The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)2.—FIFTEEN DIDACTIC POEMS, OR DISCOURSES ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS (Proverbs 1:7 to Proverbs 9:18).
(a) First Discourse:—Against Companionship in Robbery (Proverbs 1:7-19).
(7) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.—The first discourse is prefaced by a distich, which serves as a key-note to all the teaching of the book. This expression, “the fear of the Lord,” occurs thirteen times in the Proverbs, and plays a prominent part throughout the Old Testament.
“When God of old came down from heaven,
In power and wrath He came.”
That law which was given amid “blackness, and darkness, and tempest” was enforced by the threat, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). Men had to be taught how hateful sin was to God, and the lesson was for the most part instilled into them by the fear of immediate punishment. (Comp. Deuteronomy 28) But when the lesson had been learnt, and when mankind had found by experience that they were unable to keep the law of God by their own strength, then the new covenant of mercy was revealed from Calvary, even free justification “by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). And with this new message a new motive to obedience was preached. The “fear of the Lord” was now superseded by the higher duty of the “love of God,” and of man, for His sake. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” says St. Paul. “We love Him because He first loved us,” writes St. John. Now, it was seen that, although the “fear of the Lord” may be the “beginning of wisdom,” yet something better still may be aimed at: that “he that feareth is not made perfect in love;” and so the teaching of St. John, the last New Testament writer, is summed up in the words, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1John 4:11).
Fools (’evîlîm).—Self-willed, headstrong persons, who will listen to no advice.Proverbs 1:7. The fear of the Lord — That is, reverence for and obedience to God; is the beginning of knowledge — The foundation and source of it; without which all other knowledge is vain and useless. Mark well this sentence, reader: all wisdom, which is not founded in religion, in the true and genuine fear of God, is empty and unprofitable, and will be found such in the time of affliction, in the hour of death, and at the day of judgment. But fools — Wicked men, or men devoid of true religion, called fools throughout this whole book, despise wisdom and instruction — Are so far from attaining it, that they despise it, and all the means of getting it.Job 42:5-6), this for the Israelite was the starting-point of all true wisdom. In the Book of Job 28:28 it appears as an oracle accompanied by the noblest poetry. In Psalm 111:10 it comes as the choral close of a temple hymn. Here it is the watchword of a true ethical education. This fear has no torment, and is compatible with child-like love. But this and not love is the "beginning of wisdom." Through successive stages and by the discipline of life, love blends with it and makes it perfect.
beginning—first part, foundation.
fools—the stupid and indifferent to God's character and government; hence the wicked.The fear of the Lord; reverence and obedience to God, or his worship and service, as this word is commonly used.
The beginning; either the foundation, or the top, and perfection, or chief point, without which all other knowledge is vain and useless.
Fools; wicked men, called fools through this whole book; such as do not fear God.
Despise wisdom and instruction; are so far from attaining true wisdom, that they despise it, and all the means of getting it; which fully proves what he now said, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Psalm 130:4; it is a holy, humble, fiducial fear of God; a reverential affection for him, and devotion to him; it includes the whole of religious worship, both internal and external; all that is contained in the first table of the law, and the manner of performing it, and principle of acting: this is the first of all sciences to be learned, and it is the principal one; it is the basis and foundation of all the rest, on which they depend; and it is the head, the fountain, the root an source, from whence they spring; and unless a man knows God, knows God in Christ, and worships him in his fear, in spirit and in truth, according to his revealed will, he knows nothing as he ought to know; and all his knowledge will be of no avail and profit to him; this is the first and chief thing in spiritual and evangelical knowledge, and without which all natural knowledge will signify nothing; see Job 28:28;
but fools despise wisdom and instruction; the same with "knowledge" before; they do not desire the knowledge of God, and of his ways and worship, but despise it, make no account of it, but treat it with contempt; especially the knowledge of God in Christ, in which lies the highest wisdom, for this is "life eternal", John 17:3; they despise Christ "the Wisdom of God", and the Gospel, and the truths of it, which are "the hidden wisdom" of God; and all "instruction" into it, and the means of it; they despise the Scriptures, which are able to make a man "wise unto salvation"; and the ministry of the word, and the ministers of it: such sort of "discipline" (n) was this, as the word signifies, they dislike and abhor; and especially "correction" or "chastisement" (o), which is also the sense of it; suffering reproach and affliction for the sake of wisdom, a profession of Christ and his Gospel; and they are fools with a witness that despise all this; such fools are atheists, deists, and all profane and wicked men. The Septuagint render it, "the ungodly"; and such sort of men are all along meant by "fools" in this book.The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)7. This verse stands out as the motto, or key-note, both of the whole Book, and of the whole subject of which the Book treats. I am offering, the writer would seem to say, to give you the right of entering into the House of Knowledge, to conduct you through some of its goodly chambers, to display to you a portion of the rich and varied treasures with which it is stored. But as you approach the portal, note well the inscription which is traced above it: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The House is not a Palace only, but a Temple. They only who reverence the Deity who inhabits it are admitted within the shrine. It is the Temple of God; yet not that only but of Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of revelation and of covenant. To recognise this is the beginning, the necessary condition, the essential pre-requisite of knowledge. Those who seek knowledge in any other spirit or by any other path, really “despise wisdom and discipline,” and in so doing shew themselves to be not wise men but “fools.” See further, Introd. ch. i. p. 10.
