Proverbs 1:2-7 Sermon The Beginning of Wisdom: Fear the Lord (Rev. Erik Veerman)

Aug 20, 2023

Proverbs 1:2-7

The Beginning of Wisdom: Fear the Lord 

Our sermon text this morning is Proverbs 1:2-7. You can find that on page 625… 

Before we read, let me mention three things:

1.First, Amy, Coleman, and I started a podcast on Proverbs. It’s a weekly discussion about the upcoming verses that we’ll focus on in the sermon. The goal is to help us all engage with the text before Sunday. You can find links on our website, and it’s published on the standard podcast channels.

2.Second, in our app, you can submit any questions you have about Proverbs. We’ll plan to either talk about those in the podcast or in the sermon series.

3.And then third, just a reminder from last week. God spoke through King Solomon, son of King David to give us the wisdom of Proverbs. Solomon was the primary human author, but, as we considered, he was also a shadow of a greater king, a greater son of David – Jesus. Christ is the wisdom of God.

That brings us now to verses 2-7. They give us the purpose of Proverbs and the foundation to wisdom.


Reading of Proverbs 1:2-7

Do you desire wisdom? 

I think deep down each of us wants wisdom. We want to comprehend the meaning and purpose of our life… or we desire an ability to understand other people and social dynamics… or we want wisdom to sift through political and social theories and philosophies… or we just want wisdom to help us make day to day decisions. (that is probably the most common reason we desire wisdom)

Well, Proverbs is a book about wisdom. And its purpose is to help us with those very questions.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to our study of Proverbs. Every single day we are confronted with situations, beliefs, temptations, critiques… And how we think about those things, what we say and do, and the decisions we make affect ourselves and others.

We need wisdom. But not just any wisdom. No, we need God’s wisdom and Proverbs is part of God’s answer to give us that wisdom for life. 

Last week, we talked a little bit about how the book of Proverbs fits within Scripture as a whole. And more specifically, how Proverbs fits within the different kinds of wisdom books in the Bible.

This morning I want to go a little deeper into the wisdom of Proverbs. The reason I want to do that is because these verses, 2-7, are the launching pad to the rest of the book. They set us on the path to gain wisdom. They answer the questions, what is wisdom? and how do we begin?

If you want to think about it this way, these verses are like your phone’s GPS map. Your destination is Godly wisdom. Verses 2-7 give you an overview of the route and the very first turn.

So, let’s jump in.

Something you probably noticed is the repetition of the word “to.” It’s there five times. Solomon was answering the question, “what is the purpose of this book?” 

“Well, the purpose of the book,” he writes, is…


•Verse 2 – to know wisdom and insight

•Verse 3 – to receive instruction in wise dealing (in other words, how you live)

•Verse 4 – to give prudence and discretion

•Verse 6 – to understand a proverb and the words of the wise.

Let me summarize it this way: The purpose of Proverbs is to impart the wisdom of God. What’s really important is that we not just know God’s wisdom, but that we live God’s wisdom.

I opened with the question. Do you desire wisdom? But what Proverbs is asking: Do you desire to know and live God’s wisdom?

I’ve been using that word wisdom over and over. Last week, I provided a quick definition of wisdom. “Wisdom is having and exercising sound judgment. It’s applying truth and knowledge in life.” That’s fine as a summary. But let me give you a more comprehensive definition of wisdom and then connect it to these verses in chapter 1. Here it is:

Pursuing biblical wisdom is (1) seeking to know God, his Word and his commands, (2) desiring to humbly reflect God’s goodness and righteousness in everyday life situations, and (3) striving to discern what is true and right and good in the world, and what is not.

If you didn’t catch that, I’ll repeat each part as we go through it. And let me say, I’m intentionally using the words seeking, desiring, and striving because wisdom, as the book of Proverbs lays out, is the pursuit of those things. We each should be on the journey to grow in the wisdom of God.

Back to the first part of the definition. Biblical wisdom is seeking to know God, his Word and his commands. Having biblical wisdom requires that kind of knowledge and a desire for further knowledge. That point is sprinkled all through these verses. Verse 2 “to know wisdom and instruction.” It’s also there in verse 4 and 5 “knowledge and an increase in learning.” As we work through the first few chapters, we’ll clearly see that this knowledge is directly connected to knowing God’s Word and his commands. Then Verse 7… the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. We’ll to come back to that in a bit, but notice for now how the call to seek knowledge includes knowing the Lord. So, biblical wisdom is first seeking to know God, his Word and his commands. 

Number 2…. the second part of the definition. Biblical wisdom is also desiring to humbly reflect God’s goodness and righteousness in everyday life situations. Wisdom does not end with knowledge. No, in fact, a very large portion of Proverbs is ethical in nature. It’s the heart response to the knowledge of God and his commands. That’s partly captured in verses 3. “instruction in wise dealing.” And notice how it describes that dealing - “righteousness, justice, and equity.” Someone can know the Bible, but unless he or she is seeking to reflect God’s righteousness and goodness, that person doesn’t have wisdom. Furthermore, Proverbs is very focused on our life situation and decisions. And you can see that in verses 4 and 5. The words used are prudence, discretion, and guidance. Those are all tactical words for day-to-day decision making as we seek to honor God. To say it again, biblical wisdom is desiring to humbly reflect God’s goodness and righteousness in everyday life situations.

