Behold Our God
What is the most important thing about you? If a complete stranger needed to know one thing about you that would tell them, most fundamentally, who you are, what would it be?
Would it be something about the way you look? Something about your life story, your background, your accomplishments? Or would it be something even more basic than this?
Over 60 years ago, A. W. Tozer wrote an important book called “The Knowledge of the Holy,” and he opened the first chapter with these words: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”1Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p. 1.
Do you think he’s right? That your thoughts about God are the most important thing about you?
I think so. Time and time again, I've seen how the problems in our lives, our churches, and our world all come from low views of God.
In the introduction to his book, Tozer wrote that “The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted it for one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge… The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us."2Tozer, vi
In other words, when we think low thoughts about God, everything else falls apart.
I think Tozer was right. And I think, if we could ask King Solomon, he’d think Tozer was right.
Back in June we began this series through Proverbs 9-31, and that first Sunday we heard these words: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).
Knowing and fearing God are wisdom and insight. Not knowing and not fearing God will result in a life wasted in foolishness and folly.
We’ve heard a lot about wisdom and foolishness over the past months, but it’s so important that we not forget what this has all been about, or rather, who this has all been about. And so, on the final week in this series, it’s appropriate for us to focus on God. The beginning of wisdom Himself. And in this message we’re going to consider what Proverbs 9-31 tell us about God. What does it mean to know God? Who is He? And what does it mean to respond to this God in fear and trust?
Those are the questions we’ll seek answers from this morning as we end our series back at the beginning of wisdom itself.
A. KNOWING GOD
So first, let’s consider what Proverbs have told us about knowing God. According to these chapters, what should come into our mind when we think about God? Who is He? Proverbs 9-31 has given us several important answers.
One of the most foundational truths about God is that He is our Creator. That’s how the Bible opens, right? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And Proverbs reminds us several times that God is our creator.
“The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both” (Proverbs 20:12). Do you see? Do you hear? Guess who made those instruments? God did. Our ability to see and hear and grow in wisdom is a gift from the God who made us.
22:2 reminds us that God made not only us but everybody else. “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all.” Similarly, 29:13 says that “The poor man and the oppressor meet together; the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”
God made you. And He made everybody else. And therefore we are all fundamentally equal at the level of creation. None of us rises about the level of “created being.” None of us made ourselves. We were all made by the same person. God is supreme over each and every one of us.
Do you know God in this way? Do you know Him as the one who made you?
Second, Proverbs highlights how God is all-knowing. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
You cannot keep a secret from God. He knows everything. He knows everything everybody has said and done. He even knows our hearts. “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Proverbs 15:11).
The shadowy realms of death and hell are exposed to God’s sight—how much more the depths of your heart? God sees all.
And He’s not just passively observing. “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (16:2). “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). God sees and knows and evaluates what’s going on in our hearts, way better than we ourselves do.
“The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:27). The word “spirit” is the same word for “breath,” and so this verse is probably suggesting that our breath, which so often comes out in the form of words, is the way that God shows what’s in our hearts.
It’s a very similar point to when Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). And this process is overseen by the God who searches out all of our innermost parts.
Two more Proverbs highlight the way in which God sees all. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2). “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12).
Do you know that God knows everything, including your heart? Do you know that you can’t hide anything from Him or trick Him or deceive Him? Do you know that He sees all of your thoughts and motives? Do you know the God who knows everything?
The all-knowingness of God leads us into a third and wonderful truth about God, which is that He is sovereign. Proverbs tells us that God does not simply see and know, but He is actively involved in running this world. He is the true king, sovereign over big events and small details.
Proverbs 16:4 tells us that “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Proverbs 16:4).
The word here for “make” is not a word that speaks of creation, per se. It’s a word that has the sense of “execute,” and is often used to speak about God’s sovereign control over this world.3Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 12.
It’s the word used in Isaiah 43:13 which says, “Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:13).
And that’s why the NIV translates this verse, “The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4, NIV). The Lord is sovereign over all things, including the wicked.
