Biblical Wisdom

Choose Wisdom | Proverbs 9

We now conclude our study through Proverbs’ introduction. Our text brings to close the messages and themes of the first nine chapters, while also inviting us to dive into the collection of proverbs that follow. In many ways, this chapter is an expanded and illustrated explanation of Proverbs 1:7. Two paths in life are before us: the path of wisdom and the path of folly. Here Wisdom and Folly are personified as women throwing lavish feasts and extending to us an invitation to join them. Each of us will ultimately dine with one or the other, so which will you choose?

TWO INVITATIONS // VERSES 1-6 & 13-18

Notice that there are eighteen verses in this chapter, and as such, it divides very nicely into three sections of six verses each. The poetic symmetry is astounding, and I will attempt to highlight this structure as we walk through our study of it. Verses 1-6 and 13-18 are reflexive of each other. The former is Lady Wisdom’s invitation to join her feast, while the latter is Folly’s counter invitation. Thus, we will compare and contrast these two feasts first before diving into Lady Wisdom’s final teaching to us in verses 7-12.

Notice first that verses 1-2 and 13-14 describe the context of their respective feasts. Wisdom’s house has seven pillars[1]. The beasts have been slaughtered. The wine is mixed. The table is set. Woman Folly, however, is loud, seductive, and vapid. She knows nothing (meaning that she does not possess true wisdom and knowledge), yet she sits at the door of her house, beckoning everyone to dine with her.

The primary difference between these two sets of verses is that Folly’s character is described rather than her feast being offered. This is essential because Proverbs has yet to introduce us to this personification of folly. We’ve already been given two speeches from Lady Wisdom in chapter 1 and chapter 8, but we haven’t met Woman Folly until now. We have, however, seen glimpses of her through the lens of the Adulteress. Indeed, we could view the Adulteress as the exemplary disciple of Woman Folly in the same way that the Noble Wife in chapter 31 is model follower of Lady Wisdom.

Next, verses 3-6 and 15-18 are the invitations to the paralleling feasts. Indeed, verses 4 and 16 are nearly identical to one another. Both women are targeting the same audience of those who are simple and lack sense. As we discussed previously, the person who lacks sense is a fool. He is one who is not following God’s wisdom but is, instead, wise in his own eyes. Or, as the phrase could be translated literally, the fool lacks heart. Following our own wisdom always results in the loss of our heart, the core of who we are. The simple, on the other hand, are those who are staggering between wisdom and folly. They are not outright fools, but neither are they wise. This, of course, means that throughout this life we will perpetually be simple to some degree. Each day certainly presents us with a renewed opportunity to choose wisdom or folly. These duel invitations also point to this constant limbo of life. Lady Wisdom calls out the simple and fools to come join her feast, to leave their foolish ways and embrace her path of life. Yet Woman Folly is always constantly wooing them to stay with her. As long as we are still breathing, we must constantly reject folly and choose wisdom.

Yet in verse 15 we learn that Folly is also calling out to another group: those who are walking straight on their way. This could mean two things. First, it could mean those who are presently walking down the path of wisdom, showing that she is actively hunting the wise. Second, it could be describing those who are unsuspecting. Either way she is being portrayed as a predator, whereas Wisdom is painted as offering nourishment to the weary.

Notice also the difference in how these women are calling us to join their feasts. Folly stands at the door of her house and cries out herself. Lady Wisdom, however, sends out her young woman to summon us. Why is this difference significant? The young woman who carry the message of Lady Wisdom are her disciples. Folly, though, has no disciples. She killed them all. Her previous guests are now dead, stored “in the depths of Sheol” (v. 18). When we consider that sin is embodiment and essence of folly, this makes complete sense. Sin’s allure is a promise that is never fulfilled. Sin promises a banquet, but it only yields death. Still, it continues to deceive. It continues to ensnare.

We, however, are called to be Lady Wisdom’s young women. We are meant to be her disciples, calling others to join us in her feast. The feast of Lady Wisdom is an actual feast, with other people and everything. Our very invitation is intended to be proof of the reality of the banquet. God chooses to let us take part in the expansion of His kingdom, in the invitation to His wisdom.

