There’s a Scripture you’ve heard over and over again that is the basis for the entire book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Solomon is making an absolute statement, against any knowledge that takes precedence over the Lord. According to God’s Word, true knowledge can’t exist without a reverent “fear” of God. We are to humbly have a deep respect for God because He is the Creator, Lord, Savior, and the One who loves us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the ransom for our sin. This verse tells us that knowledge is out of place apart from the fear of the Lord.
But not everyone chooses to fear the Lord; therefore they don’t know God and certainly don’t have access to His wisdom. In fact they despise His wisdom and instruction, which brings us to our passage from today’s reading: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” (Prov 1:29-33)
In this case, those who preferred to be ignorant of knowledge by knowing the Lord, rather than follow the truth, are said to “hate” knowledge. Earlier in this passage, great wisdom was given: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Prov 1:10) Just because someone is trying to lead you astray, you aren’t obligated to follow them on their path to destruction: “So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners.” (Prov 1:19)
Those who have read the myth of King Midas will recognize the point of this proverb. King Midas wished for nothing more than gold. His greed was immense, even though he already had everything he could want. By chance, he was given the ability to have one wish granted; he wished that everything he touched would turn into gold. He wanted what he did not deserve, did not earn, and didn’t really need. He made a stupid, thoughtless choice based on insatiable greed. This act would eventually take away his “life,” just as Solomon tells us here. Those who try to get ahead through sin and evil will find that they’ve lost everything. This includes what they thought they were gaining, and everything they had beforehand (Mark 8:36–38).
The choice to refuse God’s counsel and despise His rebuke (Prov 1:30) has consequences, as spelled out in the next verse: “Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies.” (Prov 1:31) Wisdom cries out for anyone who is willing to listen—only those who ignore her fail to learn from wisdom (Prov 1:24). When we ignore the wisdom of God, the consequences that come are entirely our own fault. What comes from sin is our own choice and our own doing. This is a major theme of the first chapter of Romans, which explains that when we choose to reject God, God will let us “have it our way,” including all of the painful and embarrassing results, both now and for eternity unless we repent.
There are only two ways to respond to wisdom: to listen or to “turn away.” Either one is a choice. The image of wisdom as a woman publicly shouting in the marketplace applies to all of us. Nobody has an excuse: wisdom is made available, all we have to do is choose to listen. “For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (Prov 1:32). Sadly, most people will not, and the end of this road leads to destruction. Those who ignore wisdom may or may not experience disaster right now, but they will, inescapably, pay a price for their actions.
This last verse in today’s passage seems to acknowledge that the way of the wise is a hard road, in its own way. It is often traveled alone. It means resisting the seduction of sin. “But whoever listens to Me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” (Prov 1:33) Those who are wise rest in the security of the Lord. They have no reason to fear the eternal disaster awaiting those who ignore God. And, they are far more likely to experience joy, peace, and success in this mortal life, but that’s not guaranteed. This life on earth is NOT our best life now as false teachers would have you believe. Our ultimate reward will be in heaven when we are with the Lord for eternity.
Today, we can have this peace with God through our faith in Jesus Christ. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1-2) It’s true that we have escaped the wrath of God, but being righteous before God means so much more than just not being punished for our sin.
Paul is describing what is true for those who have trusted in Christ’s work for our salvation, and doesn’t apply to all of the entire human race. It is based on faith alone in Christ alone. And this peace is with God, not with those who have turned their back on God and chose evil. But we need not fear them: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). We need to keep our eyes on the Lord because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).