Implicit in all wisdom, there is the element of knowledge. One can attain knowledge, and one can attain wisdom, but the manner of attaining is essential to the process. As in all processes, there is a natural, appropriate starting point.
First and foremost, a “fear” of God creates the framework upon which all pursuit rests. Fear antedates the riches.
It is not difficult to see that often, very often, the Bible makes commands that run counter to our inclinations and assumptions. People do not naturally think of fear when discussing knowledge or wisdom. Why would they? The world system and the cultural mandates tell us that assertiveness, authority, focus, drive, and many other such things lead to knowledge. They will assure us that there must be a sense of pride and progression that comes before knowing things. It seems to make good sense.
But that is not the way of God. He tells us things that are right and true, but they don’t line up with our natural system of belief. What He tells us is His way, and His way is almost never “our way”.
Fear is a concept found all throughout the Word of God. Fear can be interpreted in many ways, but the fear in this Hebrew word “yirah” is not a fear as in cowardice or fear of danger; it is a fear of reverence and caution. It can be likened to a parent and a child. There is a natural “fear” of a parent in the eyes of a child, but it’s not (or should not be) a cringing type of fear, but a fear of respect.
English has a way of messing up words in translation. The Hebrew and Greek languages in which the Bible was written are deep, expansive languages that have many words to differentiate slight nuances between meanings. The classical word to illustrate this is the word “love”. While English speakers use the word love to say they prefer something, they strongly like something, they intimately desire someone, they genuinely care for someone, and on and on, the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek use different words to say each of these things. Consequently, the expression of the speaker or writer is much more clear.
So it is with fear. The fear spoken of in this verse is the fear of respect. When you respect someone, you carefully follow that person’s commands or desires. His or her counsel you weigh heavily and take it to heart.
Here, the author of Proverbs tells us the natural antecedent to knowledge is the fear of God. Plain and simple. Notice there is no mention of books, or classes, or formal education. There is a fear of God which results in knowledge.
To many, this sounds archaic and foolish, and it’s not surprising. The world system has set itself against the law of God and will always do so. In fact, God told us it was this way. We don’t bemoan it; we just order our lives according to the right way, which is God’s way.
So how is fear a natural, necessary, antecedent to knowledge? First, we must ask ourselves what the meaning of knowledge is in this context.
The word knowledge used here is the Hebrew word “yada” which has many, many connotations, but has one overarching quality. It is a sense of relation to something already established. The words acquaintance, perceive, comprehend, discern, and many others show us this critical concept of knowledge: knowledge is based in something already established. It isn’t new news. It is already there, and our acquiring knowledge is contingent upon us “getting the knowledge” that already exists.
This is an important distinction. If knowledge was about humans coming up with something, and knowing it and understanding it, the basis of our knowledge would be us. But it’s not. It’s about God, and if we are to attain knowledge, it comes about by a proper relationship to God.
Fear is the mechanism that allows us to attain knowledge, and wisdom, the sister of knowledge.
Fear and knowledge – companions to the end. Our fear of God, His laws, His commands, His ways, puts us (the humans) in right relation to Him. He possesses everything: all power, all knowledge, all presence. If we are to tap into this vast, limitless source of knowledge, we must be the proper student.
Imagine a classroom setting where a particular student is attending. He listens for a time, but after a while he begins to throw crumpled paper wads at other students, talk to other students, and do various things to disrupt the class. The teacher sees this and gives a warning. She tells him he is breaking classroom rules and cannot continue with his antics if he wants to remain in class.
But as it turns out he doesn’t really want to be there at all. He’d rather be outside or at home. So he continues. And soon enough, the teacher sends him to the principle’s office for discipline.
What happened? Was he not smart enough to learn? Was he not able to learn? No, his problem was that he had a broken relationship to his teacher, the one who had the knowledge he needed to learn.
So it is with our journey to find knowledge. We are in God’s classroom, and that is the case whether we accept it or not. He made the knowledge, He made the mind, and He determines how the information is to be learned. If we are in a broken relationship to Him, we CANNOT LEARN. As the end of the verse tells us, fools despise wisdom (a proper use of knowledge) and instruction (the process of learning knowledge).
A fool may say he wants to learn, and may even understand the value of learning. But if he does not do the things the teacher requires, he is not going to learn. He is going to be a fool.
It is best to begin with the beginning. It is at the beginning that we see how our fear of God is first and foremost the most important element in gaining knowledge. Our relationship to Him must be right, and all good things will follow.
To see how the wisest man who ever lived gained his understanding, look at The Wisdom of Solomon