05 September 2016

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.’ (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 148


Today's highlighted verse cries out to be flagged up, it is clearly the key statement of the opening passage, first chapter and the whole book of Proverbs It also invites the response, "Not so!" So perhaps we need to decide if this is how we want to read it, or just acknowledge that it comes from a particular place as sacred writing. It's important to emphasise that wisdom and instruction is for, and can be grasped by, anyone. Those who are turned towards God are not superior in knowledge and wisdom to others, even in religious matters. As we approach the text we are not always full of knowledge and wisdom, people can even use (misuse) the text to stifle these.

Yet, surely, it is an invitation to grapple with Scripture and put the text to the test. It is notable how attachment to the text and to what could be called divine philosophy was one of the drivers behind great developments in art, science, literature, medicine and other things. In days gone by wise souls actively looked for the divine wisdom in the created order, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. More recent ideas of Creationism and Intelligent Design are pale reflections of these.

Jesus presumably took the book of Proverbs to heart in order to convey his wisdom and message of ultimate life-changing significance. A wisdom described in simple terms - baking, family relationships, coins, flowers, agriculture - he had nothing complicated to say (except, maybe, in John's Gospel, a piece of 'wisdom' literature). This tells us that wisdom is not difficult in intellectual terms, only as a personal challenge. Are we ready to be wise? No doubt this week's readings will tell us.

To Ponder

  • How far would you agree that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge"?
  • What occasions are there when it is appropriate to describe people as "fools"? How is this compatible with gospel thinking?

Bible notes author: 
Julian Bond

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