We’re starting a new series tonight on the book of Proverbs and each week a different pastor will be looking at different topics. But tonight, I want to look at an introduction to the idea of wisdom itself. And so we’re going to read from Proverbs chapter 8, verse 1 to 31. And as you turn there, I’ll just maybe answer, “Why are we going here first in Proverbs?” Proverbs is divided into two big parts – 1 to 9 and 10 to 31. And you really don’t get what we think of as proverbs traditionally – short, wise saying, little aphorisms – until 10 to 31. And the first half of the book, 1 to 9, is poetic prose that teaches the fundamentals of wisdom; what wisdom really is and how to get it and why you need it. And you want to read 10 to 31 in bitesize chunks, slowly, one little verse at a time, memorizing it, chewing on it, eating it for breakfast. You don’t read it through, but you read 1 to 9 through.
And chapter 8 is the climax of the introduction section and it’s a really good place to summarize wisdom in general and really the whole message of the first half of the book. The main idea really is going to be this, and is this in the first section – “Do you hear wisdom crying out to you? Have you heard it and answered?” That’s the big point of the whole first half of the book of Proverbs. And as we read this section here, just remember this in the second half of the book. There’s a thesis statement moment in Proverbs 13. And it says, “Wisdom, wisdom is a fountain of life that turns one away from the snares of death.” And that means you’ve got to get wisdom or you die, is what it’s saying. That’s what the first half of Proverbs really teaches. Foolishness can kill you, it’s dangerous, and wisdom is really serious. So let’s pray and we’ll read about how God describes wisdom here in chapter 8. Let’s pray.
God, we ask You to help us see the truth that You’ve written for us in holy Scripture and that the Holy Spirit would come and meet with us and open our eyes to see. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
So Proverbs chapter 8, verse 1 to 31. This is the Word of the Lord:
“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: ‘To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”
So there are three lessons we are going to look at tonight, at least, in this passage. This passage teaches us about the weightiness of wisdom, the definition of wisdom, and then how to seek after wisdom.
The Weightiness of Wisdom
So what about first, the weightiness of wisdom. If you look at verse 1 it asks the question, the big question of the first half of the book – “Does not wisdom cry out or call out to you? Have you heard it? Is not wisdom calling out to you?” And where in this text does wisdom confront you? And you’ll see in verse 2 wisdom confronts you “on the heights,” when you’re next to “the way,” which is a word for road or path, “at the crossroads,” in verse 3, “beside the gates” at the front of the town at the entrance, at the portals. In other words, wisdom calls out to you, confronts you, when you’re standing on the mountaintop, the heights, when you’re going down into the valleys, on the road, at the crossroad, choosing what town you are going to go to, and then when you get to the gate of the town. And these are the places where wisdom confronts you.
And you see, this is a metaphor for life and it’s saying, as cliche as it is, that life is a journey, that life is a highway perhaps. And at every point in our life that’s a journey, the metaphor here, there are crossroads, there are decisions that have to be made. And it’s saying that wisdom confronts you; she’s crying out to you. Every time that you’re faced with a choice, when you’re faced with decision, when you have to make a decision and it moves all the way from being on the mountain to the valley, all the way to the climax to when you get to the town metaphorically, and the city, the gates, the portals.
And any ancient person who reads that knows what the author here, Solomon, is saying. Because entering into a city or a town in the ancient world is not like entering into a city or town in our world. Heather and I and my family were on a trip to east Tennessee for the past seven days and we passed through a lot of cities and towns. And we entered and exited them without any problems. And let me tell you the secret. This is the secret – we got in our car, got on the interstate, and we drove past this invisible borderline called the “city limit.” And that’s how we entered and exited every single town we came to.
And the ancient person knows nothing of that. How do you get into a city in the ancient world? Well, they have walls all around them and they have guards sitting on top of the walls. And when you come to the gate there's a judge and a guard. And the judge is there to ask you questions and say, "Why should we give you our protection? Why should we admit you into this city? Why should we let you in?" And every ancient person knows that you'd better be wise at what you say when you come to the gate, when you come to that crossroad, when you have to tell them, "Let me in. This is why I belong." You have to decide right there in that moment what you're going to say. You have to speak well and thoroughly and carefully. The first point, the metaphor – it's really simple. It's just saying that at every single moment in your life there are choices to be made and you need wisdom. And it's saying, "Get wisdom. Get wisdom. Seek wisdom above all else."
