Why fear of God is good news

Kathleen Nielson | August 4th 2020

The following is an extract from Proverbs for You.

Proverbs’ wisdom is not just learned intellectually but lived out practically. And it’s not lived out alone. Proverbs’ wisdom is found in relationship with the Lord.

From the rest of Scripture we know the primacy of relationship with the Lord God, so it should not surprise us to find it in Proverbs. But it is important to see and say, especially because of the common temptation to think of Proverbs as a collection of sayings, rather than a book about relationship with God.

Proverbs For You

Proverbs For You

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Divine wisdom for your everyday life from the book of Proverbs.

The more carefully we read this book, the more we see wisdom as a life lived in active relationship with God: listening, following, repenting—and, first and foremost at the start of Proverbs, fearing. 

Fearing God Is The Beginning

The prologue’s climactic verse tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7a).

Fearing God is different from just being afraid, as we would be afraid of a storm or a burglar. That kind of fear is flavored by objects which simply harm us. Right fear of God is flavored by its object as well: the Lord God of the universe, who has revealed himself in the Scriptures. Fearing the Lord means reverencing him for who he is, according to his word. Fearing him is the beginning: the starting point for all these weighty wisdom words.

The God of History

We should notice that the text does not say the fear of God. It says “the fear of the Lord”—Yahweh. (Bible translations often print this name all in capital letters.)

This is God’s revealed name for himself as the One who in steadfast love redeems a people for himself. Yes, this Lord is the sovereign Creator of all things. Yes, this Lord is the holy Judge of all people. The Lord God is one God. And yet Yahweh is a special name for God: it is the name God gave Moses to use in telling the people of Israel who it was that sent him to rescue them from Egypt: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever” (Exodus 3:15). The Lord is the One who mercifully rescues a sinful people according to his promises.

That rescue was first hinted at in the Garden of Eden, after the fall, when God promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of that serpent (Genesis 3:15). God channeled the rescue through Abraham and his seed, promising to bless them, to make them a great nation in the land he promised to give them, and through them to bring blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:1-7).

By the time of King Solomon, Abraham’s seed that Yahweh rescued from Egypt had indeed become a great, prosperous nation, blessing all the nations around through the wisdom of their king. They were receiving the fruit of Yahweh’s promises. And yet it was not the final fruit. We fear the Lord, who has been personal and purposeful throughout history. 

The God Of Redemption

We read the book of Proverbs today knowing about the kingdom of Israel, which flourished and then fell, as God’s people turned away from their Lord. But the Lord’s name is forever. His word does not fail. We also know that the Lord brought that promised seed to this world, according to his covenant. The seed came through the line of David and Solomon and their descendants, down through the line of Judah, all the way to Jesus.

When we read the name of “the Lord” today, we sense the depths of that name as it has been revealed in history, and the depths of the love with which that name reverberates. This is the merciful God who redeems his people for himself, finally through his Son.

The God Who Reveals Himself to Us

The beginning point of wisdom in Proverbs is the beginning point for all God’s people throughout all time: we must fear the Lord. That is, we must reverence him for who he is according to his word. This is the relationship that determines everything.

Proverbs is full of relationships— but there is no other starting point than a relationship with the Lord.

Proverbs is full of relationships (just like our lives): fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, men and women who are not husbands and wives, neighbors with each other, rulers and subjects, and on and on. But there is no other starting point than this relationship with the Lord whom we are called to fear.

What grace that he reveals himself to us, and that he himself redeems us, so that we are able to fear him as his beloved redeemed people.

The fear of the Lord will be put before us again and again, at crucial points in the book of Proverbs. It is the only starting point for a life of wisdom, and it is the necessary continuing touchpoint all along wisdom’s path.

This is an extract from Proverbs For You by Kathleen Nielson. This accessible, absorbing expository guide to Proverbs brings these ancient sayings to life, helping ordinary Christians to see what it can look like to enjoy living in line with God's wisdom in the great multitude of everyday situations and decisions we face.

Kathleen Nielson

Kathleen Nielson is a renowned conference speaker internationally, and served as Director of Women's Initiatives at The Gospel Coalition. Kathleen is the author of numerous Bible studies and books, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Charles Simeon Trust. She is married to Niel and they have three sons and five granddaughters.

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