Two Definitions Of Wisdom Wisdom, the main theme of Proverbs, has two definitions. First, it is not mere head knowledge, but a divinely enlightened understanding of what is good and evil. The fact that wisdom is contrasted to evil in Proverbs indicates that a moral and spiritual quality is intended. In most of the Old Testament, wisdom refers to mere skill or sound judgment. Proverbs adds the moral quality that alone makes intelligence worthwhile. In Proverbs, Solomon uses such words as “wisdom,” “knowledge” and “understanding” interchangeably, to describe the heart of the person who truly knows God. The word “fool” (which appears 18 times in Proverbs) does not refer to the mentally deficient, but to the person who leaves God out of his thoughts and plans, and who cares not whether his conduct pleases or displeases Him. In contrast, the “wise” are not the highly educated, but those who seek to put God first in their lives. They believe God and are clothed with His righteousness. The wise (believers) and the fools (unbelievers) are the subjects of most of Proverbs.
The second definition is that wisdom is knowing things and seeing things from God’s perspective. Wisdom is experiential knowledge of the Lord personally. Wisdom is loving what God loves – holiness – and hating what God hates – sin.
Principles To Interpret Proverbs
There are three important principles for interpreting Proverbs. First, the proverbs are instructions from the Lord, not mere secular maxims. It is not by accident that the name of the Lord appears 86 times in Proverbs. Second, the word “wisdom” may be interpreted as righteousness or holiness, which describes the heart of the one who truly knows God. The word “fool” may be interpreted as the wickedness of the unsaved. Third, at times wisdom is personified. For example, in Proverbs 8, wisdom is a divine Person, our Lord.
The Beginning Of Wisdom
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge … The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10 NKJV). These verses are the keynote to the entire book: the fear of the Lord is the root of wisdom. The word “fear” means reverence; it is mentioned 14 times in Proverbs. Childlike reverence, so sadly lacking today, is the beginning of knowledge. There is no true knowledge apart from the fear of the Lord. It means to acknowledge, adore and worship Him, to bow in faith to His revelation and to put Him above everything else. Fools despise wisdom and instruction; they follow the philosophies of this world.
Wisdom, The Principal Thing
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (4:7). Repeatedly, Solomon exhorts his son, the reader, to heed the instruction of the person Wisdom (1:20), who is the Lord, and to walk the path of wisdom, which is the life of holiness. This appeal is repeated in the first nine chapters of Proverbs which mainly describe who the wise man is – the one who fears God, the Christian of the New Testament. The reason for this repetition? Solomon wisely knows that exhortations about daily conduct are meaningless to one whose heart is not right with God. Hence his constant appeal for a teachable attitude is suggested by such words as “hear,” “receive,” “seek,” “forget not” and “attend.”
Wisdom was God’s method in creation. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up, and clouds drop down the dew” (3:19-20). God’s creative work was very good (Gen. 1:31). Wisdom’s existence predates all of creation. Wisdom is seen as an independent creative power which founded the earth and established the heavens. Surely this is a reference to the Lord Jesus.
The Value Of Wisdom
Proverbs teaches that wisdom is priceless. This is proven by the verses which teach that wisdom is better than gold, silver, and precious stones. “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God” (2:4-5). “For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her” (3:14-15). The merchandise of this world may be good, but it cannot give a man meaning now or in eternity. Wisdom can give the gift of life, as well as riches and honor. Her ways are the paths of peace, the highest reward for a life of dependence of God (Phil. 4:6-7). “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her … My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, and my revenue than choice silver” (8:11,19). “How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” (16:16). “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good” (19:8).
In chapter 3:13-18, three pictures of wisdom are presented to portray her incomparable worth. First: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies” (3:13-15). How blessed is the man who finds wisdom! His condition is far superior to that of the man who finds silver, gold, or rubies. Second: “Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor” (3:16). Long life, riches and honor are the rewards of the invaluable wisdom (3:2). Third, “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her” (3:18). The tree of life is mentioned in Genesis 2:9 and 3:22, and would have served its purpose in the event of man’s victory in the first temptation. Its existence shows that God had made ample provision for man’s good. It is not mentioned again in the Bible until Revelation 2:7; 22:2 where it will bear fruit for the inhabitants of heaven.
Nine Rewards Of Wisdom
- Wisdom grants many honors. “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” (1:8-9). “Exalt her, and she will … bring you honor. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; a crown of glory she will deliver to you” (4:8-9). Wisdom is personified in these commands about her: “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” (4:5); “Do not forsake her … love her” (4:6); “Exalt her … embrace her” (4:8).
