She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
Those who hold her fast are called blessed. Studies in the book of Proverbs
BibleClass.com.au Teaching Series Series: Proverbs: In the school of God’s wisdom Part: #1 Main Scripture: Proverbs 1:1-7; 8:13-32; 9:10 Teacher: Martyn Iles Date: 13.02.2013
The MP3 audio of the study upon which this transcript is based and a learning guide are available from http://bibleclass.com.au/
Introducing Proverbs The book of Proverbs is a great treasure within the Bible. It is pregnant with sublime, practical instructions from the wisest man that ever lived outside of the Lord Himself: King Solomon. Proverbs is divided into two major parts: 1. The second part is the bit that actually contains the Proverbs; the pithy sayings, normally two lines in length that are wise statements or instructions concerning all manner of various issues. 2. The first part runs from chapters 1 through 9 inclusive. This part of the book is a series of monologues or speeches written by Solomon, as if he were a wise teacher speaking to his pupil. They contain many various exhortations concerning the value of wisdom, the nature of wisdom and how one might go about obtaining wisdom. They also describe what the life of a person who practices wisdom looks like. They also flag every subject area by way of introduction which the proverbs themselves from chapter 10 onwards will deal with. So these first 9 chapters are very valuable. The speeches with which the book commences are really being used to prepare us, excite us and implore us to enter into Solomon’s classroom which begins in chapter 10 and learn wisdom with all our might. “In all your getting, get wisdom!”1 He says. We are to be so confronted with the value of wisdom by the time he is through that we will set our life on course to learn it.
Introducing the School of Wisdom The first 7 verses of chapter 1 contain an introductory statement about the purpose of the Proverbs and a little exhortation for the reader. Proverbs 1 1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. 2
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The nature of the school of wisdom
Firstly we discover the nature of the Proverbs, described as “riddles.” The idea is that the reader might be given the understanding necessary to discern the riddles of the wise. That sounds a bit ominous to us, but all it’s really pointing out is that Proverbs, by their very nature, encourage us 1
cf Proverbs 4:9
to think. They are a little enigmatic. They are riddles in the one sense. They are framed in such a way that the benefit of them comes to the person who thinks about them. They’re a bit like the parables in that way: the truth is available to the seeker who will take the time to discern and understand. The best description I heard of a Proverb is that it is a “capsule of wisdom.” You think of a tablet that’s in capsule form. You swallow it, and once it’s in the stomach, the outer shell dissolves or breaks apart and the contents spread out and do their work. To see a Proverb at first, it is in capsule form. But as you think on it and apply it, so the capsule breaks open and the benefit of its content spreads out. The Proverbs are like that because they are framed in such a way as to be useful in all kinds of life situations: they talk about principles and subject areas which crop up all the time in practice, so their benefit and value is able to spread out and therein lies the richness of them.
Grade 1 in the school of wisdom Secondly we see some of the key characteristics of the process of becoming schooled in wisdom. We are told firstly that this process involves the constant receipt of instruction. And we are not all good at that - men especially - we don’t like to be told. Recently I was at an event on the beach in Redcliffe where there was a man running a kind of a sideshow. He had a rope ladder erected at a 45 degree angle, leading up to a headboard which had a red target painted on it. The premise was simple: Pay $1 for the opportunity to climb the ladder and touch the target on the headboard. It was not a very high climb. I am 201cm tall and it was just a little above my head. The reward was a crisp, new $100 note which the man was waving around in front of the crowd, enticing people to try it. Herein was the challenge: the ladder was fastened only down the centre, so you had to balance your weight perfectly to the left and right side or it would tip over and you’d fall down. Helpfully, however, the man was frequently giving step-by-step tutorials to the crowd. He climbed up that ladder giving a perfect commentary as he went, fully explaining the winning technique. Still nobody could do it. Given the accuracy and detail of his instructions, I asked him what the people were missing: how was it that nobody could get there? His reply made me think. “I can give people instructions, but I can’t change them. Most women are too nervous to try, or, if they do, they lose their nerve half way up and make a mistake.” “What about the men?” I asked. “They just will not listen. It does not matter what I say to them, they will not do it my way. They think that they know better.” That is a very instructive example of human nature. It’s an attitude that is so, so damaging to our spiritual lives. We are stubborn and we don’t like to receive instruction. The first principle of obtaining wisdom, which we shall see as we get into this book, is to listen! Be humble enough to be told! At the end of chapter 1, wisdom speaks and says, “Turn at my reproof and listen to my instruction!”2 But we’re told here that it is even more than being humble enough to listen. It requires an 2
