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.

Wednesday Guest Post by Webster Hunt: “Fred Phelps and the Pleasure of God”

[“Wednesday Guest Posts” is a new feature here at the 4thDaveBlog–I guess since it’s been two weeks, we can almost call it a “regular” feature. This week, we again hear from my friend Webster Hunt. Follow Web at @livingheart on Twitter.]

Give me a few moments to tell you about how I was caught off guard last week, upon reading of the death of Fred Phelps, having my attention brought to Ezekiel 18:23 – where God rhetorically asks, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” – , and understanding a glimpse of the riches of His mercy in Jesus Christ, who fully “exegeted” the Father to us, to borrow a phrase.

If you’re reading this blog post, I’m assuming you have the internet, so I’m assuming you know who Fred Phelps is (if you don’t, open up a new tab a Google him – you can hate me later for it). One of the things he seemed to center on was this idea that the highest thing God desired was to condemn the wicked, which seemed to be everyone but the small group of followers he had. It’s ironic, really.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Fred Phelps was right – that God’s highest joy and priority is to bring His enemies into rightful condemnation.  (And I hope you do understand that it is rightful. I mean, God gives life and breath and movement to his creation, just to name some very basic things, so 1) What does man do with every moment of each of those? Also 2) So who exactly IS God’s enemy?  Even, if you’re a Christian, there was a season in actual time where you were a child of wrath, where you relished in your inherited sin nature and did whatever your heart desired; and even if you weren’t as bad as you could be, you weren’t holy as God is holy, and that presents a problem.)

So if God’s highest joy is pouring out His wrath on His enemies, how are you reading this right now? How in the world is there an elect people, a church, a people which He calls His own peculiar treasure, His prized possession? Why did He even let Adam out of the garden?

Ok, we can stop pretending, because what Fred Phelps believes is a lie. We know this because if it were true, then all of mankind would be immediately condemned, immediately subjected to the wrath we deserve as God-hating sinners from birth. We know this because of God’s own revelation of Himself.

What do we see in God’s self-revelation in scripture? We see Holy and Just God clothing His newly banished man to cover their shame. We see Him forbearing with Cain and his improper sacrifice. We see Him giving the Amorites time to “fill up” their sin. We see God forbearing with the question of Abraham of whether He would kill the righteous with the wicked. We see Him choose a people who would be stiff-necked and despise every good thing He would give to them, as a whole. We see Him sparing, and sending prophets, and deposing and rescuing Israel, and saving a remnant, and then, oh then, we see the culmination of His character in Jesus – the One who made the invisible God visible. The One who is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Son of Man. We see the second Adam doing what the first Adam would not. We see the Second Man doing what the first man could not. We see Him always loving, always obeying, always pleasing God the Father who, as a pastor pointed out recently, only spoke of His Son in superlatives – “Here is my BELOVED Son, with whom I am WELL pleased”.  We see Him stooping, giving up the prerogatives to His glory, being found in the form of a servant, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We see Him not being worshiped by every man that walked his way, and sparing that man.

The God who has made Himself known in the revelation of Scripture and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ, second person of the Triune God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so that He may save for Himself a peculiar people, a treasured possession–the Scriptures say the Father was pleased to crush His Only Begotten Son. Do you see that? The joy of God to take sinful men and make them in the image of His Holy Son is so infinitely high, that the only contrast to make it plain is to ask, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” Because I’ve also got to reckon this: that the death and eternal punishment of the wicked, unrepentant man, who with every breath was only ever always pleased to indulge his sin, however moral he may be (and even the vilest criminal has some sliver of “morality” which it abhors him to see violated) is good and right and holy, and in that fashion pleases God – because what does God do that does NOT please Him? Everything He does is good because He IS good; He is what defines what “good” is. But higher than that, saving a people for Himself by laying the iniquity of them on His own Son who willingly, and to the glory of God His Father, bore their penalty and their wrath and propitiated for them, and then showing that Son’s perfection by His resurrection, and giving the righteousness, the resurrection, the love, and the privilege of being His sons is so much more infinitely better that a negative description of the other is the only way to properly communicate to us His joy.

Now, considering that, I had to ask myself: How can I take pleasure in sin, when it pleased God to crush Him with Whom sin is no friend?

And I hope you take that away with you today as well, to God’s glory in Christ Jesus.

Grace to you all, and thanks again, Dave, for letting me guest-blog today.

Wednesday Guest Post: Webster Hunt

[Hey readers–from time to time, I’m going to bring in a guest blogger, just to mix things up. So please allow me to introduce a Twitter friend, Jesus follower, and all-around good dude, Webster Hunt. Follow him on Twitter at @livingheart .] 

Thank you, Dave, for giving me a chance to test the waters of blogging, and thank you, readers, for deciding to continue to read after you discovered that your regularly scheduled blogger had turned the reins over to a complete stranger. My hope is that you’ll be edified, comforted, and encouraged in Christ, and not run over the side of a cliff by a man who obviously has no idea what he’s doing – though he may boast otherwise.

