This is the first part of a Thirty One day study in the book of Proverbs that I am entitling 31 Days of Wisdom. The more I read, the more I write, the more I learn, the more I realize my own shortcomings and find myself calling out to God for wisdom and discernment; wisdom to know right from wrong and discernment to know how to act on that knowledge. As I pondered these things I was continually drawn to the book of Proverbs – a book inspired by God to impart wisdom and discernment. I decided to begin a study of Proverbs, studying one chapter per day for thirty one days.
The book of Proverbs is the first of the Biblical books we categorize as wisdom literature and contains sayings or maxims designed to impart wisdom. The proverbs written in this book were mostly written or compiled by King Solomon, son of King David, though the final two chapters were written by Agur (chapter 30) and King Lemuel (chapter 31). The book is written poetically and follows the standard constructs of Hebrew poetry, relying heavily on parallelism. We will discuss these poetic constructs in later chapters.
Throughout this study I will attempt to personalize what I read. When Solomon writes “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” I will put myself in the place of the son or the young man. I will be the one seeking wisdom. I believe this book, as with all Scripture, speaks and applies directly to me.
For today, let’s turn to the first chapter of Proverbs. This chapter is divided into three distinct sections: an introduction, a warning to avoid unjust gain and wisdom’s call.
Introduction – The Beginning of Knowledge
Few books in the Bible so clearly lay out their purpose. The first six verses of Proverbs read:
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.
I have read books with ambitious purposes, but none nearly as ambitious as this. Who but God could provide a book that announces even before it begins that it will do all of this and who else could I trust but God to provide wisdom, prudence and discretion? To understand all of these purposes we will need to define some terms, many of which will occur time and again through the book.
Wisdom – Wisdom relates to the mind, the intellect and the control of behavior. Wisdom is a way of thinking about life and reality that enables someone to appreciate and pursue what is good in life while avoiding what is evil. God reveals life’s values and how humans can achieve those.
Instruction – Instruction is the learning of wisdom through moral and intellectual discipline.
Insight – Insight is discernment and understanding; the ability to make distinctions between good and bad, better and best.
Prudence – Prudence is shrewdness, cleverness or astuteness.
Discretion – Discretion is the application of insight in making good decisions.
That is a lot to take in through just the first seven verses! To summarize we can say that this book is given to teach wisdom through instruction. This allows insight and prudence which in turn allow discretion. We could also say that as we are instructed in wisdom we learn to be prudent in our discernment between what is good and what is evil. Discernment plays out practically in using discretion to making decisions.
Verse seven shows the foundation for knowledge (which in Proverbs is synonymous with wisdom). We read “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” We see that the ability to have wisdom is premised on a fear of the Lord. This is not a fear that involves terror, but is awe of the Lord and of His holiness and majesty. This reverence for God is displayed in a response of worship and faith to a holy God. Only those who fear the Lord are able to have true wisdom.
Avoid Unjust Gain
Having laid a foundation of what this book will do and where true knowledge comes from, the chapter turns to a practical example of how wisdom can effect a life. Verses 8 – 19 are an exhortation against unjust gain. The passage begins with the words “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” In Jewish households both parents took part in the training of their children and someone searching for wisdom is to heed the wise words of his parents. Wisdom displays itself in a life as “graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” There is beauty in a life of wisdom.
Verses 10 and 11 provide an “if” clause that indicates the situations to which the wisdom in verses 12 to 19 apply. If I am enticed by sinners and I am driven by the desire to acquire wealth at any cost, then verses 12 to 19 will apply to me. If I heed the counsel of those who would lead me astray I will really be plotting my own destruction. I will “lie in wait for [my] own blood; [I will] set an ambush for [my] own life.” Verse 19 says “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” The overwhelming desire for money will distract me from the ultimate pursuit of wisdom. Where money can be obtained through dishonest means, wisdom can only be gained honestly through a fear of God.
I need wisdom to know God’s will for my life and need discernment to decide what is right from what is wrong. When enticed by sinners it is godly discernment that will allow me to flee their evil counsel. Without wisdom I would have no basis to discern that people were attempting to lead me astray.
The third section of this chapter is a personification of Wisdom who is portrayed as a woman standing in the public places calling out for people to heed her. She questions those who are simple, asking how long they will love their simplicity and how long fools will hate knowledge. She provides assurance that she can change a life, for if we heed her call she says she will “pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”
There are sobering words in this passage. Wisdom cries out for the simple to heed her, yet it seems that there is a point of no return after which it is too late to heed her call. Eventually she will turn her back on those who refuse her. After that time they may seek her, but she will not answer; they will seek her but they will not find her.
This passage is summarized in the final two verses which directly contrast each other. “For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Fools destroy themselves through their folly. I am faced with the choice between complacency and heeding wisdom; between human folly and God’s wisdom.
The objective for this study is to learn godly wisdom and discernment. Based on the first chapter of Proverbs, here is what I have learned so far:
- Wisdom is given by God and is dependent upon a relationship with God. I must fear God before I can learn to be wise.
- Wisdom is a choice. It is available for those who seek it and will not push itself on those who turn their backs on it.
- Those who continually turn their backs on wisdom will soon pass a point of no return after which wisdom will become unattainable.
- Wisdom is a prerequisite for discernment. Discernment is in turn a prerequisite for discretion.
- There is no middle ground between wisdom and foolishness. We are either wise or foolish, knowledgeable or simple.
I used to attend school in the heart of the downtown section of Hamilton, Ontario. Sometimes when walking home I would pass a man who would stand on the corner of the busiest intersection in the city and preach to those who passed by. I have felt wisdom’s call in my life just as clearly as I heard that man’s voice shouting to the masses. I have felt an urgency to know and understand wisdom and perhaps this is because my heart knows wisdom will not call indefinitely. Sooner or later if I refuse her call she will turn from me and I will be left without. It is my prayer that God will use His book to teach me wisdom and discernment.