How badly do you need it? And if you look down at verse 10 it tells us, “Take my instruction,” wisdom says, “instead of silver, and my knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels.” The word “jewels” there is literally the word “rubies.” And so it’s progressive. It’s saying wisdom is better than silver, no, it’s better than choice gold, which is worth more than silver; no, it’s more than that. It’s better than rubies. And rubies by weight are still, and were then, worth more than gold. You see what it’s saying. It’s saying that wisdom is better than the best thing. Wisdom is always better than the thing you can conjure up that’s absolutely the best. And silver, gold, rubies, that these are really doing here is they’re metaphors. They are metaphors for life’s circumstances. You may have money in your pocket, maybe silver or gold or rubies, literally, or metaphorically, or you may have beauty in the mirror or you might have cultural pedigree in this city or in this church or among your friends and family. What it’s saying – you see it in verse 18 – riches and honor, true riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth – meaning every ruby or piece of silver or gold you have in your life, any type of circumstances, you can lose them, you may lose them, you will lose them. Your money and your beauty in the mirror and your cultural pedigree. But it’s saying that enduring wealth is having wisdom. Wisdom is better than all that because it doesn’t leave you when everything else in your life does.
The point – wisdom offers the ability to do well, to flourish, across all the circumstances of life. And we all know this intuitively. Maybe we are this person. You know people whose lives are full of silver and gold and rubies, great circumstances, but make decisions, foolish decisions, that lead to a miserable life. You can have great circumstances and be a fool, the text is telling us, and end up miserable. And you can have terrible circumstances, terrible circumstances, but have wisdom and end up with everlasting joy – a true inheritance. And so you need wisdom. The big point of Proverbs 1 to 9 is it, get wisdom – “Do you hear it calling out to you? Have you answered the call?”
The Definition of Wisdom
Now you know you need it but we haven't defined it yet. What is it? What is wisdom? The definition of wisdom, secondly. And the Hebrew term for wisdom is "hokma," most commonly, and it has all sorts of synonyms throughout the Old Testament. And there are a number of synonyms for it here that help us to frame a definition for what wisdom really is. If you just scan the text you see verse 5, "learn prudence," prudence is one; "learn sense," verse 5. If you look down at verse 9, "him who has understanding," or "knowledge," or verse 12, "prudence, knowledge, discretion, the fear of the Lord." So let me just pull, I want to pull three of them and try and frame up a holistic definition of what wisdom is according to the book of Proverbs.
The Fear of the Lord
And the first one is the last one we pointed out in verse 12. It’s the fear of the Lord. And the reason to start with this one is because the book of Proverbs starts with this one and says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And it says that the fear of the Lord – you see it in verse 12 – “the hatred of evil.” Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord – what is it? And the term here does not mean shaking in your boots before God, timidity before God. It means honoring and glorying in God. It means recognizing the weightiness of God. Basically what it really means is that you have a relationship with God. The path to wisdom begins in a relationship with God. And it’s assuming here that if you have a relationship with God that you too have a hatred of evil. That means wisdom always begins by being awake and serious about the fact that we live in a moral order, created by God. You can’t walk down the path of wisdom without first having a relationship with God, in Christ, and being serious about evil and the moral order. That’s what the book of Proverbs assumes. So wisdom is more than morality, more than righteousness, but it stands on the ground of a relationship with God in Christ that’s looking out in front of them for a moral life. It starts there.
Understanding and Knowledge
Secondly, of three. Verse 5, wisdom is also, it says – sorry, verse 9 – “understanding and knowledge.” This is one of the most common, in addition to the fear of the Lord, synonyms for wisdom throughout the book of Proverbs that wisdom is getting understanding and getting knowledge. But one of the things to say is what wisdom is not, first. And wisdom, it’s not saying, is to be equated with IQ or intelligence or the ability to mentally process things quickly. That’s not what Proverbs means by understanding and knowledge. I can prove it to you from Proverbs 30, one of the most fun passages in the book of Proverbs. It attributes wisdom to four animals. “There are four things on earth that are small but unusually wise. Ants, they are not strong but they store up food all summer. Rock badgers, they’re not powerful but they make their homes among the rocks. Locusts, they don’t have a king but they march in formation. Lizards, they are easy to catch but they are found even in the king’s palaces.” And this is God’s example of wisdom to us.
