Proverbs give prudence to the simple (vv. 4) but wisdom to the wise. You can see that quite naturally in the flow of this first paragraph. In verse 4 it’s ‘prudence to the simple and knowledge and discretion to the youth’ immediately followed by ‘Let the wise hear and increasing in learning…’ in verse 6. It’s seemingly written to insure no one dismisses it as irrelevant to them.

Then, Solomon puts his main point down in plain black and white. If you had to extract any phrase or verse from the entire book to summarize the teaching and instruction you couldn’t make a better choice than verse 7. It says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Remember, I’m working this definition of wisdom:

Wisdom is fearing and delighting oneself in the Lord because of awe and adoration of God that reaches to the heights of eternity and to the depths of daily life in order to give glory and affection to what is infinitely glorious and desirable. Thus, being wise is leading a life calibrated to the perfection and supremacy and power and worth of Jesus Christ.

In his commentary Derek Kidner helpfully writes, “These two ways of verse 7 [foolishness and wisdom] are now seen to lie at the reader’s feet”. It’s a helpful reminder. From start to finish there are only two camps––the foolish and the wise. As we read this first chapter and beyond, we should seek to see who each of these––the wise and the foolish––are. What are they like? What do they love? What do they do for fun? These are things we need to know and recognize. We need to know how to spot fools and the wise alike so we may guard our lives. For, we just saw that we ourselves are only ever one or the other.

 


Proverbs 1:8-19

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.

Solomon now works down from his statement. His definition of wisdom––The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The instruction and teaching given by the son’s father and mother is undoubtedly The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We have a number logical hinges here that help us see what Solomon is getting at. The son should hear his father’s instruction and hold to his mother’s teaching because they are a graceful garland for his head and pendant for his neck. In drafting this article exactly where I’m writing now I put a parenthetical note that read, “What does that mean?”. Undoubtedly, graceful garlands and pendants for the neck aren’t exactly common terms to explain to someone an apparent benefit. Here again, Kidner’s small Proverbs commentary came in helpful. He writes, the way of wisdom “has none of the flashy appeal of the [way of the wicked]: it offers nothing material, only the hard-won beauty and authority of goodness”. Although he doesn’t go into detail about pendants and garlands, the previous really is a helpful statement. It’s not riches or fame that ought to be adornments but that of wisdom and wise character––and that is a far better, indeed, far wiser, banner to wear.

Furthermore, the father continues in his advice saying, if sinners and their ways entice you and you desire to gain precious goods and wealth with them by ambushing the innocent, do not walk in such ways. Hold back your foot from their paths. Stay away from them. Turn from such an offer.

It’s not a plea without reason. In verse 16 he gives the reason for his word to turn from the ‘enticement of sinners’. He says, continuing the logical chain, do not be enticed by sinners because ‘their feet run to evil’ and ‘they make haste to shed blood’. Then he gives us a helpful picture. If you spread a net in the sight of a bird, you aren’t going to catch it––it knows what you just did and what flying into your trap will do. Likewise, if you know the end of sinners, how they run to evil (and you know the end of evil, son––eternal death), don’t be like a bird flying into a net you know is there. Instead, be wise. See rightly. Discern the end of those who run to evil. Run to the Lord and be satisfied. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

He concludes in saying, in living in evil and for evil, these men lie in wait for their own blood. It’s eternal suicide to love evil. Yet, this is the end to all ‘who [are] greedy for unjust gain; it takes the life of its possessors’. Thus, son, if are enticed by sinners and turn to evils ways, you will perish. If you fail to fear the Lord but follow the way of the wicked, you will be like a bird flying into a trap you know is there––you will die and you know it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.


 Proverbs 1:20-33

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

 

Solomon now personifies wisdom in saying she, ‘cries aloud in the street and raises her voice in the market. At the head of noisy streets, she cries out’. Likewise, she speaks at the entrance of city gates. In other words, he’s showing us that wisdom isn’t esoteric or only available to the elite. It’s spoken to all and proclaimed from the street corners and markets.

This moves us to legitimately reason that fools aren’t fools because they just haven’t, somehow or another, been able to hear wisdom, because wisdom has never rung in their ears––quite the contrary. We should recall from verse 7 that ‘fools despise wisdom and instruction’. All have heard––it’s been proclaimed in the streets and heard by every passerby. Therefore, fools are those who know the teaching of wisdom but tragically turn away with wisdom ringing in their ears. simply put, they don’t fear God. Verse 22 as well as the rest of the chapter enforces this thought. In 22 Solomon asks, how long will you reject wisdom and delight in scoffing, in despising God’s word?

Then, in verse 23, the offer is spelled out. Wisdom invites not those who have apparently always been wise, but those who are fools. If you repent and believe, I will put my spirit in you and make your words known to you. That’s the gospel! Mark 1:15 echoes such a proclamation. “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”

But in verse 24 we see the result of despising wisdom, of turning from her teaching. Wisdom has called aloud and no one has effectively heard. She stretched out her hand and no one heeded. The fool ignored her counsel and would have none of her reproof. Because of this, Solomon says, wisdom herself, will laugh at your calamity and mock you when terror and calamity come on you like a storm.

When this calamity comes to pass, the fool will call upon wisdom and find no answer. They will seek diligently seek wisdom but shall not find it. Solomon tells us this will be their end because they hated knowledge and loved the way of evil and laughed at God’s reproof––they did not fear the Lord.

Thus, they shall eat the fruit of their way––of their running to evil in verse 16. For, they are killed by their own way. It’s verse 19 reinforced, said over again––”Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors”.

The complacency, the failure to hear and love and embrace wisdom, is what destroys them. The opportunity is lost; the fault is their own. The fool despised wisdom and did not turn at the Lord’s reproof. He loved the way of sinner and sin. He gained the world (vv. 13) but forfeited his soul (vv. 19, 32).

Yet, we are reminded one last time, “Whoever listens to [wisdom] will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster”. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Thus, those who repent and turn to wisdom, who will receive the spirit and have wisdom made known to them (vv. 23), and dwell secure. While those who do not fear the Lord, who ‘despise wisdom and instruction’ will lose their life (vv. 19, 32) and have only disaster to anticipate, forever.

Such is the opening chapter of Proverbs. The beginning and end of two paths are shown and Solomon exhorts us to repent and believe, to embrace wisdom. He exhorts us to live a life fearing and delighting ourselves in the Lord because of awe and adoration of God that reaches to the heights of eternity and to the depths of daily life in order to give glory and affection to what is infinitely glorious and desirable. Thus, being wise is leading a life calibrated to the perfection and supremacy and power and worth of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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