Both Wisdom and Folly are also offering bread and drink, our two primary elements of daily sustenance. This is highly symbolic for how we need wisdom only a daily basis. Just as we need food and water to sustain us, so we also require God’s wisdom to keep us on His path. Furthermore, God’s wisdom is a feast indeed. It connects us to one another, uniting us around the LORD. Indeed, community is an essential aspect of God’s wisdom. Community is necessity for wisdom.

Folly, however, cannot offer a feast. Her guests are dead, so there is no fellowship. She has no community to present; therefore, she invites us to partake in stolen water and secret bread. Sin can never build community and fellowship. It can only divide, isolate, and destroy. Folly and sin, therefore, thrive in isolation. Separating oneself from other believers is an invitation to folly and sin.

The ultimate difference between these two invitations is, of course, that Wisdom is calling us to life while Folly is beckoning us to death. Once again, this is yet another various of the two paths that every person must choose between. Jesus called them the narrow and broad roads. Here in Proverbs they have been the paths of wisdom and folly. Now they are presented as invitations to two feasts, one of life and one of death.

The question then that we should be left with after reading these two invitations is: how do we accept Wisdom and reject Folly? Thankfully, Lady Wisdom answers this question in verses 7-12.

LADY WISDOM’S TEACHING // VERSES 7-12

I’ve placed these verses last because I believe the chiastic structure of chapter is pointing toward them as the central focus of our text. As noted in the introduction, these six verses seem to be a reflection upon the thesis verse of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

Verses 7-9 are essentially an expanded view of the second half of Proverbs 1:7. These verses contrast the wise man with a scoffer, and the primary difference between them is teachability. A wise man loves reproof and instruction because they increase his wisdom. Correcting a scoffer, however, incurs their hatred and violence. Teachability is necessary for wisdom because wisdom comes through teaching. In fact, teachability could in many ways be used as a synonym for humility. Being teachable requires acknowledging the limits of one’s own understanding. Scoffers, however, are unteachable because they are proud. They are confident in their own knowledge and reject anything that challenges them.

What makes this difference between someone who is teachable, then, and someone who is a scoffer? Verse 10 gives us the answer: the fear of the LORD. Proverbs 3:5-6 is perhaps the great display of what fearing the LORD looks like: “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.”

Fearing God means seeing God as God. True humility and teachability begin here. If we will not be taught by the Creator of all things, how can we truly be taught anything? Indeed, wise teachability does not mean that we allow ourselves to be taught by anyone. Paul, after all, warned the Colossians to avoid being held captive by philosophies and empty deceits. We must be guarded against the lies that prevail throughout the world, yet when God speaks, we must listen. And we must obey. The very purpose of God’s inspired Word is to teach us, correct us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

The epitome of foolishness is thinking that our few decades of experience make us wiser than God the Creator. Yet that is the very essence of sin. Whenever we sin, we declare that we are more knowledgeable than He who is omniscient. Fearing God, however, turns us from this foolish path of sin. It makes us teachable to God’s perfect instruction.

Verse 11 reminds us of another benefit of wisdom. By wisdom, our days will be multiplied, and years added to one’s life. As we previously discussed, this is generally true in the physical sense. Wisdom often prolongs life if for no other reason than it teaches us to avoid the dangerous practices of folly. Ultimately, however, it is true eternally. Those who follow God’s wisdom will have their days multiplied without end as we dwell forever with God.

Finally, verse 12 concludes with a final warning that is a perfect note on which to conclude our study through these opening chapters of Proverbs. “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” This is reminder that the choice between wisdom and folly is given to the individual.

No one can choose wisdom for you. You alone must obtain it, and if you instead choose to scoff, you alone will bear that consequence. You cannot rely upon the pedigree of your family or of your church. You either embrace Christ and His wisdom or you do not. God has called you to love wisdom, to fear Him. Community is certainly crucial for helping us continue choosing wisdom, but ultimately the decision is ours alone to make.

Consider the sobering reality of this choose. One day we will each stand before God, naked, bare, and alone. Before His holiness, our greatest deeds of righteousness will be truly seen as nothing more than filthy rags in His presence. On that day, we will either hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” or “Depart from me, I never knew you”. The wise will enter into Wisdom itself, while the scoffs will bear away their scoffing.