God does not make anybody wicked. But the wicked and their wickedness are within the sovereign plan of God, something we see so clearly in the death of Jesus, who was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” and yet was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” as Acts 2:23 tells us. God was sovereign over the death of Christ, even using wicked people to accomplish His purpose, because He has “made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Proverbs 16:4).
Verse 9 in Proverbs 16 shows us that God is sovereign over the course of our lives. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” You make your plans. But what ultimately happens is God’s decision.
Which is exactly what 19:21 tells us: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” This leads 20:24 to ask, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?”
None of us will ever fully understand the way our life has unfolded and why it has unfolded the way it did, because none of us are in control of our lives. The steps we’ve taken have been directed by the Lord.
Proverbs has certainly shown us that we’re responsible to make wise decisions. Our meaningful choices are important. But in the end there’s a lot we don’t know because we’re not ultimately in charge or in control.
God has sovereignty to direct our lives. But going a step further 21:1 tells us that God has sovereignty over our very hearts: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
At least once today, we’ve probably all turned on a tap and put our hands under the stream of water. And when we do that, we divert that stream of water. Our hands shape and change that stream of water and affect how it flows.
And this is the level of control that God has over our hearts. He has the authority and the ability to shape our hearts however he wants, just as easily as our hands shape a stream of water.
And if that is true, then sure, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30-31).
If God is this big, this sovereign, having this much power and control, then nothing can stand in his way or change what He’s determined to do. You can get your horse ready for the day of battle, but the winner of that battle will be the one whom God has determined to win. Because God is sovereign over all things.
Big things, like battles, and small things, like the roll of a dice. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). The lot was like a dice that was used in making decisions. The priest or others would cast lots, throw these dice-like objects, and whatever came up would determine their decision.
And they weren’t gambling or taking chances. They believed what verse 33 tells us—that the way a dice lands is under the sovereign control of God.
Yahweh reigns, and He’s sovereign over all of history, over the events in our lives, over our hearts, and over the tiniest little details that we can think of.
Does your understanding of God include His sovereignty? Do you know that God towers over all creation, directing every galaxy, every government, and every germ for His great purposes? Do you know that God is this big?
4. He is Righteous
And this is not all that Proverbs tells us. God is not just sovereign, but He is righteous and just.
Isn’t that good news? A God who was sovereign but unrighteous would be a nightmare. But the sovereign Lord is also the righteous one.
“A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work” (Proverbs 16:11). In the markets of the ancient near east, merchants could use dishonest scales to make people pay more than they should. But God is the God of honest scales, because He is just and righteous.
God’s righteousness and justice shine out in a passage like Proverbs 17:5, which say that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” God hates it, He can’t stand it, when the wicked are declared to be righteous, and the righteous are condemned as wicked. And this is testament to God’s impeccable righteousness.
Do you know God in this way? Do you know that He never fudges His books or makes a mistake? Do you know that God is powerfully righteous?
5. His Words Are True
Next, we see that His word are true. Proverbs 30:5-6 hangs on our kitchen wall as a constant reminder to our house that “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
Because God is righteous and perfect, His words are flawless. Every word proves true. This is a key verse in helping us understand the nature of Scripture as God’s perfect word.
And it’s an important reminder about not going beyond what God has said, or putting words in His mouth, or being dissatisfied with what He has told us. “Do not add to His words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” You do not want to be rebuked by this God. Don’t mess around with His words.
Instead, find refuge in Him, because “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” Because His words are true, every one of them, His promises are a firm shield to those who trust in Him and find rest in Him. God is a safe place for His people.
6. He Saves the Righteous and Judges the Wicked
And this is a good transition into our sixth truth about God, which his that He is a just judge and saviour. Because He is righteous and true, He will faithfully deal with the wicked and save the righteous.
“The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” says Proverbs 15:29. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” says Proverbs 18:10.
