Yes, I know that the word “fear” in this sense is best translated as “awe” or “profound respect,” but I still think that the most basic meaning of fear has a place here.
As we grow up, we are taught to have a healthy respect for fire, electricity, cars, and other objects that could cause us harm if not approached appropriately. We aren’t to be afraid of them per se, but we are to respect their power and to fear what could possibly happen if not handled correctly. This is the beginning of wisdom in each of these areas. Only fools forget what each is capable of and throw caution to the wind.
Then how much more important is it to fear an ALL POWERFUL (omnipotent); ALL KNOWING (omniscient); and ALL PRESENT (omnipresent) God? Yes, we stand in wonder and awe at all that he has created, but we most definitely need to respect the power of who He is.
But the point of this verse is that the fear of the lord (that awe, wonder, respect of power) is the beginning of wisdom. Once we have placed God right where He should be, above all else, and accept his authority over everything, then we immediately gain wisdom in two areas.
First, we realize that all other fears disappear as Psalm 91 says.
. . .You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday. . . .
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways; . . .
As well as the 365 reminders to “Fear not” that appear throughout the Bible (one for each day of the year).
Second, we will be able to grow in wisdom from the other people God has placed in our lives, as Proverbs 1:7-8 says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.
If we don’t accept God’s authority and direction, it is doubtful that we will accept the counsel of those he has placed in authority over us. Wisdom is not a lifting of the chin in pride and arrogance, but a bowing of the brow in submission and profound awe.