4 Introductory lessons on wisdom from Proverbs.

November 5, 2014.

I think I have decided that I want to write a book on the concepts laid out in the book of Proverbs. Of course, I say this about a lot of biblical topics and I think this is probably the five or six book that I have planned to write without follow though, but nevertheless I am hopeful. Proverbs is different than the rest of the books that are in the biblical cannon. It is grouped in the category of poetry/wisdom literature in the Old Testament and most of the book is attributed to King Solomon (though the last couple of chapters or so bear the name of a different author), who was given His wisdom directly from God after a request he made one night when God appeared to him. It is also noteworthy to mention that Solomon ruled in Israel’s golden age when God gave them rest from all their enemies and the land grew to be so rich that silver was counted as nothing. Solomon seemed to struggle with depression throughout his life probably to his immense knowledge and wisdom (and too much free time). It is hard to imagine how Solomon felt as he was indeed the wisest man on earth. Knowledge and wisdom can often bring stress and depression. His downfall was his love of foreign women, however, and he had a lot of them. In the end, he had married 300 wives and had 700 concubines. They would lead him astray to foreign gods and make for an ending to the story of Solomon that isn’t “happily ever after,” as we would long to see. Yet he still writes the Song of Songs, seemingly about one woman in particular. Ecclesiastes gives a lot of insight to his depression and why he was the way he was.

Yet amidst all this adversity and inner turmoil, somehow Solomon still writes the beautiful words in the book of Proverbs. When you read through these words, it seems you can’t help but think that you are listening to the words of God directly, as the Holy Spirit moved Solomon in the wisdom of God. The words give life and wisdom in a way that no other book does. That’s not to say that there isn’t so much other wisdom that comes from the entire word of God, but rather to say that the book of Proverbs lays it out in a different manner. It’s much more concise and to the point. The opening of the book states exactly it’s scope and purpose.

“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.”
(Proverbs 1:1-6)

The point of the book of Proverbs was just that- to teach wisdom to his sons (and by extension any who would read his words later). The first few chapters of Proverbs deals with wisdom and knowledge itself, the pursuit of it and the comparison of wisdom to other earthly pleasures. Then things start to get difficult. Not in the sense that the words become difficult to understand (though I’m sure some of the proverbs are), but more so difficult to retain and focus on. When you get to the middle of the book, most of the given proverbs are two lines. Solomon concisely makes a point in one, two, maybe three verses and then moves on to the next point. This is basically the style of proverbs as a genre, and they make for good saying to think about, understand and remember. But the problem, at least in my opinion, is the sheer amount of short proverbs in the book. When you get to the later chapters, it’s hard to read through a chapter and remember everything that was taught. There’s no overall message to a section, because the proverbs are mostly self contained. That’s why I want to write a book on Proverbs to try and sort through the vast amount of wonderful information that is given and try to put it in a way that we understand better in our culture today.

Fortunately, the introduction of the book is much more cohesive in the sense that it has an overall theme of what wisdom is, why it should be prized and the things that fight against it. I want to discuss four different points that I think we can take from the introduction of Proverbs to better understand wisdom and the place that she (as wisdom is personified) should hold in our lives. I hope that you will take the time to read through the first five chapters and get a sense of what the book is all about.

1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
(Proverbs 1:7)

This is not the only time that this phrase is used in scripture. I think this is often the very first point that is missed when it comes to secular sages today. More and more people believe that you can be wise outside of God, and that belief in God is not necessary for gaining wisdom. But the bible makes it clear that the fool has said in his heart “there is no god.” (ref. Psalm 14:1). But how is this the beginning of knowledge or wisdom?

I believe this concept stems from the fact that all wisdom is from above. Why was Solomon the wisest man to walk the earth? Because he asked God for wisdom when God granted him a wish basically, and God gave him his wish since he didn’t ask for power or money. We are admonished by James to do the same.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
(James 1:5)

Godly wisdom starts out with the knowledge and understanding that God is, and He is the supreme being and source of all wisdom. We are told not to be wise in our own eyes but to fear the Lord (ref. Prove. 3:7). In fact, the context of this verse sheds some light on the concept given in 1:7:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.”
(Proverbs 3:5-8)

Earthly wisdom and godly wisdom are two very different things, and only one is pure and true. James once again lays out this difference, and is quite blunt about it. (James is a very practical writer who doesn’t beat around the bush. I love it.)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
(James 3:13-18)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge because He is the definition of wisdom and knowledge. If we do not fear and respect Him, then we don’t have the foundation to understand well His handiwork. We have missed the whole point of knowledge.

