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A Pivotal Postion

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) … “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The verse enunciates a basic principle, even a motto, of the sages, which was at the same time intrinsic to Israelite faith; cf. Exod 3:6; 19; Deut 5:5. “Knowledge” means “wisdom” here, as 9:10 makes explicit, and see also Ps 111:10; Job 28:28; Sir 1:14. The word for “beginning” could be translated as “essence” or “chief part,” but in 9:10 “beginning” is definitely used. See also 15:33. Perhaps von Rad has provided the most perceptive comment on this topic: “To this extent, Israel attributes to the fear of God, to belief in God, a highly important function in respect of human knowledge. She was, in all seriousness, of the opinion that effective knowledge about God is the only thing that puts a man into a right relationship with the objects of his perception …”


This is an imposing preface to the book. It is also quite unusual in that no other biblical work begins with a statement of purpose as clear as this. At the same time, it hides more than it reveals. One need only read the rest of the book and assess the wisdom tradition to appreciate how “proverbs” open up vast issues in every corner of ancient and modern daily life.

One reason for characterizing vv 1–7 as a “preface” is the striking literary style with which its message is announced: a long sentence followed by a motto (“fear of the Lord”) that is in a pivotal position. Many scholars are of the opinion that all of chaps. 1–9 serve as an introduction to what follows. As it were, they set the tone or provide the hermeneutical key to the disparate sayings in the following chapters. The editor saw no conflict between early and late wisdom. We have already noted the telling association of wisdom and instruction with “fear of the Lord” that sums up all else; wisdom leads to fear of the Lord; cf. 9:10.[1]

[1] Murphy, R. E. (1998). Proverbs (Vol. 22, p. 5). Dallas: Thomas Nelson.


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