2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. 3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. 4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. 5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance 6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. 7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
By this book, one can learn the principles that determine success or failure in the major arenas of human activity, including business, personal relationships, family life, and community life. Verses 2–6 describe the purpose of the book, that is, to teach wisdom to the reader. The primary purpose of Proverbs is the instruction of young people and those who have yet to learn wisdom (v. 4), but it is not only for children. Those who are already mature and learned (v. 5) also have a great deal to learn from this book, and they should not shun it as unworthy of their time.
The vocabulary of this section indicates four characteristics of biblical wisdom.
– First, it is practical. “Wisdom” includes the idea of “common sense” and the ability to cope with daily problems.
– Second, it is intellectual. This is implied in words like “understanding” and “knowledge.”
– Third, it is moral and involves self-control. This is indicated in words like “right and fair” and “discipline.”
– Fourth, Proverbs draws the reader into the mysteries of life. This is implied in terms like “parables” and “riddles.” Biblical wisdom seeks to resolve or at least adjust to the ambiguities of life. It seeks the reality behind the appearances.
Verse 7 ties the fundamental principle of biblical wisdom (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”) to recognition that many will reject wisdom and God (“fools despise wisdom”). A principle that believers must teach their children is that in their pursuit of wisdom they will be surrounded by others going the opposite direction who will be encouraging them to do likewise. In this fashion the polarity of the entire Book of Proverbs—the way of the wise and the way of the fool—is introduced. The reader faces the alternatives and is challenged to attain wisdom through the fear of God. (“The New American Commentary”)
To fear God is to regard God with reverent awe. He alone is holy, awesome, and glorious (Isa. 6:3). He is worthy of our respect. Because God is righteous, we should be concerned about the consequences of displeasing him. Our fear is not one which leaves us cowering and terrified but rather is like the respect a son should have towards his father. The fear of God leads to wise and pure living: ‘By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil’ (Prov. 16:6b).
To fear God is to submit to him, turning from self-assertion and evil: ‘Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil’ (3:7). We are not autonomous beings, free to assert our own will and decide what is right for us. We must acknowledge the Lord’s sovereign moral governance of the universe. We should be open to his training and correction and trust that his way is always best. To fear God is to know God. To know God is to have life (19:23a). When you fear God, you no longer fear men (29:25).
The fear of the Lord is not a beginning like the first stage of a rocket which is cast aside after it has served its purpose. Rather, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom in the same way in which a foundation is the beginning of a house: everything that comes after the foundation is built upon it. (“Opening Up Proverbs”)