And the biologists in the academy tell us that lizards don’t score well on IQ tests typically! But it’s saying here that lizards and ants and rock badgers and locusts can be wiser than foolish people who do have much higher IQs. You see, having understanding in the wisdom literature does not mean having intelligence, mental intelligence, at all. Most of the Old Testament scholars will say that the basic sense of what wisdom means when it relates to understanding is just having skill at life, skill at life. In other words, it’s having an intelligence of how to live well in this world with your whole person. That’s with your head, your heart, and your hands; having emotional intelligence, vocational intelligence, social intelligence, relationship intelligence. Understanding is way more, way beyond and even outside of IQ. It’s being a well-rounded person who can flourish in the world, who knows how to think and act and choose and live well and righteously before God. Another way of putting it is that understanding, people who are wise, seek understanding of God’s created world and how to best live in it, wherever they are. And that’s really what the sense of understanding and knowledge are here.
You can learn more about it by looking at the third word I want to point out to you, and the final one of this point, and that’s prudence, which pops up a few times in this chapter and all over the book. There has been a ton of stock taken across Christian history in the word prudence. Theologians have spent a whole lot of time on this word, especially in the middle ages. And there are tomes and treatises about prudence. But basically, what prudence means here is masterful decision making; masterful decision making. A prudent person – what wisdom, is masterful decision making at the crossroads, in the journey, on the highway of life. It’s being very reasonable; it’s having insight into the options in front of you when you come against hard decisions. And it’s the ability to discern a situation and make right choices. That’s prudence – masterful decision making. And prudent people, in other words, they know what to do when all the other people around them can’t quite figure it out. You go to prudent people for advice. And this is why the most common definition, the most full-orbed definition you’ll find amongst Old Testament scholars, and especially those who work on wisdom literature specifically – like Gerhard von Rad has a really good commentary, or Tremper Longman – they say this. This is wisdom. “Wisdom is knowing how to live, what to do, when there are no rules telling you what to do.” Wisdom is knowing how to live well when there aren’t any rules telling you. And look, that’s almost all of our life. The Bible gives us a lot of moral laws, but it does not give us moral law for every situation. Instead what it does is says, “Get wisdom!” That’s how you navigate the highways when there are no moral laws telling you exactly what to do in this situation.
Let me give you an illustration. Suppose that you have a very difficult and annoying friend and you are contemplating whether or not you want to murder them. If you come to a prudent person what are they going to tell you? They’re going to say, “We have a rule for that! It happens to be rule number five. Right? Thou shalt not murder! That’s the moral law. Do not murder!” Right? It’s that simple; it’s that easy. But for almost all of our decisions in life, we don’t have that. Just think about it: Should you marry this guy or marry that girl? Should you date this guy or that girl? Should you buy X or Y mortgage? Should you buy a new or a used car? Should you join this church or the one down the street? Should you change your career? What’s your calling? What’s your vocation? What time should you go to bed? What kind of education should your kids have? Should you spit your gum out on the sidewalk or in the trash can? That’s a real moral decision to be made! Should you move your family closer to your relatives or farther away from them? Right? You have a million, ninety-plus percent of all your decisions in life don’t have specific moral commands from the Bible. Instead, the Bible says, “Get wisdom.” And wisdom is the ability to – standing in a relationship with God, in Christ, the fear of the Lord, to choose well and rightly through proper discernment at the crossroads of all these decisions in life when there are no rules telling you exactly what to do. Most of our life is lived in the gray and wise people get that.
There’s an illustration, verse 15 – “By me, by wisdom, kings reign, rulers decree with justice.” You know the author here is Solomon and he was the wisest man who ever lived in the time of the Old Testament. And any person who reads this can’t help but think of the Biblical illustration of this reality in the story that God chose to give us about what the greatest, wisest man of the Old Testament looks like. Solomon, you remember, asks for wisdom and God gave it to him. And the very next story of how Solomon’s wisdom is a reality or what it looks like was 1 Kings 3, starting in verse 16 – the story of the two prostitutes and the baby. Right? The two prostitutes, the text tells us in some detail, that they lived in a house together and were both impregnated and both gave birth to two babies within three days of each other. But one of the women slept, rolled over and killed her baby in the night. It’s a very sad story. And she, in turn, stole the other woman’s baby away. And now they’ve both come to the king, the judge, the wisest man in the world, and said, “This is my baby!” “No, this is my baby!” And what does Solomon do? He says, “Bring me a sword and cut the baby in half and I’ll give each of you a piece of it.” And of course he knows that the true mother is going to step forward and say, “No, no, no, no, no! Don’t! Just let her have the baby!”