cf Proverbs 1:23-25
ongoing and disciplined approach of this nature. Keep listening! Keep being told! Keep receiving instruction and wise counsel! This is the path to wisdom. And indeed it goes further: it says that the approach is quite academic. Increase in learning. Increase in knowledge. Pursue it. The beginning of chapter 2 is one of several places that emphasise the importance of seeking, searching and applying discipline: Proverbs 2 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
The pupils in the school of wisdom The young and the simple
Thirdly, we are told who this pursuit of wisdom is for. The young person is mentioned first in verse 4. The young person is associated here with being simple3 – that’s not an insult it’s an absolute fact. We are simple because we lack life experience and we just don’t yet know the way of wisdom. Learning it takes time and energy. Every young person: the sooner we accept that we are simple, that we do not know and that we need to know the sooner we will be on the path to a wise and godly life. Young people can have so much faith in themselves, but that faith is misplaced and is the sign of a fool, as we shall see. Later on in the Proverbs we’re going to meet a key character whom I call Mr Simple. The Proverbs and instructions that relate to Mr Simple are of especially beneficial nature to young people and to those who are naïve in life. The fools Wisdom is not just for the young person. It’s also for the fool. This is a person who, whether or not they realise it, they have been or are resistant to the pursuit of wisdom. Maybe they don’t know – it might just be through a simple character flaw. Perhaps they lack discipline or they are one of these people who don’t like to be told what to do. Or maybe it’s more overt than that. Regardless, this person needs to turn at wisdom’s call and change and pursue it. Later on in the Proverbs we’re going to meet another key character: Mr fool. The Proverbs and instructions to the fool are very challenging, because we soon realise that we all fall into his trap. The wise Further, wisdom is not just for the young simple person and the foolish person, but also the wise person. The pursuit of wisdom is ongoing – a wise man will “hear and increase in learning”4 it says. The idea is therefore debunked that anyone can be wise enough not to receive counsel. The scoffers 3 4
See also Proverbs 7:7. Verse 5.
Later on in the book of Proverbs, we will meet a third character – Mr Scoffer. And he is someone who, whether he realises it or not, doesn’t hear wise counsel because he doesn’t think he needs it. As a result he is responsible for some terrible things. And I think we will all be alarmed at the way in which we’ve been scoffers at one time or another. The broad principle here is that the wise person, or the person on the path of wisdom, has a teachable spirit. They are seeking truth and appropriating it all the time. Indeed, if we love the truth as we profess to love the truth, then we will listen to it. We will appropriate it and practice it, and we will be happy to hear it from any source – even if it’s an unlikely source or someone younger than ourselves or someone whom we don’t particularly respect. And yes, we will actually change. So the path of wisdom is not easy. And we will learn that over and over in Proverbs.
The headmaster in the school of wisdom From Proverbs Proverbs 1 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The key verse of the whole book is verse 7. It tells us this: in all that you do with respect to this pursuit of wisdom; in all that you do when you live life wisely and prudently with understanding, remember this: the fear of the Lord is the source of wisdom. He is where we get our wisdom from, and the wisdom that we exercise with respect to every worldly issue must be exercised with His guidance and consistent with His character and revelation. Proverbs 2 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
From the rest of scripture
Other parts of scripture are consistent with this truth. If you do a word search for “wisdom” in the Bible and browse through its many occurrences, you will be confronted with the way in which it is consistently and indeed nearly exclusively associated with the work of the Lord or as the gift of God in a person’s life. The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of the “spirit of wisdom” being given to people: Joshua5, the builders of the Tabernacle6, Ezra7, Solomon8 himself of course and so it goes on. Even if the spirit of the Lord or the Lord Himself is not mentioned, the trait is normally associated with the work of God in a person. The New Testament references do not subvert this truth. Luke records the following about the Lord Himself:
5 6 7 8
Luke 2 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was
Deuteronomy 34:9. Exodus 35:25. Ezra 7:25. 2 Chronicles 1:12.
Wisdom and strength are associated with the activity of the grace of God. James describes “wisdom from above”9 and he enumerates its characteristics. Colossians 2 tells us that it is in Christ that are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,”10 and the Old Testament phrase, “the spirit of wisdom” pops up again in Ephesians 1:17, where God is abounding toward us to grant wisdom and insight.