The fear] not slavish dread, the “fear that hath torment” (1 John 4:18), but childlike reverence. See Malachi 3:16-17; Luke 12:5; Luke 12:7. In the LXX. this verse has been amplified by the addition of ἀρχὴ σοφίας φόβος κυρίου, σύνεσις δὲ ἀγαθὴ πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσιν αὐτήν, from Psalm 111:10.
the beginning] “the beginning and foundation of all knowledge,” Maur. This is better than the chief part, R.V. marg. Comp. Proverbs 9:10, where however the Heb. is different.
instruction] Rather, discipline. See note Proverbs 1:2.Verse 7-ch. 9:18. - Part II. INTRODUCTORY SECTION. The first main section of the book begins here and ends at Proverbs 9:18. It consists of a series of fifteen admonitory discourses addressed to youth by the Teacher and Wisdom personified, with the view to exhibit the excellence of wisdom, and generally to illustrate the motto, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," or wisdom. It urges strong encouragements to virtue, and equally strong dissuasives from vice, and shows that the attainment of wisdom in its true sense is the aim of all moral effort. Verse 7. - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. This proposition is by some commentators regarded as the motto, symbol, or device of the book (Delitzsch, Umbreit, Zockler, Plumptre). Others, following the Masoretic arrangement of the Hebrew text, consider it as forming part of the superscription (Ewald, Bertheau, Elster, Keil). As a general proposition expressing the essence of the philosophy of the Israelites, and from its relation to the rest of the contents of this book, it seems rightly to occupy a special and individual position. The proposition occurs again in the Proverbs in Proverbs 9:10, and it is met with in similar or slightly modified forms in other books which belong to the same group of sacred writings, that is, those which treat of religious philosophy - the Khokhmah; e.g. Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Ecclus. 1:16, 25. With this maxim we may compare "The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom" (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of the Lord (יִרְאַת יְהוָה, yir'ath y'hovah); literally, the fear of Jehovah. The expression describes that reverential attitude or holy fear which man, when his heart is set aright, observes towards God. The original word, יִרְאַת (yir'ath) for "fear," is properly the infinitive of יָרֵא, (yare), "to fear or reverence," and as a substantive means "reverence or holy fear" (Gesenius). Servile or abject fear (as Jerome, Beda, Estius) is not to be understood, but filial fear (as Gejerus, Mercerus, Cornelius a Lapide, Cartwright), by which we fear to offend God - that fear of Jehovah which is elsewhere described as "to hate evil" (Proverbs 8:13), and in which a predominating element is love. Wardlaw remarks that the "fear of the Lord" is in invariable union with love and in invariable proportion to it. We truly fear God just in proportion as we truly love him. The fear of the Lord also carries with it the whole worship of God. It is observable that the word Jehovah (יְהוָה) is used in the Hebrew, and not Elohim (אְלֶהִים), a peculiarity which is invariably marked in the Authorized Version by small capitals. The beginning; Hebrew, רֵאשִׁית (reshith). This word has been understood in three different senses:
(1) As initium, the beginning; i.e. the initial step or starting point at which every one who wishes to follow true wisdom must begin (Gejerus, Zockler, Plumptre).
(2) As caput; i.e. the most excellent or principal part, the noblest or best wisdom. This sense is adopted in the marginal reading (comp. also Proverbs 4:7) (Holden, Trapp).