And look, there are no rules for that! That’s not in the Ten Commandments! What to do in a situation like that – there’s no rule for that in the Torah! But God gave him wisdom. He knew the best way to act in a particular moment when there were no rules telling him. And you know if any of us were faced with a situation similar to that one at all, we probably wouldn’t say the same thing. Wise people know that when you’re faced with situations when there are no clear moral explicit laws that the right move may be different in different contexts. And the example God chose to give us the one of Solomon here and the baby.
How You Seek After It
Okay so we know that we need it, we know something of what it is, and so now let’s just briefly say, “How do you seek after it?” and we’ll close. Let me just give you four brief ways to seek it; we won’t spend long on any of them at all. There are two passages that are deeply connected to Proverbs 8 in the Old Testament, two other passages, and one of them is Job chapter 28. And just listen to the language here and you’ll hear it. “Where shall wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It’s not in me.’ The sea says, ‘It’s not with me.’ It can’t be bought for gold or for silver. From where, then, does wisdom come from and where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all the living and concealed from the birds of the air. Sheol and death say this, ‘We have only heard a rumor of wisdom with our ears.’”
Job 28 agrees with the beginning of Proverbs because it says humans do not know the worth of wisdom. And wisdom, it says, cannot be found in the land of the living. It is hidden from the eyes of all living creatures. And the first thing – you can see it in our text in verse 5 – it says, “O simple ones, learn prudence.” The book of Proverbs addresses all of us as “peti,” in Hebrew – “simple ones,” which means that Proverbs and the wisdom literature in the Bible has a very pessimistic anthropology. Which means this – it says that none of us are born with wisdom and you can’t get it by merely thinking. You’re not born with it, it’s really difficult to get and find, and the first step in Job, in Proverbs, has always been being awake to that fact – that you’re not born with it and it exists in all sorts of degrees. And you might not have it, and if you have it you might only have some of it. It’s a pessimistic anthropology. It’s the same thing when Paul says in the New Testament that we tend to act according to our fleshly desires. We’re not born seeking after the best decisions. We’re not masterful decision makers; we’re messy decision makers, by nature, is what the text is telling us. And the fear of the Lord, having a relationship with God in Christ, doing what the children’s catechism said tonight – repenting – is the beginning of the search for wisdom but is not the guarantee of true and full wisdom. It’s a maturation process standing on the fact of your relationship with God in Christ.
Okay, but, secondly for four – verse 17 says something else important. “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me.” You’re not born with it, it’s difficult to get, you can’t see it with your natural eyes, but you can get it. “Those who seek me will find me.” It’s the same thing that the Proverbs of the New Testament says in James chapter 1. If you want wisdom, what should you do? Ask for it and God will give it to you. So first know you’re not born with it, it’s not natural to you, that you desperately need it, and how do you get it – you have to ask, you have to seek it, you have to pray, you have to have a heart here that is in the disposition of desiring and seeking after the wisdom of God.
Wisdom is the Mind of God
But what are you really seeking when you ask for it? And we’ll close with this – what are you really asking for when you ask God to give this to you, to give this wisdom to you? The second half of this passage, 22 to 31, has another deep connection to another Old Testament passage. And you might have noticed it when we read it. From verse 22, “The Lord possessed wisdom, me, at the beginning, the first of his acts of old. At the very first, before the beginning of the earth, there was I. When there were no depths, when there was no sea, He used me,” wisdom says, “to bring forth the world.” And where is that connected to? It’s a recapitulation, a re-doing of the Genesis 1 account, of the creation account. And what it’s saying here is that the reason that it’s hard to find wisdom, the reason you can’t get it through mere reason, is because wisdom dwells with God. Wisdom is the mind of God; God is wise. And it’s saying here that He used wisdom here the way an artist uses a paintbrush to make the world. And what that means is that the way He made the world with wisdom He made the world wisely, with great skill, with great decision making. And that means that the word “wisdom” here in this passage is connected in Genesis 1 to the term “good.” God made the world good just like He made the world wise, and He made the world wise just like He made the world good. And what it’s calling us to do is to realize that when you ask for wisdom, you are asking, you are asking for the mind of God to be your mind. To see the world, in other words, as He sees the world. As the greatest modern theologian, Herman Bavinck said – that’s not an opinion; that’s actually a fact! Wisdom means “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Thinking God’s thoughts after Him.
