Wisdom from Proverbs: The Fear of the Lord and the Gospel
By Kent Langham
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10
Some believe the book of Proverbs to be difficult to understand because of its apparent lack of context in Old Testament history. I agree that, on the surface, it may seem that Solomon, through the lens of his God-given wisdom, is simply giving principles to follow; some of these seem to be establishing a moral framework for God’s covenant people, while some seem to be merely statements of his observations with no moral compass at all. However, when read through the lens of the eternal covenant that God has with his people, the Proverbs are promises to which we do cling, trust, and obey with full assurance. It is also important to understand that there is a context in which New Covenant believers are to read and obey the Proverbs, and that context is the fear of the Lord.
The frame through which the Bible expects God’s people to observe and obey the wisdom in Proverbs is that they should fear Yahweh. So, what does it mean to fear Yahweh? This is a massive topic to address, but, in its raw form, it is to believe that he is who he says he is and to understand that he is very concerned with the choices we make and how we live our lives. It is to believe that there are repercussions for our actions, whether good or bad, because he sees all and knows all and will judge all. This is wisdom: to fear God. The opposite of this is folly, or living in such a way as if God does not exist or is indifferent to the way in which we live, which is why David tells us in Psalms 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Having this foundation makes us ask this question: how does one get this wisdom? The answer is found in the New Testament, where we see the fullness of God’s “mystery,” which was “hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26). In 1st Corinthians 1, Paul implicitly shows us how the entire book of Proverbs should be understood by God’s people: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” – (1 Cor. 22-24). According to Paul, the wisdom of God, the highest of all wisdom, the wisdom that supersedes all the “wisdom” throughout the ages, was to put Christ forth as a substitute for his elect, and through crucifixion, to lay on Christ the sins of all those whom he calls to himself. God spares them by making Christ the object of his wrath while attributing to them a perfect righteousness that only Christ has. Hallelujah!
So, back to the question, how does one get wisdom? He turns from his unbelief and trusts in Christ fully for the forgiveness of sins. He does this because God graciously gives him the fear of the Lord. When God does a miracle in our hearts and allows us to see our fallen conditions and God’s hatred of sin properly, the only wise response is not to run away from God and hide, but to run to him for refuge. He offers this refuge in Christ, “his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). If the wisdom of God is the gospel of Jesus Christ, then the wisdom the Bible commands us to get is to believe the gospel (Prov. 4:7).
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not only read the Proverbs as a set of moral teachings that, if followed, will lead to better lives (though they certainly will do that!), but also read and obey them as a response to having been graciously saved from God’s wrath and to having been given abundant life, free from the slavery of sin with unlimited access to enjoy God in holiness. When understood through the context of the fear of the Lord, which points us to believing the gospel, obeying the Proverbs is the implication of having peace with God and living in God’s Kingdom with Jesus reigning as king.