Theme: Knowing and Fearing the Lord
In this week’s lessons, we see that God’s goodness is shown by his works, and that true wisdom comes from knowing and fearing him.
Scripture: Psalm 111:1-10
It is probably a safe bet to say that most people today are not much interested in wisdom. They are interested in making money, of course, and in having a good time. Some are interested in knowing something; that is, in getting an education. Almost everyone wants to be popular and well liked. But wisdom? The pursuit of wisdom is not a popular ideal. Yet we need wisdom to run our lives, and lacking it, we make a shipwreck not only of our own lives but also of the lives of others. Examples are all about us.
Where does wisdom come from? How may it be found? The answer is in this verse. It says: 1) we must begin with reverence for God (“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”); and it adds: 2) we must know God’s Word, the Bible, since it is only those “who follow his precepts [who] have good understanding.”
1. Reverence for God. The word translated “beginning” is reshith, which means “the starting point” or “the first principle.” In other words, reverence for God is the bedrock requirement if a man or woman would be wise. But this is where we go astray. Rather than bowing before God so that we might acknowledge him and thus begin our reflections on life and its purpose from this foundation and vantage point, we turn our backs on God and pursue our own supposed “wisdom” instead. Wisdom begins with acknowledging or reverently bowing before God as God, and it progresses by getting to know God well, which includes not only our coming to know who he is but also learning that his thoughts and ways are infinitely above and beyond ours.
2. Knowing the Bible. Where does this knowledge come from? There is only one answer: It is from the Bible. It is only in the Bible and by a careful study of the Bible that God can be known and wisdom acquired. How foolish, then, that we do not take time to study the Bible carefully. Martin Luther once said, “We are accustomed to admit freely that God is more powerful than we are, but not that he is wiser than we are. To be sure, we say that he is; but when it comes to a showdown, we do not want to act on what we say.”1
When he was only twenty years old, Charles Haddon Spurgeon began his half-century-long career in London with a sermon on knowing God in which he argued that “the proper study of God’s elect is God.” Spurgeon said, “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” He argued that thinking about God improves the mind and expands it.2
Spurgeon was right. No people ever rise higher than their idea of God, and, conversely, a loss of the sense of God’s high and awesome character always involves a loss of a people’s moral values, and even what we commonly call humanity. We are startled by the disregard for human life that has overtaken large segments of the Western world. But what do we expect to see when countries like ours openly turn their backs upon God? We deplore the breakdown of moral standards, but what do we imagine should happen when we have focused our worship services on ourselves and our own, often trivial, needs rather than on God?
All this has bearing on what we are to be and do, of course. Which is why this last verse prepares us for the teaching in the next psalm.
1Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, vol. 3, compiled by Ewald M. Plass (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1959), p. 1453.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God” (Malachi 3:6) in The New Park Street Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1975), p. 1. Original edition 1855.
What is the starting point of wisdom?
Where does true wisdom come from?
What are some of the reasons for the disregard for human life that we see today?
Reflection: Where is your worship centered? How does that influence your life? Is the priority of your life the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
Application: Memorize a proverb about wisdom and act on the instruction in the text. Resolve to improve and expand your mind by thinking more about the existence of God.
Key Point: No people ever rise higher than their idea of God, and, conversely, a loss of the sense of God’s high and awesome character always involves a loss of a people’s moral values, and even what we commonly call humanity.