This is the weight behind these two feasts, these two invitations. The choice between wisdom and folly is an eternal one. It has many consequences on this present life, but its ultimate consequence is our eternal joy or eternal suffering. Biblical wisdom, therefore, is not optional; it is how we know God!

In fact, Jesus Himself invites us to a feast in the same vein as Lady Wisdom. In John 7:37-38, we read: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Furthermore, John’s Revelation ends with this message from Jesus: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (22:16-17).

The feast of wisdom, the feast of Jesus Christ, is free to whomever will humble himself to come. May we come to His banquet. May we be sustained by His body as our bread and His blood as our drink. May Jesus be our wisdom as we follow wherever He leads. Furthermore, may we be His Bride who calls out for others to come. May we be the young women whom Lady Wisdom sends to the highest places in town, calling for the simple and fools to leave their simple ways and live. May we proclaim the wisdom of gospel to those ensnared by folly around us.


[1] Many theologians offer differing interpretations concerning what exactly the seven pillars represent. Since their suggestions are all speculative, I would offer that, since seven is a number often associated with God, they indicate that her house is built and established upon the wisdom of God.

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Vanity Under the Sun

The Vanity of Fear Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Read the sermon here. 

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 5:1 | Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.   

Ecclesiastes 5:7 | For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.  

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by the Preacher (probably Solomon) to reflect upon his lifelong search for lasting meaning, purpose, and joy in life. But even after obtaining all the pleasure, wealth, sex, and power that he could possibly want, he comes to the conclusion that everything under the sun is vanity, a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. Of course, the key to properly interpreting Ecclesiastes is the phrase “under the sun.” Solomon’s ultimate goal is to show that nothing on earth can truly satisfy us. We need divine intervention.

In almost every book or sermon to be found on Ecclesiastes, the emphasis of these verses is placed upon how we worship God, and while worship does form the bulk of the discourse here, the point of this passage is more interested in why we worship than how we worship. The Preacher is diving at the heart behind our worship of the LORD, and the result is rather like a piece of classical music. Two movements are at play here describing how to properly worship God, and each movement ends with a refrain that muses over the vanity of dreams and many words. The piece then closes with a thunderous crescendo that is meant to cast a new light upon everything that came before. Like any complex work of art, the goal is for us to meditate deeply upon what lies before us. Here, specifically, we should consider what the repeated refrain is teaching us about how to worship God and how the Preacher’s conclusion changes how we worship by reminding us why we worship.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Solomon presents five commands for worship: guard your steps, draw near to listen, avoid foolish sacrifices, avoid rash and hasty words, and pay your vows. Which of these most resonates with you? Why?
  3. Why are we commanded to fear God? Why does the fear of the LORD cast out other fears? What fears and anxieties do you wrestle with? In what ways can you fight them by fearing God more?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?
Biblical Wisdom

The Path of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:10-19

Hear, my son, and accept my words,
that the years of your life may be many.
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
and if you run, you will not stumble.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble.

Proverbs 4:10-19 ESV

 

Everyone in life is walking down one of two paths: the path of wisdom or the path of folly (or foolishness). The path of wisdom leads to life and being blessed by God, while the path of folly leads to sin and death. Within these verses of Proverbs, Solomon will present for us again the two roads set before us. Although we can continue to discuss the benefits of wisdom, ultimately we must choose to begin obeying God, to begin walking down His path.

THE PATH OF WISDOM // VERSES 10-13

Once more, Solomon opens with the word hear. This urges us to have our ears open, ready to hear the words of the LORD, but he also goes further by telling us to accept his words. Of course, as has been the common pattern, Solomon immediately follows this command with a promised blessing: the years of your life will be many.

The call to accept Solomon’s words is not fully understood without verse 11. There we find the author declaring that he has taught the way of wisdom and has led us in the paths of uprightness. As previously stated, the way/path motif is common throughout the Proverbs. It boils all of life down to two categories: walking down the path of wisdom or the path of foolishness. Jesus adopts this metaphor, adding the idea of a narrow gate and a broad gate. Thus, the idea of the path of wisdom is not new, but Solomon’s usage of the past tense certainly is.

