WH Guest Post: “The ‘Fear of YHWH’ in Dan Phillips’ ‘God’s Wisdom in Proverbs'”

[This is a guest post by Webster Hunt, a regular feature here at The 4thDaveBlog.  You can follow Web at @livingheart on Twitter. This week, he discusses a great book called God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, by Pastor Dan Phillips. You can follow Dan on Twitter, or at his blogs.]

Until I read chapter 3 of Dan Phillips’s “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs”, whenever I got to Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle.” (DJP’s rendering from Hebrew), I’d simply take the passage for granted and move on to the “meatier” parts of Proverbs: the discourses, the pithy one-and-two-liners, the contrasts, etc. I didn’t know its value, nor did I realize that that verse is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge.

Thankfully, though, Dan did, and says as much in the very first line of chapter 3, calling the topic of the verse “the foundational truth of the book of Proverbs” (pg 65).  And not only did he realize it and learn its worth, he studied it, matured in it, and by God’s grace took all those things and made them accessible for our sake, that we might also both grasp and be grasped by the fear of Yahweh, to quote a phrase he uses, and use the chapter – and really the whole book – as an ordinary means of grace by which we learn to properly understand and apply God’s Word and grow in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I had the opportunity, I bought a copy of “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs” with the expectation to get some good commentary and was pleasantly surprised to get what was more like an instruction manual on how to understand the Proverbs. Dan is clear early on that God put Proverbs in the Bible for a good reason, and since God’s words are the most rare commodity in the universe, we would do well to study them in order that we might also obey them – and the implied command of Proverbs 1:7 is no different. If the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of Wisdom (not A beginning, but THE – definite article – beginning), and it is only the fool and the dense that belittle wisdom and discipline, and since Jesus, the Second person of the Godhead, in His humanity obeyed every word spoken by His Father, who are we to think that this should simply be passed by and thought of as trivial?

One of the strengths of this chapter is Dan’s insistence that we understand the fear of Yahweh in the context that Solomon would have. He writes of how Solomon didn’t just pull this concept out of thin air but rather was taught it throughout his childhood from the Scriptures – and he encourages the reader to follow along as Solomon would have, mentioning the fear of Yahweh in the life of Israel from Deuteronomy, and of Abraham from Genesis.  The chapter is dependant on what the Scriptures communicate about the fear of Yahweh, and I know it might be silly to point out the obvious, but you only know someone by what they reveal about themselves, and we can only know God’s character, who He is, what He desires, and what He hates by what He reveals about Himself, and the Bible is the only place we are able to get that from – I say all of that to labor that when Dan describes the fear of Yahweh, he isn’t expressing his own opinion, but rather God’s revelation, and that calls me to submit to it.

Within the context of the Scriptures Solomon would have learned from, Dan gleans a few important details about the fear of Yahweh in the 1st quarter of the chapter:

1) The fear of Yahweh involves a subject and an Object.
The subjects of the fear, those who must grasp the fear, are us. Me. You. Humanity. Everyone is commanded to fear Yahweh. Dan points out on page 66 that this command is not limited to any sex, ethnicity, occupation, age, etc. If you’re a human being, you must fear Yahweh. Also, no one can fear Yahweh in anyone else’s stead – not even the Holy Spirit can fear Yahweh for us (pg 67). There is a personal responsibility that we, as the subjects of the fear of Yahweh, must drive toward and do – and what a reason to call upon Christ! Jesus Christ is the only man who ever always feared Yahweh properly. We know this because He grew in favor with God (Luke 2:52) and was described by God as His “Beloved Son with whom He was well pleased” (Matt 3:17) and was without sin (Heb 4:15). And since He came as a man born under the Law (Gal 4:4) and always did the will of His Father, then it is no stretch for me to believe that, for all righteousness, that the man Christ feared God His Father.

So while no one can fear Yahweh in our stead, we must. Otherwise, we are the dense fool who belittles wisdom and reveres his own thoughts and ways.