My name is Webster Hunt, I’ve been married for seven years (in May, technically), and for the last three years my wife has been severely sick.  She’s seen so many specialists that I can’t count them. She spent much of 2012 in the hospital. She currently takes about 30 pills a day to fight all her various heart and blood pressure complications. She also has a pacemaker. She’s 26.

This illness took us completely by surprise. I can still remember the night that would foreshadow all the suffering to come – her blood pressure had contually risen all night and peaked at 185/110, at which point we asked her uncle to run her to the ER so that I could take care of our daughters. From that night, her illness only seemed to get worse, and seemed to be one which no doctor could peg down nor treat effectively, and one which would force us to make life-altering decisions in our family. I’m tempted to go into all that changed, but I may unintentionally cause reproach by passing over massive amounts of detail that are necessary for fully understanding all that happened. But in short, that year, our daughters were kindly adopted into a family that could better take care of them than we could and we chose to leave our home church to mitigate the effect our daughters would feel in having to leave us. Those were the hardest parts.

By our Lord’s providence, we found an apartment close to where I work so that I could quickly get to my wife if she needed me to, and we’ve been there since. 2013 was a hard year filled with loneliness and regret that things had to happen the way they did. We missed our daughters, and although we were greatly thankful for our Lord’s providence and love toward us in providing for them two wonderful adoptive parents, we wished that the home they could have been in was ours.  We missed our life before my wife’s illness; the freedoms, the joys, the little things we took for granted.

But we grieved together and whenever one fell into deep sorrow, by the grace of our Lord, the other was able to lift up, weep with, comfort, remind the one whose strength seemed sapped of our Lord’s sovereignty as shown in His Word. Even my wife, in the midst of an illness that attacked her body and mind at various times, was able when I was broken down to give comfort and remind me of the truth that our God, Jesus Christ, had conquered death and sin and was seated at our Father’s right hand, and would avenge any evil done to us, and would take the evil done to us and work it to good.

And here’s where I’m going with all of that: I wish the men who counseled me before marriage (who, in their defense, did their best to prepare us for marriage with all the right intent in all the ways our parents did not or could not or would not) had posed this question to me –

“Do you want to keep your promise that you’ll make at the altar when the sickness is the worst it could be, and it happens before its usual time – after you’ve experienced the joys of marriage for a time and have been husband and wife longer than you’ve had a mortgage – and the normal joys and experiences given to normal young couples dries up, and you have to make sharp sacrifices to take care of her.  When there is no physical joy to be gained, when you have to work your day job and then come home and take care of her too, when all your money is going to treating her illness, and many creature comforts that you would have otherwise experienced is gone and you’re left with the charge from God in scripture to “Love your wife” and “to deal with her in an understanding way” and you understand that your reasonable service to Christ is to be gracious toward your wife and remain steadfast in righteousness and purity when, though your wife’s body belongs to you, you are no longer able to exercise the joy that normally brings, do you still want to be married to her? Are you willing to be a living sacrifice in order to bring glory to Jesus Christ in your marriage by loving her the way 1 Corinthians 13 says a Christian should although you may receive no rewards, no accolades, no praises, no recognition, no glory in this life? Will you remain her husband both because you want to and because you vowed to?”

– because I think it would have made me take marriage more seriously in the first four years. Praise God that He prepared us by giving us mature men and women who would train us up to understand on the far-side what we neglected in the beginning.

Now granted, when that question is asked devoid of actual experience, it’s probably easy to say “Oh, yeah. I’ll totally do that. So when do we get to the “I DO” part of this?” Nonetheless, that is what I want to give to you to think about from my guest-blog, because Ephesians 5 tells me that marriage is a most visible picture by which our God demonstrates the relationship between Jesus and His church, and it’s easy to remain married when all the benefits and joys are readily available – and praise God when they are – but should He decide to take away those benefits and joys, let me encourage you: it is for your good because it is for Christ’s glory, though it seems to be absolutely contrary. It has to be. Biblically, it’s the only way we can think about suffering in any context. But I think that there’s an especial focus when it’s within the context of a Christian marriage, because that’s the picture God has chosen to demonstrate how He relates to His people, His Church, Christ’s body.

As a bonus: If we want to make a slam-dunk argument for Biblical marriage in our culture and how they think about marriage, we should pray, pursue, and study to obey Christ’s commands concerning marriage without complaining, especially when there’s suffering involved. True enough, even a lost person can sacrifice much for their spouse in the midst of an illness – I believe that to be the image of God in man leaking out despite their best efforts to suppress the truth – but given enough time, and given enough loss, and given enough lack of recognition, glory, or return for their investment, they’ll give it up. Let’s not be like this crooked generation.