Why does Solomon use the past tense in verse 11? I think this is Solomon emphasizing that much of Proverbs is repetition. Even in chapter four of nine in our study, the information presented in these verses is not new. He has already told us of our desperate need for wisdom, and now he simply continues to reiterate that truth using different words. Too often, we long to make God’s Word more complex in order to stall our obedience. True, there are infinite complexities in the Bible, but it’s message is utterly simple: God loves us, so we must love God and love others. We can throw 10,000 but’s at God’s Word, but ultimately we must walk in obedience with what we understand. Mark Twain (not a Christian) gives a wonderful thought on this: “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Because the main message has already been delivered, Solomon is now calling us to obey. The instructions have been given, so the emphasis is now upon action. He wants us to accept his words by obeying them, by living them. We must cling to wisdom and guard her because she is life to us. Verse 12 describes that kind of life. It is a life free from hampering and stumbling. We will discuss stumbling later, so let us view hampering for the moment. Hampering means to restrict, restrain, or confine; therefore, when we walk wisely, our steps will not be restricted.

Wait a minute. We’ve all read the Ten Commandments, and Leviticus is almost entirely filled with laws to obey. The Bible is filled with commandments and laws and is even commonly referred to as God’s Law. But commandments and laws do not make us feel unrestricted. How then can God tell us to follow His ways so we will not be hampered? God’s laws and regulations are not meant to confine us but protect us. A father is not evil for banning his child from playing in the street, and the child is not hampered but guarded. These are how God’s laws and commands function for us.

Take the fourth of the Ten Commandments into consideration. Why did God demand that Israel keep a Sabbath day of rest by consecrating that day to Him? It was for their benefit. Jesus said that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God commanded them to rest one day in seven because they needed it. He then told them to keep it holy, to give that day to Him, because He knew that they could only find true rest in Him (Matthew 11:28).

We think God’s commands hinder us because we want to sin instead, but God knows that sin leads to death. Sin always promises freedom and happiness, but it leads to slavery, sorrow, and death. God demands that we submit to Him in everything, but He graciously gives us freedom, joy, and life when we do. Freedom cannot be found in sin. Nevertheless, we continue to believe that lie time and time again.

THE PATH OF FOLLY // VERSES 14-17

These four verses present the converse image of previous four. In fact, many verses in the two sections are almost direct opposites of one another. For instance, verse 11 finds its converse in verse 14. Verses 16-17 are the other side of verse 12. And verses 13 and 15 both have the same rapid urgency to their respective commands. After describing the life that is found by following the path of wisdom, we now view the death that comes from choosing the path of folly.

Just as the path of wisdom leads to life, the way of folly (or wickedness) leads to death, particularly let us observe verses 16-17. First, we are told that they cannot sleep without doing wrong or causing others to sin. Then we are find that wickedness is their bread and violence is their wine. Both of these verses emphasize the domination of sin upon the fool’s life. For them, sin is as normal as sleep and food. They see nothing wrong with their rebellion against God and gladly encourage others to join them.

This normalcy of sin usually results from taking the good gifts of God and making them into our gods. We take objects or actions that God created for us to enjoy Him and make them into the ultimate good of our lives. We revolve our lives around the gift rather than the Giver. This is true even of ourselves. God made us as His image-bearers; therefore, our very life is a gift from God. Yet when we commit idolatry whenever we live for our glory and pleasure instead of for God’s glory and pleasure. And ultimately, there is no quicker way to devalue something than by using it to usurp God’s throne.

We will soon spend multiple weeks on the topic, so let us preemptively consider the idea of sex. As the culture continues to promote sex as an inherent good, sex continues to lose its sanctity and worth. Why is this? Only God can truly be everything. Everything else fails. Therefore, when we make sex everything, it simultaneously becomes nothing. It cannot stand under the weight of our expectations because we hand it a burden that it was not meant to hold. Likewise, when my happiness becomes everything to me, it also becomes nothing. If my happiness is my ultimate goal in life, I have no means of processing chronic illness, horrific accidents, and deaths. Only God is big enough to be everything. Only He is able to bear the burden of being the singular focus of our lives.