Now to the Object of the fear of Yahweh – Yahweh Himself, the One whom the subjects are commanded to have fear of, and to fear.  When Dan gets to this point, from pages 67-70, he gives the best argument I know of for doing away with the superstitious, faux-honor tradition of substituting God’s name, Yahweh, for LORD and all the other renditions. The fact that God specifically uses His name 6823 times in the Old Testament (pg 67), he points out, is a pretty clear indicator that it was meant to be used, not hidden! And when he makes the point that he understands God’s name, Yahweh, “to signify God as the one who is present faithfully to keep His covenant, the promise-keeping God who is personally present,” it puts the command to fear Him in a proper context. Fear of man will end when that man dies, when he goes away, when you go away. However, since Yahweh is eternally present and faithful to keep whatever covenant He desires to make, the fear of Yahweh doesn’t end either, and takes on a different thought than, say, a fear of snakes, or falling, or “a sort of generalized anxiety, a sort of pantophobia” (pg 67). It’s different from those fears because of the way in which Yahweh deals with His people.

Again, as Dan points out skillfully on pages 71-73, this is a fear that was to be taught and learned by way of His commands and laws, His word. Sure, there was emotional fear at the dreadful sights of God’s glory descended on Mount Sinai as it caught fire, winds whirled about chaotically, the sky filled with smoke, and trumpet blasts rang out the arrival of the King of all things. But what does Yahweh focus on? Dan points out that in Deuteronomy 4:10 that it’s His Word that was to be taught to the children that they might learn to fear Him. His works and commands were to be told again and again with the expectation that they would fear Him and obey Him and love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2)”The fear of Yahweh requires revelation” (pg 71)

As I covered above, the only way to know someone is for them to reveal themselves to you, and God is no different. Although the Bible is clear that all men know God is, knowing He is doesn’t equal knowing Him. Think about it: the Triune God who by the word of His power made all things, made man who then squandered every good thing God gave to Him, has chosen to make Himself known to man who hates Him – and more than that, decided before man was that He would save for Himself a holy, peculiar treasure out of the mass of wretched men at the expense of His own Holy, Righteous Son. And because we are wicked and sinful, we don’t by nature know what it means to fear Yahweh. So He stoops and reveals that to man, that we might read and heed and obey and fear Him. To quote Dan on page 73, “God’s Word produces the right attitude toward Him, because His Word reveals Him, His mind and His ways to us. His Word alone gives content to our faith.” And then he makes these three spectacular points:

  •         Without content, there would be no REASON to fear
  •         Without content, there would be no OBJECT for our fear
  •         Without content, there would be no FORM to give to our fear

We cannot fear if we do not know God’s Word, because we cannot fear Him properly if we do not know Him properly. And I’m speaking of the secondary means, the ordinary means, the means by which we actually do what God has commanded us to do. There is no need to spiritualize what God has made practical. We aren’t smarter than Him. Do I really have to qualify that we do this by the power of the Holy Spirit in real time, in real ways, because Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God, and by His blood we know Him? I guess so. Self-fulfilling prophesy and all that.

So with that point Dan gives probably the strongest argument from Proverbs as to why we should invest in reading, studying, and knowing God’s word – at least he does to me – that we should partake of any means of grace, ordinary or supernatural, because they’re given by God for a purpose, and that purpose is always to glorify His Son Jesus, and making us like Him in order to do that.

And that’s just in the first 10 pages of chapter 3. I plan to make a few more passes to give you the bird’s eye view of this chapter, in the hopes that you’ll make use of this wonderful book that Dan has worked hard to put into the hands of folks like me who grew up in churches and was never taught the rich, beautiful, humbling truth of Proverbs 1:7 and the fear of Yahweh. Don’t waste the good things God has given us through wiser, more mature Christians.

Grace to you all. I hope you were edified and encouraged in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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2 thoughts on “WH Guest Post: “The ‘Fear of YHWH’ in Dan Phillips’ ‘God’s Wisdom in Proverbs'”

  1. I find it funny that you refer to him as “Dan.” As fanboys, I think we are supposed to call him Phillips, and the other guy is just “Turk” or “The Turk” in special circumstances.

  2. Ha! Mr. Phillips didn’t feel natural. For some reason “Turk” does.

    And I think you’re right: I must maintain the fanboy code.

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