The Book of Proverbs rests at the heart of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. At the heart of the Book, this proverb takes precedence over all: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and understanding” (Pr. 1:7). This phrase, “the fear of the Lord” is repeated fifteen times in Proverbs alone, as well as in many of the Psalms. One would think that such an important and often-repeated phrase as this would be readily understood by believers. Yet this is not the case. “The fear of the Lord” is often misconstrued to mean “terror,” “fright,” “trembling,” “timidity,” even “tearfulness.” What’s at stake here is an understanding of our right relationship with God. Fear is not the answer. Reverence and awe, veneration and worship is.
There are fifteen different words in Hebrew that are translated by one word in English: fear. That’s a problem. The word used in Proverbs is ‘yirah,’ which means “reverence.” ‘Yirah’ means a showing of deep respect and honor, and even awe, toward God. This awe and reverence includes elements of veneration, worship and love. That is truly what “the fear of the Lord” is supposed to mean. It is our offering to God. It is a choice. And it establishes a right relationship.
The Book of Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord “is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7); “is to hate evil” (8:13); “is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10); “adds length to life” (10:27); “provides a safe refuge” (14:26; “is better than great wealth” (15:16); “teaches us wisdom” (15:33); and “leads us into life” (19:23). If that’s what being “God-fearing” (rather than being “religious”) truly means, then you can count me in. If I have all knowledge, yet lack wisdom—of what utility is that? And if I aspire to all worldly wisdom, yet lack a reverence for God, where will the good result from that? Paul writes in his letter to Corinth, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …For we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power and wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger that human strength” (1 Cor. 1:20ff).
That sounds like a pretty good place to begin for me.