TWO PATHS // VERSES 18-19

These verses present the final contrast between life’s two paths. There is no neutrality. Every person on this planet is either described by verse 18 or 19. Verse 19 picks up verses 14-17 discussion of the foolish path. It is first described as deep darkness. Biblically, darkness often carries with it the connotation of ignorance. In the light, we see and know things for what they are, but in darkness, we are left to wander on our own. Of course, living in darkness means that they will stumble over things they can’t see. This completes a very interesting progression of the word stumble in this text. First, we saw in the first section that the wise will not stumble (v. 12). Then we saw that the wicked cannot sleep without causing others to stumble (v. 16). Now we find that the wicked stumble around in the dark. What a glorious truth for God’s people! One day every account will be settled.

C. S. Lewis paints a vivid picture of this principle in the final Narnia book, The Last Battle. The main characters find a group of dwarves sitting to themselves in field, and when questioned, they realize that they dwarves’ minds are shrouded in darkness so that they cannot see the gorgeous field that surrounds them. Eventually, one character asks Aslan (aka Jesus) to help the dwarves, and he responds by setting a feast of food before dwarves. But blinded creatures eat the whole meal complaining about the food tasting like it came from a horse trough and suspecting each other of hiding better tasting food. Aslan states that they cannot be helped because they refuse to be helped. This is ultimately what sin does. It blinds us to all that is really good and lovely in the world. For example, when we understand that God created the combination of taste buds and flavors, we are able to more fully appreciate the simple joys of food and drink. We enjoy them then as an expression of our Father’s love for us. Instead of viewing sex as a biological need (as many secularists today do), we view as God-given pleasure to be enjoyed in the safety and security of the marriage covenant.

But not so for the righteous! They are like the light of dawn, getting brighter and brighter. Dawn is a wonderful metaphor because God does turn night to day with the flick of a switch. The sun rises slowly, first filling the horizon with light and then invading the rest of the sky. Such is the life of God’s people. When we first believe the gospel and are justified before God, light enters, but it is only just bursting across the horizon. And we know that one day we will be completely free from sin and with God in glorification, just as the full day continues to arrive. But in between those two truths, the sun continues to gradually fill the earth with light. This is the concept of sanctification, the process by which we die to our sinful selves and conform each day to the holiness of God.

We should allow this truth to encourage us. We are not yet glorified, so we are still deeply sinful. But we are also justified, so we know that sin no longer holds authority or power over us. Thus, each day we must simply continue to grow in the LORD. Some days that progress might seem incremental, but we leave our growth and fruit to God. We just continue, however slowly, down the path of wisdom, knowing that God alone will keep our feet from stumbling.

Biblical Wisdom

The Beginning of Wisdom | Proverbs 1:1-7

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.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV

 

Proverbs is a friendly book for expositors since the first seven verses provide a blatant thesis along with the book’s purpose and goals. Verse 1 informs us of the book’s primary author, verses 2-6 describe the goals and immense benefit that can be gained from seeking the wisdom found within this book’s words, and verse 7 is the heart of Proverbs. True wisdom can only be found by first fearing the LORD. Anything else is foolishness.

OF THE AUTHOR & BACKGROUND // VERSE 1

Solomon is described as the main writer of the book of Proverbs. See the background notes for more information about Solomon and the composition of the Proverbs.

THE GOALS OF PROVERBS // VERSES 2-4

These three verses describe a fourfold goal of the book. First, Proverbs aims to help us know wisdom and instruction. Because these terms are used throughout the book, it is important for us to define them now. Wisdom is essentially “the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves (Longman, 14-15).” The skill of living is a fitting description of wisdom because elsewhere it is used to denote godly craftsmanship. In Exodus 28:3 for example, God claims to have filled certain men with “the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments”. God’s wisdom gave them the skill to craft holy clothing for the priests of Israel. Like a craftsman, living a godly life requires training, study, and rigorous practice, and like a blacksmith learning to shape metal, we must diligently seek God’s wisdom for how to navigate life’s twists and turns.

But we are supposed to know both wisdom and instruction. What is instruction then? Instruction could also be translated as discipline or correction. It is often used to describe the father’s responsibility toward his children, which is a predominate motif used throughout these first nine chapters.