(3) As the principium (Vulgate); i.e. the origin, or basis, as in Micah 1:12, "She is the origin, or basis (reshith) of the sin of the daughter of Zion." Delitzsch regards the original, reshith, as embracing the two ideas of commencement and origin, in the same way as the Greek ἀρχὴ. Wisdom has its origin in God, and whoever fears him receives it if he prays in faith (cf. James 1:5, sqq.) (Vatablus, Mercerus, Delitzsch). That the first sense, viz. that of beginning, is to be understood here appears from the parallel passage in Proverbs 10:10, where the corresponding word is תְּחִלָּת. (t'killath), "beginning," from the root חָלַל (khalal), "to begin;" cf. also the LXX. ἀρχὴ, in this sense, and the initium of the Syriac and Arabic Versions. All previous knowledge to "the fear of the Lord" is comparative folly. He who would advance in knowledge must first be imbued with a reverence or holy fear of God. But fools despise wisdom and instruction; or, according to the inverted order of the words in the original, wisdom and instruction fools despise, the association of ideas in the three words, "knowledge," "wisdom," and "instruction," thus being more continuously sustained. This arrangement links on the two latter words with "the fear of the Lord," and so helps towards the elucidation of the sense in which "fools" is to be understood Fools; ךאוִילִים (evilim), plural of ךאוִיּל (evil), from the root אָוַל (aval), "to be perverse," here properly designates the incorrigible, as in Proverbs 27:22, and those who are unwilling to know God (Jeremiah 4:22), and hence refuse and despise wisdom and salutary discipline, those "who set at nought all his counsel, and will none of his reproof." The word is opposed to the "prudent" (Proverbs 12:16) and to the "wise" (Proverbs 10:14). Delitzsch understands it as "thick, hard, stupid," from the root aval, coalescere, incrassari. Schultens uses παχεῖς, equivalent to erassi pro stupidis, to represent the original. Dunn takes it in the same sense as "gross or dull of understanding." Fuerst, adopted by Wordsworth, regards it in the sense of having no moral stamina, from the root meaning "to be slack, weak, lax, or lazy." But none of these explanations seems, in my opinion, to coincide sufficiently with the evil and depraved activity expressed in the verb "despise," which follows, and which describes the conduct of this class. The LXX. renders the word or action by ἀσεβεῖς, equivalent to impii, "godless," "profane," and the Vulgate by stulti. Despise; בָּזוּ (bazu) is perfect, but is properly translated by the present, because the perfect here represents a condition long continued and still existing (Gesenius, § 126); cf. the Latin odi, memini, etc. The LXX. uses the future ἐξουθενήσουσιν, i.e. they will set at nought; the Vulgate, the present (despiciunt). The radical meaning is most probably contemptuous trampling under the feet (Geseuius). Wisdom and instruction (see ver. 2). The latter clause of this verse is antithetical to the former, but the antithesis is obscurely expressed. In the Authorized Version it is marked by the adversative conjunction "but," which, however, is not in the original. The LXX. has a striking interpolation in this verse between the first and second clauses, which is partly taken from Psalm 111:10 (Σύνεσις δέ ἀγαθὴ πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσιν αὐτήν εὐσέβεια δὲ εἰς Θεὸν ἀρχὴ αἰσθήσεως, "And a good understanding have all they that do it: and reverence towards God is the beginning of knowledge"). Compare the Arabic Version, which has the same interpolation: Et intellectus bonus onmibus facientibus eam. Sana religio in Deum est initium prudentiae.
This external title is followed by one which the Book of Proverbs, viewed as to its gradual formation, and first the older portion, gives to itself. It reaches from Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 1:6, and names not only the contents and the author of the book, but also commends it in regard to the service which it is capable of rendering. It contains "Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel." The books of the נבואה and חכמה, including the Canticles, thus give their own titles; among the historical books, that of the memoirs of Nehemiah is the only one that does so. משׁלי has the accent Dech, to separate
(Note: Norzi has erroneously accented משלי with the accent Munach. The מ is besides the Masoretic majusculum, like the ב, שׁ, and א at the commencement of the Law, the Canticles, and Chronicles.)
it from the following complex genitive which it governs, and מלך ישׂראל is made the second hemistich, because it belongs to שׁלמה, not to דּוד.
(Note: If it had belonged to דוד, then the sentence would have been accented thus: משׁלי שלמה בן־דוד מלך ישראל.)
As to the fundamental idea of the word משׁל, we refer to the derivation given in the Gesch. der jud. Poesie, p. 196, from משׁל, Aram. מתל, root תל, Sanskr. tul (whence tul, balance, similarity), Lat. tollere; the comparison of the Arab. mathal leads to the same conclusion. "משׁל signifies, not, as Schultens and others after him affirm, effigies ad similitudinem alius rei expressa, from משׁל in the primary signification premere, premente manu tractare; for the corresponding Arab. verb mathal does not at all bear that meaning, but signifies to stand, to present oneself, hence to be like, properly to put oneself forth as something, to represent it; and in the Hebr. also to rule, properly with על to stand on or over something, with בּ to hold it erect, like Arab. kam with b, rem administravit [vid. Jesaia, p. 691]. Thus e.g., Genesis 24:2, it is said of Eliezer: המּשׁל בּכל־אשׁר־לו, who ruled over all that he (Abraham) had (Luther: was a prince over all his goods). Thus משׁל, figurative discourse which represents that which is real, similitude; hence then parable or shorter apothegm, proverb, in so far as they express primarily something special, but which as a general symbol is then applied to everything else of a like kind, and in so far stands figuratively. An example is found in 1 Samuel 10:11. It is incorrect to conclude from this meaning of the word that such memorial sayings or proverbs usually contained comparisons, or were clothed in figurative language; for that is the case in by far the fewest number of instances: the oldest have by far the simplest and most special interpretations" (Fleischer). Hence Mashal, according to its fundamental idea, is that which stands with something equals makes something stand forth equals representing. This something that represents may be a thing or a person; as e.g., one may say Job is a Mashal, i.e., a representant, similitude, type of Israel (vide the work entitled עץ החיים, by Ahron b. Elia, c. 90, p. 143); and, like Arab. mathal (more commonly mithl equals משׁל, cf. משׁל, Job 41:25), is used quite as generally as is its etymological cogn. instar (instare). But in Hebr. Mashal always denotes representing discourse with the additional marks of the figurative and concise, e.g., the section which presents (Habakkuk 2:6) him to whom it refers as a warning example, but particularly, as there defined, the gnome, the apothegm or maxim, in so far as this represents general truths in sharply outlined little pictures.
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