I love this verse. It is a reminder that there is a healthy fear and that it leads somewhere. This verse is also a reminder to check myself if I find that I grow resentful of those whom God would use to instruct me.
First, the fear of the LORD. I think about this a great deal and write about it often. The short version of the conclusion I have reached on the subject is that to fear the LORD is similar to fearing a parent and should undergo the same progression from fear to love. A right and healthy parent-child dynamic gives the child fear of their parent only in doing wrong; in breaking the rules laid down by the parent. As a child, I had no fear at all of my parents when I was following the rules. And that is as it should be. My fear was grounded in doing wrong. So, too, my fear of the LORD is not a fear based in obedience but in disobedience. I have no reason to be afraid of God when I am doing as He says. That fear is the beginning of knowledge; of wisdom in part because the fear motivates to right conduct and right conduct shows the rewards for itself and begins to motivate of its own accord. It is like exercise. When I first begin exercising, it is because I know that I need to accomplish something — lower blood pressure or try to lose weight or some other such thing — but the energy and endorphins and all around rightness of physical activity is a reward unto itself and begins to motivate in a way that other motivators cannot. It is a decent analogy for obedience to God’s commands. I begin to obey out of fear or a sense of duty or of obligation and learn that obedience begets other good things. But the wisdom to recognize even this began with the fear of the LORD.
Second, the fool. The Bible has much to say about fools and rightly so. It is foolish to despise wisdom and instruction, yet there is a rather large portion of the population who do just that. For five years, I was a classroom teacher and in those five years I met with people who welcomed instruction and those who despised it. The Bible comes right out and calls those who despise it fools. Experience bears out the scriptures. Many and many a person who has despised instruction has ended poorly. While society likes to idolize individuals like Steve Jobs; people who seemingly despised instruction and yet became hugely successful, there is another side to the story that the vast majority of instruction-hating individuals do not know. Yes, people like Jobs dropped out or, like Lincoln, had very little education available to them. But Jobs and Lincoln had something else in common: they were both avid readers and self-directed learners. Neither hated instruction. Quite the opposite, both sought it out. They sought it in others’ writings.
What does all of this meandering text have to do with my day? Simply this: I must fear the LORD where obedience is not yet its own reward and obey out of love in those cases where I have learned the value of obedience. I must also not despise instruction. God may use odd instruments to teach me — he has used movies, novels, news blurbs, and snippets of song, as just a few examples. When God teaches, I must learn, regardless of the method.