What, then, is this fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom?
“Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: ‘Let whoever is simple turn in here; to him who lacks understanding, I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:1-6).
Wisdom, personified here as a woman, has prepared a sumptuous meal of dressed meats and fine wine. She sends out her maidens and even goes herself to the heights of the city to call the simple and those who lack understanding, to come to her house, to eat of her food, and drink of her wine, and to leave their simple and often foolish ways of living in the world, behind. Wisdom is offering the same invitation to us today. She is saying that she has something to offer that the world does not. Are we listening? Are we responding?
This is a beautiful invitation. It is an invitation to share in the joys of a wisdom far greater than that which the world offers. The first sentence of this reading from Proverbs implies that Wisdom’s house is capacious, meaning it is large and spacious enough to accommodate all who wish to live there, and that it is built sturdily, supported by seven pillars, or columns. This passage, like so many others in scripture, uses the language of poetry. It uses metaphor to point to or to reveal something larger than the words themselves. So we might ask, “What do the seven columns supporting the house of Wisdom represent?” They are meant to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit first found in the book of Isaiah 11:2-3, that is, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Let’s look at these for a moment. Biblically speaking, wisdom is knowing what God wants you to do and then doing it. Understanding is the capacity to discern the right course of action and then have the self-discipline to follow through. It involves insight and judgment. Counsel is the awareness of the need for advice and the recognition of those who have the knowledge and experience to offer that advice. Fortitude is the strength to courageously endure adversity, temptation, and spiritual assault. Knowledge implies the knowledge of God and his ways. Piety is reverence for God as a loving Father, and having reverence, then, for all that comes from God. It includes respect for others. The seventh column is ‘fear of the Lord’, which is defined for us four lines later as, “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). So, we come full circle, fear of the Lord leads us to wisdom.
What, then, is this fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom? It is an overwhelming sense of awe, of respect, and reverence for God that arises from coming to know God in whom all true wisdom lies. It is a depth of awe, respect, and reverence for God’s will that is so profound that it brings us reverently and willingly to submit our will to his will. It is this Wisdom that liberates us from the foolishness that the world presents as “wisdom”, and enables us “to live and to advance in the way of understanding”. In other words, it is in this Wisdom alone that we can find the true justice, mercy, and joy that our hearts and souls naturally seek.SKM: below-content placeholder