God’s character and reputation are a safe place because He is unwaveringly righteous, He keeps all of His promises, and He is faithful in all of His judgements.
“Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice” (Proverbs 29:26). God is the just judge who rules the earth with justice and will bring justice to those who need it.
And for those who trust in the Lord, these promises are comforting. To those who walk in righteousness and look to God to be their saviour, these promises are full of hope.
But for those who refuse to trust in the Lord, there is no comfort in knowing that He is a faithful judge. “The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers” says Proverbs 10:29. Because God’s character is righteous, not only must he save the blameless, but He must and will destroy evildoers.
“The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he throws the wicked down to ruin.” (Proverbs 21:12). “The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor” (Proverbs 22:12). “The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it” (Proverbs 22:14).
Proverbs has told us a lot about the damage of adultery. It has told us that adulterers will be punished. And yet this verse tells us that adultery itself, with all of the pain that comes afterwards, may itself be a judgement from God on to the wicked with whom He is angry.
Does your idea of God include His anger? His judgement? So often it’s easy for us to think about God as a cosmic Santa or a teddy bear, but this is not the God of the Bible. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” says Hebrews 10:31, and these Proverbs all speak to the same truth.
But thankfully that’s not where we end. There is a seventh truth we see in Proverbs, which is that God is forgiving.
“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).
Iniquity, or sin, can be atoned for. In the era of the Proverbs, sin was atoned for by the sacrificial system. Animals were butchered to pay for the people’s sins, gruesomely communicating that they deserved bloody death for their sins, but God would allow that animal to take their place and let them live.
And Proverbs says that this whole system of atoning for and forgiving sin was an extension of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
Steadfast love and faithfulness are at the heart of God’s very essence. A God proclaimed to Moses, He is “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). And because this is who He is, He made a way for His people’s sins to be atoned for.
You and I know, from our vantage point, that this atonement was ultimately only temporary. It was only ever a shadow of the reality. And that reality is Christ.
Apart from God, we are all wicked. Before God, we are all guilty and condemned. And the fact that so many sacrifices were needed, over and over, shows that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
And so God sent His son to offer “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12). Christ bore the judgement of God for our sins when He died in our place, and “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
And so in the death of Jesus we see the fullest picture of God’s love and forgiveness, by atonement, come to full flower. We also see each of God’s attributes shining forth in a brilliant way.
We see God’s salvation for His people as He judged Jesus as if He were a wicked, for our wickedness.
We see the truth of God’s words as His promises from thousands of years before finally were proven true.
The cross demonstrates God’s righteousness, as Romans 3:25 demonstrates. For centuries, God passed over so many sins without punishing them. How could He be truly righteous? The cross, where all of those sins were dealt with finally and fully, proves God’s righteousness once and for all. The cross also shows “his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” as Romans 3:26 says.
The cross demonstrates God’s sovereignty. We’ve seen already how God sovereignly oversaw the events of those days, including the sinful acts of Judas and Herod and Pilate and the high priests, all to orchestrate His sovereign plan.
And this of course assumes that God is all-knowing, seeing the hearts of each of these various characters. And all of this is grounded in God’s authority, as Creator, to do with His creation what is best to Him.
This is why the New Testament repeatedly points to the death of Christ as the pinnacle revelation of the glory of God. It is the event where all of His perfections come together in the loudest crescendo. And it’s why the angels in heaven can’t stop praising the Lamb who was slain.
And so, if you would know God, read the Proverbs, and then look to the cross where majesty is seen which we will never get tired of worshiping for all of the ages yet to come.
Behold our God.
B. FEARING GOD
A if all of this is true, how ought we to respond to this God? For this answer, we return to Proverbs and see two major answers.
The first answer is that we should fear the Lord. Proverbs has so much to say about this.
1:7 told us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 15:33: “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom.”
We’ve heard many other times throughout this series about fearing God. Three more Proverbs today urge us to fear God and enjoy the benefits that come when we do.