Proverbs 4:1 | Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight.

Proverbs 12:1 | Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 15:32 | Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

There’s plenty more, but I will stop there for now. The message of Proverbs is clear that wisdom cannot be gained without proper instruction. It is a skill that must be taught, and often this comes in the form of reproof and correction, not through mere accumulation of knowledge. In fact, intelligence and wisdom are two different things entirely. Someone might lack intelligence but be full of wisdom, likewise there are many genius-level fools in the world.

And make no mistake, we are foolish by default, so we need to be corrected toward wisdom. Humility, therefore, is a requirement for pursuing wisdom. In order to heed instruction, we must understand our own deficit of wisdom, and then we will love the discipline of the LORD.

Second, Proverbs aims to help us understand words of insight. Understanding means to perceive, consider, or discern something. It is the comprehension of a truth and the good judgment that flows from that understanding. The Bible, and Proverbs particularly, calls us to be deep thinkers. The Psalms also urge us repeatedly to meditate upon God’s Word because when we soak ourselves in the Bible, we gain an understanding of it. The proverbs themselves are words of understanding, insightful thoughts regarding how to live a godly life. Men like Solomon wrote these words by thinking deeply about God, His creation, and how we relate to them both. We also need to dive deep to truly understand their insights. With countless forms of trivial entertainment striving to keep us preoccupied, we need the timeless insights of Proverbs more than ever.

Third, Proverbs helps us receive instruction in wise dealings. This goal is all about behavior. Although we are encouraged to think deeply upon these words, God intends, through this book, to change how we live our lives, not just how we think. Wise dealings might also be translated as wise behaviors, and we are given three qualifying terms: righteousness, justice, and equity. Righteousness means following the straight path, acting without evil intent or faults. Justice means being righteous in our judgments. Equity means being free from bias or favoritism that might pervert justice. Each of these are closely related moral terms that urge us to be godly. God is righteous, just, and equitable. We are to follow His pattern. A true understanding of Proverbs will lead to godly behavior. If it does not, then we have not truly received its instruction in wise dealings. We must lay ahold of its truths and live them.

Fourth, Proverbs gives prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth. Longman describes the simple as follows:

The simple (peti) are neither wise nor foolish. They are, in a sense, unformed. They can do stupid things, to be sure, and later in the book (e.g., Prov 1:22) will sometimes be grouped with the fool (kesil) or mocker (lason). But the difference between the simpleminded and the fool or the mocker may be summed up in one word: teachability. Fools “despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov 1:7), but the simpleminded will listen. A modern word that describes the simpleminded in this context is “immature.” The purpose of the book of Proverbs toward this group is to develop them as people along the right path. (19)

In a sense, we all must approach Proverbs as being simpleminded and immature, seeking what its wisdom promises: prudence, knowledge, and discretion. Prudence means craftiness or shrewdness, which are typically thought of as negative concepts. In fact, the serpent’s craftiness in Genesis 3:1 is a form of this word. Even though it can be negative, here it refers to having a wise understanding of the world. Knowledge means to have awareness by either fact or experience, and discretion typically implies the formation of and follow though of wise planning. The importance of knowledge is seen in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest for me.” Prudence is also essential because it gives us the ability to outsmart the temptations to sin around us. 1 Corinthians 10:13 speaks of God always providing a means of escaping temptation, and discretion enables us to find those ways of escape. Prudence, knowledge, and discretion are all needed elements for living wisely, but we cannot grasp them without the humility of realizing our own lack.

CALL TO THE WISE // VERSES 5-6

After speaking to the simpleminded youth with four of the goals of the book, the wise are now addressed with a fifth goal (note: just as the simple and youth are one group, so the one who understands is the same group as the wise). But before the fifth goal is expressed in verse 6, the wise are called to listen to the words of this book that they might increase their learning and obtain guidance. Though we might be tempted to think that the wise person already has everything figured out, that is not the picture that Proverbs paints. The wise know that there is no end to wisdom and folly is always around the corner; therefore, they must constantly increase their learning and search for guidance. In fact, this teachability is a significant aspect of what makes the wise person wise, just like the ability to learn is what separates the simple from the fool. Solomon himself is a warning here for us. Though he was one of the wisest men to live, he turned his heart from the LORD during his reign to follow after the gods of his many wives. Like repentance, wisdom must be sought daily for a fresh supply.

