“The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction,” Proverbs 1:7.
This is one of those Bible verses that we insist on dumbing down by explaining away. It can’t possibly really mean “fear”, we reason, because God would not want us to fear Him. By explaining away the fear of the LORD, we reject the beginning of knowledge. Paul, a man who knew and wrote of the love of God, also wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God…” (2 Cor. 5:11). The same Paul also wrote, “For you have not received a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba Father!” (Rom. 8:15).
And so we fear but we don’t fear; we don’t fear but we fear.
When we view God as our Father in Jesus Christ we know that there is no fear in our relationship, we know that perfect love casts out all fear – this is the relationship of the Father and child, the relationship of our elder brother Jesus Christ to His brothers and sisters. When we view God as the Creator and Judge of the world, of the evil in the world, of the systems of this world that have set themselves against Him – then we ought to fear, then the world ought to fear – for there will be a judgment and those who stand before God outside of Jesus Christ will face an abyss which I shrink back from contemplating; it is outside the realm of my contemplation.
As Proverbs unfolds we see that it is teaching about life and death; life and death in this life and life and death in the next life. There are dead people walking the earth today, and there are people alive who are also walking the earth – but they are on two different paths, two different trajectories, guided by two different realms, living in two different fellowships. In this respect Proverbs echoes Psalms, and Proverbs Chapter One echoes Psalms One and Two. Psalm One speaks of the individual who lives in righteousness and the individual who lives in wickedness; Psalm Two speaks of the peoples and rulers of this age arraying themselves against God and His Messiah and of God’s response to their rebellion.
As we fear the LORD we realize the import of His instruction, the seriousness of His commandments, and the danger of flirting with sin and death. As we fear the LORD we fear being away from Him, we fear straying into the realm of darkness, we fear lest we should take the stairway that leads downward to Sheol to the chambers of death (Proverbs 7:27).
We do others a disservice when we attempt to ameliorate the word “fear” in Proverbs 1:7 – it is a word that we must each negotiate, a concept that we must work through in our relationship with God, an experience which must make an impression upon our souls. Yes, as daughters and sons of the living God we are to relish our intimacy with our kind and forgiving heavenly Father; we are to live in deep intimacy with Him and in Him; we are to know what it is to live without fear in Christ and to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit in fellowship with the Trinity. But all the more reason to remember that just as our Father is holy so He has called us to be holy; He has called us to distinguish between the clean and unclean, between light and darkness. People who fear Him know that this is not a game – yes, He is indeed our Father in Jesus Christ…and yes…He is also the judge of the heavens and earth. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge – only a fool would think otherwise.