Life is like a series of paths and the traveler rarely travels alone. Each path has its crowd. Some roads lead to misery and destruction. Paths that offer excitement, ease and prosperity lure the naive. But wisdom requires one to look beyond allurements to consequences.
In the book of Proverbs, the father describes for his son/s the paths to be avoided. He exposes them for what they are in terms of their allurements and the people who make them (see: Pr. 1:8ff.) . More importantly, the father places wisdom on the street as one who calls for the young and naive to choose her path. Wisdom cries out for the attention of the youth. If they follow her, they will be protected from many harmful influences and paths.“My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding” (Proverbs 2:1-3).
A voice worth listening to: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (pr. 4:7; cf. Eph. 5:15-17).
“Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square, at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, at the entrance of the gates of the city, she utters her sayings.” (pr. 1:20-21)
“At the head of the noisy streets”, “at the entrance of the gates in the city”— in the city, wisdom is pictured “shouting”, “raising her voice”, “crying out”, and “uttering her sayings”, or “making her speech.” Wisdom is not presenting herself in the quiet place of meditation. She does not call out in the halls of academia. “. . . the offer of wisdom is to the man in the street, and for the business of living, not to an elite for the pursuit of scholarship” (Derek Kidner, TOTC).
Wisdom: “. . . strides from the ‘open squares’ (plazas used as markets) to the boulevards rumbling with the noise of traffic . . . to the several ‘gates’ where open spaces allowed people to assemble for trade or official business. No behind-the-hand seductive whispering here; wisdom is a public figure, making her claims in the open and calling her disciples boldly to follow her” (David Hubbard, p. 55, Communicators Commentary).
Wisdom’s call and warning is forcefully presented in the language of choice. Wisdom, in essence says, “Decide now concerning your response to me! Make your choice and realize that your choice will deeply affect your life.”In Proverbs 1:20-33
The father’s primary concern for his son is not economic prosperity, nor educational accomplishment; nor the attainment of social status. His primary concern is for his son is moral integrity (cf. better than sayings, Proverbs 19:1,22; 28:6). To ensure his integrity, his son must gain wisdom.
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (pr. 3:13-15).
Two essentials for obtaining wisdom:
# 1. Welcome correction and discipline:
To obtain wisdom, one must be open to correction. Failure to receive discipline and correction leads to the tragic life of the fool—for whom there is little hope in the Proverbs.
The main distinction of proverbs: “A wise man will hear and increase in learning” (Proverbs 1:5) whereas “Fools despise wisdom and discipline.”(Proverbs 1:7). “The way of a fool seems right to him but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
Emphasis on receiving discipline and correction:
- Proverbs 3:11-12- “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Relate this to Hebrews 12)
- Proverbs 10:8 – “The wise in heart accepts commands”
- Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”
- Proverbs 13:10- “Wisdom is found in those who take advice”
- Proverbs 15:5- “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.”
- Proverbs 15:31-33- “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
- Proverbs 18:1- “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”
Questions for Discussion:
- Read Proverbs 22:15. This verse reveals that we all begin our earthly existence with a wisdom deficit. What does it take to dislodge it? Thought: While words alone are not adequate to dislodge foolishness from the child’s heart, the hope is that the child will hear, listen and attend to wise counsel (cf. pr. 19:25).
- Respond to this: “Criticism is hard to take; few respond to it with ease. It is ego damaging, yet accepting it and changing in response to it is the only way to succeed. Soil must be plowed, harrowed, and broken before it can be used. Clay must be kneaded and pounded before it can be shaped into a useful or beautiful vessel. People too must sometimes be broken in order to have bad habits and attitudes replaced with good ones. Blessed are those who take this sage’s advice and listen to criticism” (R. Alden, Proverbs, p. 28).
- Strong and constant doses of correction and discipline are necessary for gaining wisdom and living wisely. Identify ways you receive correction and wise counsel on a regular basis:
- Do you have a Hebrews 4:12 and Hebrews 4:16 encounter with God every day?