The fifth goal is then expressed in verse 6, that we would understand proverbs, sayings, words of the wise, and riddles. These each refer to different types of writings found within the book. The most predominant, of course, are proverbs (see the background section for more information on these types of writings). The author urges us to strive for understanding these words because they are purposefully difficult to understand. They are written by wise people and are meant to be interpreted by wise people. The perfect example is Proverbs 26:4-5. These verses appear to be direct contradictions of one another (one saying to answer a fool according to his folly, while the other says not to answer a fool according to his folly). So which is true? They both are. We must have wisdom to know when to answer or not answer a fool. Proverbs is not a formula for instant wisdom.

If proverbs contain wisdom but cannot themselves provide wisdom, where then is the source of wisdom? Verse 7 has the answer.

THE FEAR OF THE LORD // VERSE 7

Although verses 2-6 explain how wisdom and knowledge are continually acquired, we now learn where they begin. The beginning and foundation of knowledge and wisdom is the fear of the LORD (Ps. 111:10; Pr. 9:10). What then is the fear of God, and why is it so important? And why does Solomon use knowledge here instead of wisdom?

Typically, when the Bible talks about the fear of the LORD, it does not mean terror or dread (at least when it comes to God’s people anyway). For instance, Adam and Eve were afraid of God after they disobeyed, but that fear came from their own disobedience and the fear of being punished. That fear is much like the fear of a ravenous tiger, a feeling of terror due to a clear and present danger to self.

But the fear of the LORD here is not such a dread; rather, we could call this a reverential fear or an awe-inspiring fear. This is more like the majestic fear of looking over the side of the Grand Canyon. It is the fear of encountering something that is infinitely more glorious than yourself. It is the fear that caused Isaiah to fall upon his face in unworthiness. This fear comes from recognizing and encountering God’s holiness, which is to say God’s otherness, His being like no one or nothing in all creation. This fear leads to wisdom and knowledge because it places us within a proper perspective. It teaches us that our days are finite, that we are not the masters of our own fate. We have a limited number of breaths in our lungs and beats in our heart.

In short, the fear of God reminds us that we are not in control and we are not God. Thus, we cannot truly fear God while living as though we are the center of the universe. The fear of God forces us to realize how fleeting we are in comparison to the Holy One (Ps. 39:4).

We also cannot fear God, while giving our lives over to petty entertainments or devilish sins. Knowing the Holy One puts an eternal perspective on our lives, causing us to want to maximize the things we do for His glory and flee from whatever opposes Him. This focus on eternity is called wisdom. Thus, wisdom can only be gained by first knowing and fearing God.

Now onto the second question: why does Solomon use knowledge here instead of wisdom? Proverbs is all about wisdom, after all, so shouldn’t he have stated that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, especially in the thesis statement of the book! Consider the fact that wisdom is often called applied knowledge, meaning that it is our ability to use knowledge in the real world. In this context, knowledge is a prerequisite to wisdom. We cannot wisely apply knowledge if we possess no knowledge to begin with. From this thought, we can, therefore, gather than Solomon is declaring that even the opening steps of wisdom are inaccessible to us without the fear of the LORD. If we do not fear God, we cannot even hope to have knowledge, let alone the even more elusive wisdom. Without knowing God, we miss the fundamental knowledge of how life works. Without fearing God, true knowledge is outside our grasp, and wisdom is even more unattainable.

The end of second half of verse 7 finally introduces us to the final main type of person we will meet in Proverbs: the fool. The fool is the exact opposite of the wise in every way. While the wise are marked by wisdom, fools revel in folly, despising wisdom and instruction. The wise are teachable, striving to learn from their errors, sins, and mistakes. The fool, on the hand, rejects instruction because he is wise in his own eyes (3:7; 12:15). He cannot gain wisdom because he does not fear the LORD. Twice the Psalms tell us that fools refuse to accept God’s existence (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). The fool rejects belief in God because he elevates himself as god. Just as humility is the defining characteristic of the wise, so pride is the true mark of a fool.