Proverbs 19:23: “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
Proverbs 23:17-18: “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 28:14: “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”
In light of all that we’ve seen about God, a God this big and this powerful, how could we not fear Him?
Here, though, is where many people trip up. The idea of fearing God seems so out of place with many of our ideas about the love of God. And doesn’t the Bible tell us, over and over, to “fear not”?
It certainly does. And yet, it also tells us that we should fear. And sometimes in the same breath. When God manifested Himself on Mount Sinai, the people were terrified, and Moses said to them, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20).
Or what about these words from Jesus: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4–7).
Don’t fear, but fear. Fear, but don’t fear. And the best way that I can understand this is that there is a sense in which we should not fear God, and there is a sense in which we should fear God.
We should not fear to draw near to God. That was the problem with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They didn’t understand that God was there for their good. They wanted to run away from Him. And that was a wrong fear. They should have not feared to draw near.
But one of God’s good purposes was to give them a fear of Him that they might not sin. That they might not rebel and wander from Him.
In other words, the fear of God is not a fear that drives us away from God. The fear of God keeps us from ever walking away from Him, because we properly fear what would happen if we were to rebel against Him (1 Tim. 5:20, Acs 5:11, 9:31). And as we draw near to Him, we don’t do so flippantly or casually, because we know who this God is. We delight in Him and we tremble before Him.
C. S. Lewis captured this dynamic so well with his depiction of the lion Aslan, didn’t he? The lion who was huge and terrifying and definitely not safe,
but good and wonderful and a source of safety and salvation and joy.
I want to make this really real for us today: do you fear the Lord? Do you know the fear of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11)?
Time and time again in the Bible, “God-fearing” is just a shorthand for someone who knows God. To know him is to fear Him. And I invite you to consider what we have seen of our God today, and to fear Him. And if there is no fear of Him to be found in your heart, to seek His face in prayer and ask Him to give you the fear of Him.
C. TRUSTING GOD
And what you’ll find is that when you fear God, there is nothing else you’ll need to fear. You will be able to rest in His power and His love. And that’s why our final point here today has to do with trusting God. Those who fear Him trust Him.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” says 16:3. Don’t rely on yourself or try to figure this out yourself. Trust God, commit your work to Him, and see what He can do with your efforts.
“Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20). Oh, that we would know the blessing of trusting in God. And sometimes we will need to wait as we trust. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you” says 20:22. Often, trust in God requires patience.
But the alternative is so dangerous. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (29:25).
Notice there the connection between fear and trust. You can fear men, which will be a snare and trip you up and ruin you. Or you can trust in God. Rest yourself, your heart, your future, in His hands and know that you are safe.
It’s not a matter of whether you will fear or not. It’s a question of whom you will fear: man or God. Whether we’ll know the danger and vulnerability of fearing man, or the safety and joy of fearing and trusting in the creating, all-knowing, sovereign, righteous, true, saving and forgiving God.
The End, and the Beginning
And so here we are, at the end of this series in the book of Proverbs. My hope is that for many of us, we understand we’re only at the beginning of the journey of wisdom. And the beginning of wisdom is found in fearing the Lord.
And so, we don’t have to think long and hard about how to apply this message today. This whole message has been a summons to know God, to fear Him, and to trust Him.
This week, will you seek to put these calls into practice? Will you seek God in His word? Will you approach Him in prayer? Will you ask Him to empower you to know Him and fear Him and trust Him?
I do have one small practical suggestion for you. It’s getting darker earlier in the nights, and odds are many of us will still be awake when the stars have come out. Next time you’re out when it’s dark—maybe putting the garbage out, or coming home from small group—look up at the sky. Look at the stars and the galaxies, and experience a feeling of joyful fear that there is a person who made all of that using only words.
And that person knows everything you’ve ever thought and said and done.
And that person has full authority and right to punish you forever.
But instead, He poured out that punishment on His Son, and has invited you to come know Him as your Father.
Take a moment to tremble and trust. And invite you to do that even now as we pray and then sing.