- Wisdom gives understanding and keeps one from immorality. “When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things … to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words” (2:10-12,16). When wisdom enters a man, he comes to understand righteousness, justice, equity, and every good path. This is because wisdom has made its way into the mind and has been welcomed in the soul. This man is now guarded by discretion and understanding. Discretion is a guardedness against those who distort the truth. Guardedness will also keep a man from sexual sin; the evil woman is the immoral seductress who flatters with words.
- Wisdom guides (2:10-22), negatively, “to deliver you from the way of evil” (2:12), and positively, “so you may walk in the way of goodness” (2:20). For the one whose heart is filled with wisdom and whose soul loves knowledge (2:10), discretion will be a guard and understanding a protector (2:11). Deliverance is from perverse men (2:12-15) and seductive women (2:16-19).
- Wisdom gives renewal, health, and vitality. “It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones” (3:8).
- Wisdom gives long life, riches, honor, pleasure and peace. “Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (3:16-17; 9:11).
- Wisdom brings prosperity (3:1-10), which takes many forms: long life (3:2,16), favor and good name (3:4), straight paths (3:6), health and strength (3:8), wealth and provisions (3:9-10). These may be interpreted literally and figuratively. Whatever measure is attained comes only when wisdom (righteousness) is guarded. “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the first fruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (3:9-10).
- Wisdom brings security. “My son, let them (wisdom and discretion) not depart from your eyes – keep sound wisdom and discretion” (3:21). The next verses show the kinds of security we can depend on for preserving wisdom. The words “so,” “then,” “when” and “for” introduce some of the lines. “They will be life to your soul and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you will lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet” (3:22-24). “For the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught” (3:26).
- Wisdom shows the right paths (4:10-19). “I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble” (4:11-12). The Christian has no bigger need than to walk in right paths, so that he will not stumble. Solomon warns that those walking in paths of wickedness will stumble (4:14-17,19). “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (4:18).
- Wisdom brings the favor of God. “For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord” (8:35).
Wisdom’s Counsel On Sexuality (5:1-23).
Chapter five which opens with, “My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding” (5:1), has two parts. The first, verses 1-14, counsels the reader to shun the immoral woman and sinful passions. It is a warning against literal fornication and the accompanying spiritual fornication – turning away from worshiping Jehovah to worshiping idols. The young man is warned of the bitter consequences of involvement with the immoral woman. The dreadful results of sinful lust are vividly described: “But in the end she is bitter as wormwood … her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell … And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed” (5:4-5,11).
The second part, verses 15-23, describes the life of chastity. Here we have a sweet exhortation and picture of marital fidelity and true love in family life. Solomon encourages fidelity by graphically portraying the joys of sexual union with one’s wife. “Rejoice with the wife of your youth … Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love” (5:18-19).
Do We See Christ In Proverbs?
Christ is the theme of the entire Bible. The relation of Proverbs to Christ is deeper than what appears on the surface. Proverbs 1:20 foreshadows Christ: “Wisdom calls aloud outside.” Jesus Christ agonizes, persistently calling out to the “simple ones” (1:22). He is the one who speaks saying, “Surely I will pour out my spirit on you. Because I have called and you refused. I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded” (1:23-24). The “I” which is repeated six times in Proverbs 1:23-26 refers to Christ and His ministry. He is the Redeemer of 23:11 – “For their Redeemer is mighty.”
But the best place to see Christ is in Proverbs 8, where Wisdom is clearly and obviously a Person who loves those who love Him, and one who possesses riches and honor (8:17-18). Wisdom is a divine Person as evidenced by these verses: “By Me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By Me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth” (8:15-16). The sublime revelation of 8:22-31 leaves no doubt that this Person is our blessed Lord. The much repeated “I” in this passage refers to none but the Son of God: “I have been established from everlasting … Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth” (8:23,25). And the much repeated “He” in the same passage refers to God the Father: “When He prepared the heavens, I was there … When He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep … Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman” (8:27-30). And blessed be His name, His “delight was with the sons of men” (8:31).
Have you found this blessed One? Is He your personal Savior and Lord? If you have found Him, you have found eternal life and have obtained favor from the Lord (8:35). But If you have not found Him yet, you are wronging your own soul and “love death” (8:36). And that’s insane! It is my prayer that you open your heart right now to receive this blessed One who can give you life and peace, and clothe you with the robe of righteousness. He is the only One who can deliver you from God’s wrath, “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13), the second death, an eternity of woe and the lake of fire.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org