7 Fearing the Lord[a] is the beginning[b] of discernment,[c] but[d] fools[e] have despised[f] wisdom and moral instruction.[g]
Proverbs 1:7tnHeb “fear of the Lord.” In this expression (יִרְאַת יְהוָה, yirʾat yehvah) “the Lord” functions as an objective genitive. He is the object of fear and wonder. The term יִרְאָה(yirʾah) comes from the root יָרֵא (yareʾ), the common root for fear in the OT which has a basic three-fold range of meanings: (1) “be in dread or terror” (Deut 1:29; Jonah 1:10), (2) “to stand in awe” (1 Kgs 3:28), (3) “to revere; to respect” (Lev 19:3). With the Lord as the object, it captures the tension of shrinking back in fear and drawing close in awe and adoration. Both categories of meaning appear in Exod 20:20 (where the Lord descended upon Sinai amidst geophysical convulsions). Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid of God striking them dead for no reason (“Do not fear!”) but informed the people that the Lord revealed himself in such a terrifying manner to scare them from sinning (“God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him in you so that you do not sin”). The fear of the Lord is expressed in reverential submission to his will—the characteristic of true worship. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).
Proverbs 1:7tn The noun רֵאשִׁית (reʾshit) has a two-fold range of meaning (BDB 912 s.v.): (1) “beginning” = first step in a course of action (e.g., Ps 111:10; Prov 17:14; Mic 1:13) or (2) “chief thing” as the principal aspect of something (e.g., Prov 4:7). So fearing the Lord is either (1) the first step in acquiring moral knowledge or (2) the most important aspect of moral knowledge. The first option is preferred because 1:2-6 focuses on the acquisition of wisdom.
Proverbs 1:7tnHeb “knowledge.” The noun דָּעַת (daʿat, “knowledge”) refers to experiential knowledge, not just cognitive knowledge, including the intellectual assimilation and practical application (BDB 394). It is also used in v. 4 with the nuance “discernment” and the variation of this motto in Prov 9:10 substitutes חָכְמָה (khokhmah, “wisdom, moral skill”) at this point.
Proverbs 1:7tn The conjunction “but” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the antithetical parallelism. It is supplied in the translation for clarity. Note, however that the Hebrew word order is “wisdom and instruction—fools have despised.” Without a conjunction the clash or contrast is held poetically until the end.
Proverbs 1:7tn The term אֱוִיל (ʾevil, “fool”) refers to a person characterized by moral folly (BDB 17 s.v.). Fools lack understanding (10:21), do not store up knowledge (10:14), fail to attain wisdom (24:7), and refuse correction (15:5; 27:22). They are arrogant (26:5), talk loosely (14:3) and are contentious (20:3). They might have mental intelligence but they are morally foolish. In sum, they are stubborn and “thick-brained” (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 6).
Proverbs 1:7tn The verb בָּזָה (bazah, “despise”) means to treat things of value with contempt, as if they were worthless (BDB 102 s.v.). The classic example is Esau who despised his birthright and sold it for lentil stew (Gen 25:34). The perfect verb places the life that fools have lived in contrast with the beginning of moral knowledge. Here is the way of wisdom; fools have gone a different way. Now by implication—what is your choice? The translation of the perfect verb depends on whether the verb’s root is stative or dynamic. Stative verbs (verbs that describe a state) may be present time in the perfect and so can have gnomic force (cf. KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV). Dynamic verbs (verbs that describe actions) in the Hebrew perfect form are past or perfective. They may describe a past action which is prototypical of ongoing behavior. This type of root does not have a morphological test to distinguish if it is stative or dynamic. But the meaning “to treat with” despite suggests that it is dynamic, making the perfective translation “have despised” preferred.
Proverbs 1:7snHeb “wisdom and instruction fools have despised.” Placing “wisdom and moral instruction” first makes this the focus. The reader is not asked to think primarily about the nature of fools but about the choice regarding wisdom. The pair of terms echoes v. 2a, perhaps forming an inclusio.
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