It is common today to say that wisdom is knowledge in practice. While this may help us understand more about wisdom, this statement is not entirely accurate because it assumes that wisdom cannot be presented in the form of knowledge. Really, wisdom is a subset of knowledge; it is practical knowledge. Book knowledge is know-what knowledge. Wisdom is that area of knowledge that deals with know-how. For example, a medical student may know that the gall-bladder is near the liver, but only a seasoned surgeon will know how to identify the gall-bladder anatomically. The goal of wisdom literature is to provide some insight into the know-how of life.
The book of Job, the Psalms, and the Proverbs are in the part of the Old Testament known as Wisdom Literature. This is because these books of the Bible purport to set forth practical knowledge and understanding regarding day-to-day living. The first principle of wisdom literature is this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28; Psa. 111:10; Prov. 9:10). The reason you find this principle in all three of these books is simple. All wisdom begins with God as He is the source, par excellence, of how the creation works. After all, He is its creator, and no one knows better how something operates than the one who made it.
The ancients of the Old Testament knew that a healthy respect for God resulted in clean living, and this is something that has been lost on society today. The rise of modernity with its emphasis upon resolving all problems through autonomous human reason (humanism) has resulted in the disparaging of ancient wisdom. Modernism skeptically asks, “How could the ancients have known about the social sciences without the empirical method?” Yet when the so-called empirical method is applied rigorously today, the social-sciences have seldom (if at all) rendered novel conclusions. Traditional families really are the basis for a stable society. Attending church regularly really does make one a more charitable person. And a healthy respect for God leads to a more positive outlook on life. While just a few, each of these conclusions has been demonstrated in the social-science literature.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because when we fear God, we are going to have respect for His word. The Bible is the word of God, and it contains more than just facts. It is a history of God’s people as they interact with the world and with one another. While this history unfolds, those who read the Bible are taught how best to live so as to maximize good relationships with one’s fellow and with one’s God. God is always the priority in these relationships because He has the keys to knowing what will best suit each person’s effort to build these relationships. God stands as the source for all good relationships because He is the ultimate source of goodness, and He is the ultimate source for understanding what best perpetuates relationships. God’s word is key to fearing God, and fearing God is the key to having true wisdom.
Wisdom, however, may be appreciated not only from the standpoint of its utility in providing for good relationships, but for the beauty of what it reveals in and of itself. Wisdom as a virtue (and God is the source of all that is wholly virtuous) may be sought as a good in and of itself. One receives blessing simply by studying the wisdom literature, and simply by imbibing at God’s fount of knowledge and goodness, whether one seeks to apply what one has learned or not. This is because God is ultimately beautiful and may be appreciated in and of Himself for Who He ultimately is. Wisdom, as an aspect of God’s character/nature, may also be so appreciated. This is partially why Proverbs 19:8 says, “He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.” If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, perhaps the love of the Lord is the end of wisdom, for when this world ends, and all we have left after this life is our eternal relationships with one another and God, loving that which is truly beautiful in and of itself will prove to be an intrinsic good. The practical ends of wisdom for this world may come to an end, but the eternal aspects of and for an appreciation of wisdom will endure in heaven as we know God’s true beauty.