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The Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Chinese, Indians, and Greeks all sought after wisdom. The word "philosopher" comes from the Greek word for "lover of wisdom," and history clearly shows that no nation or people has ever cornered the market on wisdom. The book of Proverbs quotes foreign sources such as King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1-9), and several statements found in the proverbs or in the civil law given by Moses have parallels in the earlier writings of Egyptian wisemen and Mesopotamian law books. These include similar teachings about carrying off landmarks, using false scales, gossip, ox-goring, redemption from slavery, and the worth of a good name.

The ancient Jews treated wisdom as basically a practical matter. It could be summed up in the question, "What is the best way to ensure a happy life?" Although Old Testament writers identify God as the source of wisdom (1 Kings 3:28; 4:29) and occasionally ascribe wisdom to God himself (Isaiah 10:13; 31:2; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15), wisdom in the Old Testament most commonly represents a human rather than divine characteristic. In the Old Testament sense, wisdom usually meant practical knowledge and competence. Solomon is said to have been wise because he administered justice well (1 Kings 3:11-28), wrote proverbs and songs (1 Kings 4:29-34), and answered hard questions (1 Kings 10:3-6). His wisdom, however, did not make him perfect, neither did it prevent his participating in idolatry.

The Bible's originality consists in maintaining that human wisdom has little meaning apart from the fear of God. The value of knowledge depends upon the kind of God you worship. As Proverbs 9:10 states, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The numerous passages that echo this truth do not imply that wisdom is like a journey whose first step is the fear of the Lord and whose subsequent steps include other virtues. Rather, the word "beginning" in these texts means "heart" or "essence." In other words, the fear of God constitutes the wisdom we need most. In Job 28:28 we read, "The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding."

Obviously, the word "fear" in English has negative connotations. We recognize that fear is normally the root cause of hatred. But fearing God in the book of Proverbs links directly to ethical monotheism (Proverbs 3:7; 8:13), and the parallel constructions of Hebrew poetry underscore that the fear of God is synonymous with shunning evil (Job 1:1, 8;2:3; 28:28). To respect and honor the one righteous God means to behave morally, because that is God's primary concern. "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

In Proverbs 16:6, the writer parallels the fear of the Lord with chesed or covenant love. That is because chesed on the part of human beings means "godliness"--the love for God we show by doing his will and by fulfilling the requirements of the covenant. To fear God is to serve him with all faithfulness (Joshua 24:14). None of these passages refers to a dread of the spirit world such as one finds in voodoo religion. On the contrary, when the people of Israel were frightened at Sinai by the thunder, lightning, darkness, and smoke, Moses told them, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning" (Exodus 20:20).

The Bible maintains that no life can be sound that misunderstands the nature of God or that neglects his law. By keeping the law of God, we demonstrate our wisdom and understanding to others (Deuteronomy 4:6). We cultivate a wisdom revealed by the Spirit that leads to eternal life (1 Corinthians 2:6-13).


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 5, 2007 9:58 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Election.

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