2. Wisdom calls, but only for so long.

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?”
(Proverbs 1:20-22)

The call of wisdom is ever present, but it is often ignored. I don’t think it’s necessarily ignored because we don’t want wisdom, but rather her cry is masked by the enticement of foolishness cries out from the other side. This foolishness often promises passing pleasures that will only be present for a short time. But we don’t see that. We just see the pleasures. Thus, we drop the pursuit of wisdom when looks hard and tedious, not seeming to yield pleasurable results, and we run after the call of sin and it’s empty promises. But what we need to remember is that wisdom is indeed crying out to us that we may embrace her fully and dwell in the presence of God. But she will only cry for so long.

Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord…
(Proverbs 1:24-29)

This is a side of God that we don’t often focus on because it isn’t pleasant to the ears of many people. In fact, I’m sure many would be offended at this statement if they didn’t know that it came straight out of the word of God. “How dare I not be given another chance! What kind of love is that?” But the words remain, and it is a sobering warning. We can choose wisdom while she calls, or we can wait until it’s too late.

This is not the only place in the bible where people waited until it was too late. When Noah was building the ark, he preached for 120 years about righteousness and the coming flood, yet they didn’t listen. When the flood came, I’m sure many tried to board the boat. But God had sealed the door. Similarly, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man waited to late to make his plea to God. His fate was sealed in torment, while the beggar Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom.

The day will come where every knee will bow before the Lord and every tongue will confess to God (ref. Isa. 45:23, Rom. 14:11). But that day will be too late for so many people. We cannot wait until it’s too late. The Lord is patiently waiting now.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
(II Peter 3:8-10)

3. Though it may not seem like it to the world, wisdom is of great value.

My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;”
(Proverbs 2:1-6)

This is just one of the many passages within the first five chapters of Proverbs that describes the importance and value of wisdom. Over and over again is the point made that wisdom is to be prized far above gold and treasure. Yet, I don’t think this is how we view wisdom today. Today we see wisdom as a good thing, but not necessarily something that would be treasured above gold. I’m not really talking about “every-day” wisdom, but we view wisdom as for sages and elders. But Solomon was teaching this to his sons.

Wisdom should hold a place in our life that is far above our pursuit of any material blessing. Wisdom is not just a suggestion that is good if you follow or a thing that is good to have if you can, but what we all should be actively pursuing. When we know that something would be a wise choice, that is the choice we should make. That sounds simple, but we disregard this all the time. We say things like “It is great if you choose this path,” or “That is a great decision that you have made to stay away from something that we probably should stay away from,” but then we leave it at that. We see the wise decision, but we don’t make that decision in our own lives because it isn’t really necessary, just wise.

To me, the above statement is contradictory. And obviously I can’t speak for everyone as I don’t know if you do that or not. I just know that I have witnessed this very thing, and I have been guilty of this concept in the past. Unfortunately, when we begin to look at things more as guidelines and general rules, we tend to shy away from them in favor of pleasure. This ought not to be so. The wise man built his house on a rock, and his house stood. The foolish man made a different decision, and his house fell. And great was the fall of it (ref. Matt. 7:24-27). The foundation was not merely a suggestion, but a necessity.

4. Wisdom should be taught to the next generation.

The main purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach wisdom to the next generation. Solomon was intent on passing on his wisdom to his sons, just as we should be intent on teaching the next generation wisdom. This very principle comes up as a proverb later.

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
(Proverbs 22:6)

Obviously this is a generality, but as such, it should often hold true. Teaching the next generation is an important concept that can be found throughout the pages of the scriptures. I hope we have not lost this concept today. I know many still hold firm to this word, but many also seem not to care to teach their children any wisdom. I honestly think that this is partially because they were not properly taught wisdom themselves. I know that I don’t have much of a right to say anything about rearing children as I am neither married nor do I have children, but I also know what the bible teaches. Though it may be hard, we must teach the next generation godly wisdom. They won’t get it from the world. If we don’t, the wisdom they will obtain will be earthy, and we know what James said about that earlier.

I admonish you, any who have influence in teaching the next generation (which I would reason to believe that all of us do to some extent), to train them well in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is truly one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone.

I hope you continue to read through the book of Proverbs, but not just to get through it and check it off. Take it slow. There’s absolutely no shame in going slowly to fully grasp what is being said. I would even say that this is quite necessary when you are trying to tackle a dense book such as this one. There is so much wisdom packed into these few pages, and if we start to apply this wisdom to our lives, we will indeed be blessed by it. I pray that the Lord guides us all into His wisdom.

Suggested Daily Reading: Proverbs 1-5.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

-Walter

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