In other words, these little proverbs in chapters 10 to 31 is a picture of a fabric, of a reality that’s real, a moral order that God has wisely put into the world when He created it, of good. Even despite the fact that the fall blinds us, that we can’t see it, there is an order to this world that goes beyond mere scientific law. And when you ask for wisdom, what you’re asking God for is to take the blinders away so that you can see the grain of the universe, the order that really is there despite the fact of the fall, which truly is good, and how to truly live well and righteously. The theologians of old called it natural law. There’s a goodness, a way that God made things to be, and wisdom is the ability to see it – to think God’s thoughts after Him; to see the world through His lens.
And what that means, when you see this fabric of reality, it makes you willing to say things like this – “I am willing to give up living the way that works best for me and to walk in accordance with the good that God has built into this world.” You know, we all know of the scientific natural laws – gravity; David mentioned gravity this morning. Relativity perhaps, or thermodynamics, or whatever. You’ve got to pay attention to gravity, and if you don’t, you’ll die! Gravity is serious, right? And what we’re being told here, there is, like the scientific laws, there is an order, a moral order that’s so real in this universe, that if you don’t pay attention to it, foolishness, it can kill you; it can destroy your life. If you don’t work hard, if you live a life of lies and cheating without honor, trust, without love, laziness, neglect, ignoring sexual norms, ignoring the way God ordered the world, it can crush your life. That’s what the book of Proverbs from 10 to 31 is saying. And only God can truly see it all and we desperately, desperately need His revelation.
And so finally, fourth and finally, if you want it, if you want to mature in it and soak in it and grow in it, you’ve got to look to God’s revelation of true wisdom. Did you notice when we looked at that, these parts about creation, about how God possessed wisdom at the beginning, that wisdom here is not presented as some abstract principle. Wisdom says, “I was there at the beginning, at the first of his acts of old.” Verse 30 says, “I was beside him. He used me like a master architect uses his tools.” It’s saying that wisdom is more than an abstract principle. It’s saying wisdom looks a lot like a person here. And that’s not only true in the Old Testament, but if you come to the New Testament Paul picks up on that same idea. He says in Colossians, which we’ve been studying in the mornings, everything was created through wisdom. Everything was created through Him, the Son of God.
You see, wisdom is the agent of creation in Proverbs 8 just as the Son of God is the agent of creation in Colossians chapter 1. It’s not just Paul that says this, that makes this connection. If you go to the gospels, Matthew 12 and 13, Jesus’ neighbors were astonished and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom from?” And then the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus. And this is what Jesus said. He came back to Proverbs. “The queen of the south will rise up at the judgment.” Who is the queen of the South? The Queen of Sheba – who came and visited who? Solomon. And He said, Jesus said, “The Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but I tell you, behold, today something greater than Solomon is here.” And Jesus is saying, “I am not just a wise man like Solomon. I am wisdom.”
Maturing and true wisdom is coming to the school of Jesus Christ, sitting in the academy of Christ at the Master's feet. And it's a big commitment, because what's the school of Christ tell you? Where is the wisdom of God? A warning here – Biblical wisdom – where is the wisdom of God? It's a heart, it's a heart that's willing to lose – lose it's silver and it's rubies and it's precious things in this life for the sake of ministry or for the sake of others, for the sake of God. It's a heart that's willing to count the cost or die to self. And how do we know that? Because 1 Corinthians 1. Where is the wisdom of God? The people of God looked up at the man of power on the cross and said, "That is the fool. That is the foolish one." But the foolishness of man, the cross of Christ, is the power of God, the wisdom of God unto salvation. And that means that when you're standing in repentance and faith on the ground of the cross of Christ, you are able to see that wisdom demands a cruciform lifestyle, taking the form of the cross in your very lifestyle, which means dying to self, a willingness to lose, a willingness to show hospitality at a great personal cost, to love others at a great personal cost, to use what you need and give the rest away perhaps. It's a cruciform life. That's true wisdom. And it's really difficult and it's a big commitment.
But true wisdom is going to the school of Christ, sitting at His feet, and you can start early tomorrow morning with it. So we’ll close with His own words. “He who hears My words and does not do them is like a fool who builds his house on the sand. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the Rock.” Amen. Let’s pray.
God, we ask that You would help us to find, seek after, love, want wisdom. Bring us to the feet of the Master, wisdom incarnate, Jesus Christ, and teach us to imbibe the Sermon on the Mount, to live a cruciform life, to love others, all the way to the point of great cost. Help us, Lord. We don’t do it by nature. So come and meet with us, we ask, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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