The Book of Proverbs
Wisdom and the Christian Life
How much do we need wisdom?
Our lives have never been simple, but they are perhaps more complicated and difficult for us now than ever before. Recent medical, political, cultural, and even denominational events have created intense difficulty for many.
Today and for the next 11 weeks, we will explore the book of Proverbs. We will navigate our study somewhat topically as we go. We will explore what the book has to say about things such as:
- Wisdom (Today)
- Our tongue
Today we begin with Chapter 1 and consider the nature of wisdom and why we need it.
The Nature of Wisdom, and the Purpose of Proverbs.
Wisdom Defined. The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom for the people of God. Throughout the book, Solomon shows why wisdom is needed for living a life that is pleasing to God. Before we consider that, however, we should first understand what wisdom is.
Wisdom = Understanding that results in good judgment, such that we please God, do right by our fellow man, and flourish in our own lives.
So then, wisdom is not intelligence. It is not instinct. It is an understanding of what is good, true, beautiful, and right that allows us to live in ways that please God, do right by our fellow man, and flourish in our own lives. Those who seek it and walk in it live well. Those who reject it displease God, hurt other people, and bring destruction on themselves. Solomon uses various synonyms to help us understand what wisdom is:
- Instruction/Discipline (vs. 2).
- Understanding (vs. 2).
- Prudence (vs. 4).
- Discretion (vs. 4).
- Learning (vs. 5).
Wisdom Applied. In vs. 2-6, Solomon says, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion— A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles.” Notice here that Solomon suggests that wisdom is needed/applied to the following:
- Righteousness (Justice in the text). The idea is that of “doing right by our fellow man.” Evidenced by the giving of the Law, preaching of the prophets, writing in the proverbs, teaching, and example of Jesus Christ, and the instruction of Paul, God cares about the way we live with our fellow man, and calls us to live justly.
- Judgment. This is the ability to decide what is right in a given case or situation. We are often forced between options that are good and bad. Deciding here is easy. But wisdom is needed when both options are good, or when both options as bad.
- Equity. The idea here is that of evenness or levelness. Its removal of unfairness or disadvantage. And in the case of judgment, it is judging by the same standards for all.
The point here is that wisdom is required for doing these things. When we lack wisdom, we will not exercise justice, we will make unwise judgments, and we will not deal equitably with others.
The Fear of God. Above all else we have said, however, Proverbs makes clear in vs. 7 that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In other words, at the very core of wisdom is the fear of God. But two big questions here:
- Why Fear? For some modern readers, the notion of fearing God is problematic, as God is normally portrayed in only benevolent terms. This portrayal is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Yes, God loves us, but God is also holy, powerful, all-knowing, and all-wise. Therefore, Jesus taught us to pray:
“Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. . . ” (Matt. 6:9)
And He instructed us to be like the tax collector.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18: 1014)
And we are told:
“on this one will [God] look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
- What is meant by fear? This is not paralytic fear that keeps us isolated and cut off from God. It is deep reverence and acknowledgment of God in all aspects of life such that we seek to please Him above all else.
The Call for Wisdom.
Grace and Well-Being. In vs. 8-9, Solomon makes clear that living in the fear of God and walking according to God’s wisdom leads to our wellbeing. He says, “My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother; For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck.” In other words, divine wisdom has benefit for this life. God is both omniscient and perfectly wise. His wisdom and instruction ensure our well-being. By it, we receive the fruit of divine favor.
- Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man Who[’s]. . . delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.”
Divine Protection and Favor. But further still, vs. 33, Solomon makes clear that those who walk in wisdom are also protected from the disaster of sin. He says, “But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.” In other words, by avoiding the destruction of sin, we gain divine protection and security.
The Warning for Shunning Wisdom.
Ensnarement. In vs. 10-18, Solomon wisely warns against involving yourself in the ensnaring works of evil. Specifically, he mentions in vs. 11-14 those who seek to harm the innocent. Against these things he warns: “My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. . . My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path; For their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed blood. Surely, in vain the net is spread In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood, They lurk secretly for their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.” The warning is clear: ignore wisdom and involve yourself with evil and you will reap destruction in your life.
Isolation. In vs. 24-31, Solomon warns of even greater difficulty for us. When difficulty arises for those who ignore God’s wisdom & instruction, God Himself will withdraw from them. He says, “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded; Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD, They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.”
- Do you seek the wisdom of God in your life?
- When have you seen how His wisdom kept you from error?
- When have you seen that your refusal to heed His wisdom resulted in harm and difficulty?
- Why not learn from these positive and negative experiences and seek His wisdom now?