Introduction: Know and Fear the Lord
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7
Solomon makes it quite clear in these words that the wisdom collected in the following writings is not mere practical advice. Any person might observe things about life which do and do not cause harm, which are or are not profitable. Any person might recognize that there are some habits and actions which lead to pain, and some which lead to well-being. That, however, is not what to book of Proverbs is. Over and against those who interpret this piece of wisdom literature as simply practical observations on what is and is not good judgment, I will argue that this is a deeply covenantal book. The wisdom contained herein does not issue from godless observation, nor could it. Solomon boldly states in the opening sentences of his collected sayings that what follows is based upon, rooted in, and anchored by his reverence for the Lord God of Israel. Thus, again, this is covenantal wisdom, and does not come apart from recognition of the Lord for who He is. I will show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the wisdom presented in the book of Proverbs.
Lions, Covenants, and Christ
The parents gasped in horror as they turned and saw that their gregarious toddler was happily stumbling towards the bars of the lion cage, having crawled under the barrier which kept zoo guests out of reach. Even more horrifying, the lion was crouching near the bars with a look of hungry anticipation. The boy’s father made a desperate dash, leaping over the barrier and snatching his son up just as the lion’s paw swept powerfully between the bars and through the air where the boy had been a millisecond before. It does no good to scold the boy for his unwise wanderings, because the child, having no knowledge of what a lion is or what one is like, had no fear of the beast. Likewise, those who have no knowledge of the Lion of Judah have no fear of Him, utterly lacking wisdom. The Lord is not feared by those who do not know Him. Thus, one cannot have the “…fear of the Lord…” when one does not know who He is, what He has done, and what He requires of us.
Graciously, the Almighty Lion has revealed Himself to us. We know from His word that creation itself declares the glory of God; that His attributes can be clearly seen in what has been made. However, our sin-maimed souls cannot see and perceive who God is even when we observe creation. Therefore, in His great mercy, the Lordly Lion has revealed Himself to His people in a special way. He chose a people for Himself and made a covenant with them, saying, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” This is the context within which God has revealed Himself: within the covenant with His people.
To the nation of Israel He gave the law, showing His attributes of holiness; that He is worthy of our fear and reverence. He spoke to the people through the prophets, leading them in the path of His choosing. He revealed Himself through miracles, prophecies, kings and angels – all so that His people would know Him. Speaking through the prophet Hosea, He shows this intent clearly: “I will betroth you to myself in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.” The very purpose for God’s election of His people is in order that they might know Him.
Moreover, God has not left us with the often amorphous and difficult to understand self-revelation in the covenant with Israel. He conveys His intention to do this in Jeremiah 31: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel at that time…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts…No longer will a man teach His neighbor, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Just a verse before, the Lord declares that this covenant will be new, and unlike the old covenant He made with His people. This new covenant is founded on and mediated by Jesus Christ.
Hence, the clearest revelation of God is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ within the new covenant. To tie this back to Proverbs: we cannot fear the Lord without knowing the Lord, and we can only know the Lord in how He has revealed Himself to us, and the new covenant in Jesus Christ is the clearest revelation of God. To have the covenantal wisdom of Proverbs, we must fear the Lord. In order to fear the Lord, we must know the Lord. In order to know the Lord, we must know Jesus and be members of the new covenant. Jesus, therefore, is the aim and fulfillment of the wisdom displayed in the book of Proverbs.
Echoes and Fulfillment
We can see the future echoes, the dim rays of the all-wise Son throughout the book, but particularly in the first several chapters. Since space is limited, we’ll look at just one passage wherein we can see patterns which Jesus filled up and made vibrantly tangible.
Proverbs 1:20-33 offers our first glimpse at the future Christ. Wisdom cries out in the streets to the simple and the scoffers in verses 20-22, just as Jesus walked the streets and roads of Judea and Samaria and proclaimed the kingdom. “Jesus said, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also, for that is why I have come.’” Jesus preached in the towns and villages, to crowds large and small, to Pharisees, fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors and all who desired to listen.
Wisdom continues in verse 23, giving a glorious promise for those who heed the reproof and knowledge of wisdom: “…I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” This promise from wisdom is a lesser type of the promise and fulfillment of what Jesus has done. Jesus says in Luke 11:13, “…how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”, and later in Luke 24:49 He tells His disciples, “…stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Jesus speaks of the same thing in these passages, as we see in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”. Jesus makes a better promise, and then more fully and finally follows through with that promise. Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf paved the way for the Spirit to be poured out on us, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians: “In [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance…”
However, continuing in 1:24-32, wisdom gives a severe warning: that terror and calamity will come upon those who spurn the teachings of wisdom; that there will be no answers to their cries for help, because they did not choose to fear the Lord. In the same way, only more surely and clearly, Jesus gives a dire warning of judgment to those who will not listen to His message: “Whoever believe in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him,” because God “has given [Jesus] the authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.”
And finally, wisdom re-iterates the promise of verse 23 again in chapter 1, verse 33: “…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” This is deeply reminiscent of Jesus’ words towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, as He tells the parable about the wise and foolish builders. “Whoever listens to these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house of the rock…” In Proverbs 1, wisdom urges us to listen in order that we might dwell secure. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that if we listen to and obey Him, we will dwell securely on the rock “without dread of disaster” from the storm, as a wise man. Wisdom says, “Listen to me and you will be wise, safe from disaster.” Jesus says, “Listen to and obey me and you will be wise, safe from the storm.”
The ministry of Jesus echoes and fulfills the ministry of wisdom in calling out to the simple. Wisdom’s promise that the spirit will be poured out on those who listen is fulfilled and carried out fully by Jesus, who sends the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of inheritance for those who believe in Him. Wisdom warns of disaster and calamity should we refuse her teachings, and Jesus – with devastating authority – warns of eternal disaster and judgment should we refuse His teachings. And to follow the dire warnings of judgment, wisdom gently gives renewed promises of security and peace, which Jesus – again with glorious authority – also promises to accomplish.
Conclusion: Know and Fear the Lord Jesus
Solomon roots the wisdom of Proverbs in the covenant of God’s self-revelation to His people: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” God has revealed Himself in the covenants with His people as the Almighty Lion of Judah to be feared. Most fully and finally, He has revealed Himself in the new covenant through Jesus – the Lion became the Lamb. The echoes and patterns set down in the book of Proverbs resonate with swelling melodies in the words of Jesus. What was seen darkly through a glass in Proverbs is clarified and personified in Jesus. Wisdom has been fulfilled. Promises have been fulfilled. Warnings have been fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. The meek Lamb spoke with the authority of the Lion’s roar, and the eternal Lion’s wisdom was revealed and fulfilled in the life of the Lamb. So, with Paul, my prayer is that we might “…know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
 cf. Romans 1:19-20
 cf. Exodus 6:7
 cf. Hosea 2:20
 cf Hebrews 9:15; 12:24
 Mark 1:38
 Ephesians 1:13-14a
 John 3:36; 5:27
 Matthew 7:24
 Colossians 2:2-3