Seasoned reflection on God’s discipline:
“The God of whom it was said, ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms’ (Is. 40:11), is very gentle with very young Christians, just as mothers are with very young babies. Often the start of their Christian career is marked by great emotional joy, striking providences, remarkable answers to prayer and immediate fruitfulness in their first acts of witness; thus God encourages them and establishes them in ‘the life.’ But as they grow stronger, and are able to bear more, he exercises them in a tougher school. He exposes them to as much testing by the pressure of opposed and discouraging influences as they are able to bear — not more (see the promise, 1 Cor. 10:13), but equally not less (see the admonition, Acts 14:22). “
“Thus he builds our character, strengthens our faith, and prepares us to help others. Thus he crystallizes our sense of values. Thus he glorifies himself in our lives, making his strength perfect in our weakness. There is nothing unnatural, therefore, in an increase of temptations, conflicts and pressures as the Christian goes on with God — indeed, something would be wrong if it did not happen” (Dr. J.I. Packer, p. 246, Knowing God).
How does God carry out His purposes in drawing us closer to himself?
“Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another: it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast.”
“The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of his time bringing home to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on him. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in himself – in the classical scripture phrase for the secret of the godly life, to ‘wait on the Lord’” (p. 250, Ibid).
These Inward Trials,
by John Newton
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request,
and by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
the hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
`Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
`This in this way,’ the Lord replied,
`I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in Me.’
# 2. Fear of God
In Proverbs, a choice for wisdom is a response to the Lord, (i.e. a choice to fear the Lord). Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
A person who fears the Lord accepts wisdom and instruction; takes advice; trusts in the Lord with all his heart; and acknowledges the Lord in all his dealings. This person does not see himself and his own opinion as the primary basis for what he believes and does. He recognizes his own inadequacies and God’s superiority. He is teachable and accepts counsel.
In contrast, the fool despises wisdom and instruction; scoffs at rebuke; his way seems right to him; he is wise in his own eyes; he does not fear the Lord; and he does not accept advice and counsel unless it agrees with what he already concludes— he thinks he knows better.
The fear of the Lord is “the beginning,” not in the sense that it is the first step and after taken you move on to other matters. It’s “the beginning” in that it is the primary and controlling factor in the pursuit of wisdom. To gain wisdom you must start with an attitude that recognizes God’s superiority, especially over your own opinions.
Thought: The fear of the Lord is the pre-requisite to every right attitude. “…This truth keeps the shrewdness of proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair.” (The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner).
The relationship between wisdom and God
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverbs 2:1-7).
Thought: Wisdom is not merely street smarts or shrewdness based on self interest. We know this because, “…the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), wisdom cannot be attained where God is not honored. This emphasis is what distinguishes biblical proverbs from other ancient proverbial literature.
As our children grow older, they begin to formulate goals and ambitions. When their goals are good ones, parents are wise to support them in them. But the best goals, devoid of deep devotion to God, are empty paths away from the rich wisdom God offers to those who seek him in all things. Remember also that in Jesus “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Questions for discussion:
- What do Proverbs 2:1-5 reveal about the nature of the task of obtaining wisdom? (see also: Pr. 11:2; Ps. 25:9; Ja. 3:13-17)
- How does Proverbs 2:6 direct our pursuit of wisdom in relation to II Timothy 3:15-17?
- How do the following verses shape the definition of wisdom: Proverbs 8:13; 9:10; Job 28:28?
- What do the following verses teach about the fear of the Lord? Proverbs 14:26; 14:27; 16:6; 19:23
- It is possible to have vast knowledge and still be a fool?
- Eve chose what appeared promising “to make one wise”(Genesis 3:6) but in that choice what did she deny? (See: Proverbs 1:7). What type of wisdom did she desire?
- How do I Kings 3:5-13 and James 1:5 relate to wisdom?
- Have you ever witnessed the description in Proverbs 14:9? How?
“Obtaining spiritual wisdom isn’t a once-a-week hobby, it is the daily discipline of a lifetime. But in this age of microwave ovens, fast foods, digests, and numerous other ‘made easy’ books, many people are out of the habit of daily investing time and energy in digging deep into Scripture and learning wisdom from the Lord. Thanks to television, their attention span is brief; thanks to religious entertainment that passes for worship, their spiritual appetite is feeble and spiritual knowledge isn’t ‘pleasant to [their] soul’ (Prov. 2:10). It’s no wonder fewer and fewer people ‘take time to be holy’ and more and more people fall prey to the enemies that lurk along the way . . . People are willing to work diligently in their jobs because they know they’ll earn a paycheck, but what about applying themselves diligently to God’s Word in order to gain spiritual riches that are more valuable than gold and silver and jewels, riches that will last forever? (See 2:4; 3:13-15; 8:10-21; 16:16). There’s a price to pay if we would gain spiritual wisdom, but there’s an even greater price to pay if we don’t gain it.” (Dr. Warren Wiersbe)