So, knowledge, righteousness, and the third part of the definition is about discernment: Biblical wisdom includes striving to discern what is true and right and good in the world, and what is not. Also scattered through these verses is that word “understand.” Verses 2, 5 , and 6. Understanding is discerning. It’s not just regurgitating what you are hearing. Understanding is being able apply that knowledge in life and in the world. At the end of verse 7 we’re introduced to the word “fools.” A fool despises wisdom and instruction. There’s an underlying contrast there. Part of wisdom includes being able to distinguish between goodness and folly and between truth and error. This goes beyond our personal pursuit of righteousness. Having biblical wisdom includes navigating the ideas, perspective, and ways of life in the world.

So knowledge, righteousness, and discernment.

Let me repeat that definition one more time. Pursuing biblical wisdom is (1) seeking to know God, his Word and his commands, (2) it’s desiring to humbly reflect God’s goodness and righteousness in everyday life situations, and (3) striving to discern what is true and right and good in the world, and what is not.

Do you desire this wisdom? It’s a lifetime journey. It’s my hope and prayer that by the end of our Proverbs study that you and I will be well on the path of wisdom. That we’ll have the framework, the categories, and the motivation… to know, understand, and apply God’s word in life.

One question you may have is this: How does Proverbs convey that wisdom? How is Proverbs structured to impart God’s wisdom to us?

Well, it’s a very interesting book as many of you have read. The first 9 chapters are the introduction. That’s quite a long introduction. We’re going to work through those chapters sequentially. They present the importance of wisdom. They answer several questions, like how do we seek and find wisdom? What is the value of wisdom? How do we listen to wisdom? These opening chapters also warn us of evil and folly. And a particular warning is the seduction of adultery and where that sinful path leads.

For those of you that have read Proverbs, you’ll know that once you get to chapter 10, there’s a major change in the book. Instead of a step-by-step argument for wisdom, we’re given proverb after proverb. Hundreds of different proverbs, each with a different point and emphasis. 

So, starting with chapter 10, we’re going to study the proverbs by category. We’re going to read every single one of them, but we won’t be studying them in the order in which they are laid out on the page, but rather by their focus.

By the way, let me take a brief tangent. My daughter Kate has a new t-shirt. It says, “Everything I do seems to end up in a sermon.” We kind of joke about it because, as you know, it’s pretty rare that I talk about my family in my sermons. However, I did want to mention that Kate and Caleb helped Amy and me categorize the proverbs. This has been a family affair. For a few months earlier this year, our family devotions involved going proverb by proverb. We discussed what each meant and we assigned different categories to each of them. We came up with about 30 categories in total for the more than 600 individual proverbs from chapter 10 through chapter 29. Those categories included things like friendship, justice, integrity and honor, sloth, anger, financial wisdom, and a whole bunch more. 

Let me also mention that the final two chapters return to a more linear focus. So, we’ll wrap up the series in chapters 30 and 31. That’s just a little preview.

So, Proverbs is about wisdom. It’s about desiring and obtaining wisdom. Seeking to know God and his word, reflecting his righteousness, avoiding folly and evil and striving to discern of the things of the world.

Maybe that sounds overwhelming. Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t even know where to start. I long to have and pursue God’s wisdom, how do I find the path of wisdom? Can you tell me where to begin?”

Well, I don’t need to tell you. The answer is right there in verse 7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” That word for knowledge in the Hebrew is more than just an intellectual comprehension. Its primary definition is “knowledge with a focus on moral qualities.” In this verse it’s used synonymously with the word wisdom in the second half of the verse.

In chapter 9 verse 10, which you can see on our banner behind us, says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

In other words, this is where we all need to begin - the fear of the LORD. It’s the ground floor to wisdom, the center of wisdom. The path to wisdom begins with fearing the Lord.

The two natural questions are 1) What does it mean to fear the Lord? And 2) why is fearing the Lord the beginning of wisdom?

When we think of fearing something, we think of being afraid or even terrified. 

But Solomon’s audience would have understood it very differently. One thing you’ll notice is that the word LORD is in all capital letters. In the Hebrew, that’s the word Yahweh. It’s God’s covenant name. And back in the book of Deuteronomy, to fear the LORD meant to live in response to God’s covenant promises. There was a relational component to fearing the Lord – knowing God as the covenant maker - as well as a submission to God as his covenant people.

Translating that to us today, fearing God means putting him at the center of our lives. It’s removing ourselves or others as the center and instead considering who God is and his call for us. 

