How can someone start on the road to becoming wise? If we asked that question of 100 people, we might get some similarity in their answers, but if we did not know this verse at the beginning of Proverbs, we probably would not choose fearing God as one of those answers.
The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. We will not gain any kind of true knowledge of ultimate reality until we do. There are a great number of truly smart men (in earthly terms) and yet many of them reject God - at least they reject the God of the Bible. Smart they may be - but when it comes to eternal matters - they are dumb as stumps. Their great learning in human endeavors has made them arrogant and unwilling to bend their knee before the One True God.
The man who thinks he knows something - most likely does not yet know as he should. Human learning manifests itself in pride. Paul told us under the inspiriation of the Holy Spirit, "Knowledge puffs up . . . " That is something that is dangerous in the most deadly way. When we think we truly know something - we don't yet know anything. For all their supposed knowledge, these scholars are facing a horrific future. They will continue in this age as sage, wise men - only to learn that it is the fool who says there is no God. They will be praised as men of great insight - only to find that all their genius has done nothing to save them from the wrath of God. Never have they trembled before the majesty and glory of God. Never have they seen the universe rightly - as His creation and as a testiment to His vastness and infinite nature. Never have they considered that if we are moral beings, we must have been created by a moral Being - before Whom we will have to stand and to Whom we will have to give an account.
The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge becuase as creator, all things have their origin in Him. Without a healthy respect and fear of God, we will ultimately give ourselves over to our own foolish pride - and lift ourselves to an unhealthy level in our own thinking. That can end only in disaster at the throne of God's judgment. God is in heaven, we are on earth - therefore we should tremble in His presence.
To fear God means that we recognize Him as supreme and absolute. If God is a mere concept - a thought - He is nothing more than a mere jump between synapses in our brain. But if He is real - then He is the most powerful, most wise, glorious being that ever has and ever will be. His power and glory are unexplainable - for they are incomprehensible. As such, we tremble before Him for He is ultimately in power and will remain so for all eternity. Until we know and grasp this - we are mere brutish fools walking upon the earth.
Part of our problem with this word knowledge is that we've divorced it from the biblical context. We have come to view knowledge as the mere storing of facts as man sees them. This is not what God refers to when he says that the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge. The word used here is "daath" and it means not just a storing of facts, but an ability to know to where we can practice discernment, insight, and an experiential knowledge and experience of something - or in this case, Someone. Just knowing a bunch of facts and being able to manipulate them on earth so that it impresses other humans - is something akin to being able to juggle a set of balls well. Nice trick - but what exactly is it worth in the end? The knowledge we speak of in Proverbs 1 is that of knowing God - and being able to see things like He does so that we have a discernment that will aid us for eternity. That only comes when we see God accurately - and then in the light of His glory - see the world accurately for the first time in our lives. Until that moment arrives in a man's heart - he is and will always be a fool.
We are told on the back-end of this proverb that fools despise wisdom and instruction. Here is the value of knowledge - it makes us wiser and teachable. The fool who rejects God despises His wisdom. Since God is all-knowing and all-encompassing, He is the ultimate source of knowledge. If one wants to get it right - go to Him. If one is unwilling to go to Him (as the wicked admit they are) that one is actually despising wisdom and instruction. He only wants to exalt his own thinking and the activity of his own mind. Since He is utterly limited compared to an infinite God - well - he is stupid. He hates seeing the full picture in favor of his utterly parochial view. He despises discerning the best since the only thing he considers best is his own view. He is unwilling to be instructed by the One will absolute knowledge - thus he rejects the greatest Teacher anyone can imagine. In every way - his lack of respect, honor, and fear toward God is evidenced by his unwillingness to sit at God's feet and learn from Him.
So how do we grow in knowledge and wisdom? It is by first acknowledging that God is ultimate in knowledge, in wisdom, in everything! Then it is by humbling ourselves and learning to tremble in the presence of the One Who is Lord and God. Then and only then can our minds and hearts be opened to receive the wisdom, the instruction, and the knowledge of God.