It’s helpful to consider fearing the Lord in contrast to fearing man. When we fear man, we fear what other people will think of us. For example, what we wear, what we think, what we do. That kind of fear drives what we do and say and think because we are seeking to please others. To fear the Lord, on the contrary, is to think, say, and act in ways that please and honor the Lord.

You may have heard of Oswald Chambers before. He wrote one of the most well-known beloved devotional. It’s titled “My Utmost for His Highest.” Chambers wrote: “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.”

He’s saying, what we fear is the thing that ultimately motivates us. When we fear God, we trust in him for all things. There’s nothing else to fear.

So that’s one aspect of fearing the Lord – placing God with all his covenant promises and stipulations as the center of our lives.

There’s also a second aspect of fearing the Lord. Literally translated, the word Yahweh means “I am.” In the wilderness when Moses asked God who he was, God responded, “I am who I am.”

Fearing the Lord is also a call to recognize God for who he is. It’s seeing God in all of his grandeur and power and holiness and justice and then recognizing our estate as creatures, sinful creatures. To fear God is having a reverence of God with that perspective. It’s seeing him as the one in whom all things hold together. It’s recognizing the vastness of the universe that he created… It’s recognizing his infinite knowledge, his eternal being, how he is all powerful and he is present everywhere. To fear the Lord is to see him in all the glory and breadth of his nature.

I was thinking this week of CS Lewis’s classic book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy enter Narnia through the wardrobe, they quickly learn about the forces for good and evil. The White Witch has been terrorizing Narnia. She’s been turning creatures into stone. But they are told that Aslan the Lion is on the move. Aslan is the allegorical Christ figure.

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood... He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right..."

“She won’t turn him into stone too?” said Edmund.

...Mr. Beaver [answered] with a great laugh. “Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no. He’ll put all to rights..."

[Susan asked], “Is [Aslan]--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

[Mrs. Beaver answered] “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Our fear of the Lord is a fear that recognizes he is not safe, but he is good. He’s not safe because of his justice and goodness compared to our sin. But he is good because of his saving grace.

Let me give you another word that captures all of these ideas about fearing the Lord. Worship. The worship of God in your life. I’m talking about worship in the sense of honoring God in all aspects of your life. Exalting him alone and not others or yourself. Having him at the center of your identity. And recognizing him as the Almighty… the I AM who created all things.

This is where wisdom begins. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. It begins with worship. 

But why? Why is fearing the Lord where we need to begin?

Well, think about it this way. If God is the one in whom and for whom all things exist (as the Scriptures teach) then wisdom has to begin with him. The foundation of wisdom is ultimate purpose and meaning. Since God is the one in whom exists ultimate purpose and meaning, then seeking wisdom needs to begin with seeking him and worshiping him

And let’s go back to our definition of wisdom - knowledge, righteousness, and discernment. Each one of those elements requires fearing the Lord. 

•Knowing God and his Word begins with fearing God – having reverent awe of the one true God. 

•Reflecting God’s righteousness is fearing the Lord in the sense of responding to God’s covenant promises.

•And discerning truth and goodness in the world starts with fearing the Lord because it is in him that all truth and goodness exists.

And each one of those comes together for us in Christ.

•We can know God because God has revealed himself to us. Jesus is the word of God made flesh. One of us and God himself. He’s the bridge through which we can know and fear God.

•He’s also the righteousness of God. The ultimate model for us to reflect.

•And last, Christ is the one through whom God created the world. Discernment of what is right and true in the world comes through fearing the one who created the world.

Think of the disciples in Mark 4. They were on the boat with Jesus in the Sea of Galilee. When the sudden storm arose, they feared death. And in a panic, they woke up Jesus who was sleeping. And what did he do? After chastising them for their lack of faith, he rebuked the wind and the waves. “Peace be still!” And suddenly there was a great calm. But the interesting thing is what we’re told next. The disciples were filled with an even greater fear! At first they feared the storm thinking they were dying, but their fear turned to the Lord. “Who is this,” they said, “even the wind and the waves obey him!”

What I’m saying is that wisdom begins when we fear God in Christ… fearing him in all the ways that we have talked about. How God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in him. The reverence and awe we owe him as creator and Lord of all things. And as the one in whom we were created and exist. 

And, to wrap things up. The very heart of wisdom and the fear of God in Christ is the cross. 

You see, in the cross of Christ we see the full power and justice of our holy God against sin. The cross raises our awareness of God’s power. It raises our reverent fear of God. But it also raises our understanding of his love and goodness. He is not safe, but he is good. It’s in that space, where God’s justice and goodness come together, that we can fear the Lord with awe and reverence and humility, all in worship.

The path to true wisdom begins there. It begins by fearing the Lord of all creation. It’s recognizing what he can do in his divine justice and power, but also what he has done to satisfy that divine justice.

Do you fear him? Because, unless you do, wisdom from God will be unattainable.

But when you do, the wisdom of Proverbs will be yours in Christ. 

So, let’s journey together through Proverbs in the fear of the Lord.