Wisdom by His revelation One of the lovely ramifications of the fact that wisdom comes from God by revelation is this: it is available to everyone. It is not necessarily so that we need to be intelligent. It is not necessarily so that we need extensive life experience. No doubt those things help and the Lord may use them to give us insight, but fundamentally speaking wisdom comes from God by revelation. That means it is available to everyone! Proverbs tells us this quite clearly. All of our characters, Mr Simple, Mr Fool, Mr Scoffer, Mr Sluggard and so on are called to find wisdom. James 1 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
I think this brings before us the amazing fullness of salvation. It’s not just the event of being saved. It’s not just the ongoing reality of having a Saviour, but as Peter tells us, it is the giving of “all things that pertain to life and godliness.”11 And surely if there is one quality which equips us to live life day by day in its practical reality and equips us to know God it is wisdom!
1 Corinthians tells us that Christ has been made unto us not only redemption, righteousness and sanctification, but also wisdom!12 The key verse is restated in a slightly different form later in the book: Proverbs 9 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord is possibly something that we underemphasise in New Testament days. It’s not an exclusively Old Testament issue. Clearly, under the New Covenant, we have no need of fear when we walk with the Lord – indeed, it draws us nigh to God, Hebrews says13, but we must remain in fear of displeasing Him. In that way, the fear of the Lord is a protection from sin. You and I ought to fear the possibility and indeed probability that we will displease Him and upset the relationship that exists between us. So this business of fearing the Lord is impliedly a pursuit of godliness and righteousness, because that is its result. 9 10 11 12 13
James 3:17. Colossians 2:3. 2 Peter 1:3. 1 Corinthians 1:30. Hebrews 7:19.
The fear of the Lord keeps us on the straight and narrow path. That is a theme that comes out later – staying on this narrow path of righteousness. This also is why Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” It is a pursuit of righteousness and a protection against sin. Knowledge of the Holy One Then we have the knowledge of the Holy One – this is referring to the specific, particular knowledge of God that belongs to His child; knowledge of the Holy One through Salvation. And most certainly, that knowledge gives us the Holy Spirit who changes us and it also gives us reveals to us what God is like – he is the Holy One! - and conforms us to His standard, “Be holy for I am holy.”14 Therefore, it is here in this key verse that we have the bedrock principle of Proverbs: The qualities of godliness and wisdom are inseparable.
The origin and source of wisdom Since we now know that God grants wisdom to those who fear and know Him, and who seek it and appropriate it by revelation, it is appropriate to examine the nature of the wisdom which God possesses and how it is imparted to us in greater detail. Note that wisdom is personified in this passage, as it is in all the other monologues. It is portrayed as a woman who is speaking. Proverbs 8 22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 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, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, 32
1 Peter 1:16.
watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, 36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
That is a stunning chapter on the origins and nature of wisdom itself. Some typify this chapter, saying that it refers to the Lord Jesus. I can understand why, upon reading the chapter in isolation, but in truth that is a totally untenable interpretation contextually. Without going into significant detail: firstly, the language used here is consistent with the language used of wisdom throughout Proverbs 1-9. Secondly, the Lord is not called wisdom anywhere else in scripture in this sense. Thirdly, this interpretation has been the source of a terrible heresy concerning the femininity of Jesus given that the speaker (personified wisdom) in this chapter is a woman.
Eternal, creatorial wisdom What we do read here is that wisdom finds its origin in eternity past, in the nature and character of the Godhead. To get the sense of this, I can compare this with God’s attribute of love, since that is familiar to theologians. An intrinsic part of God’s being is that God is love. Love therefore finds its origin in eternity past amongst the godhead – this is one of the key beauties of the Triune God, because love requires an object. God who is one in being and one in person has nothing to love before anything is created, so He is not an intrinsic God of love. God who is one in being and three in person shares His love within His Tri-unity. That is a basic principle of the doctrine of God. When it comes to creation, therefore, the manifestation of love is possible because creation bears the hallmark of God’s character as its architect and designer. It is mangled in this world by the fall, no doubt, but nonetheless God’s over-arching rulership and authorship remains and love exists. There will of course be no love in hell when God is absent. Proverbs 8 tells us that wisdom had a similar origin. It is intrinsic to His being as an attribute, just like love. As love was shared between the three personages of the godhead in eternity past, so to was wisdom. That was possible because the eternal counsels of God were determined and decreed in wisdom from before the world began. Its exercise was therefore eternally apparent. Likewise, wisdom also is stamped upon creation. Firstly in the sense that the creation work was a stunning display of the wisdom of God, per the Proverbs 8 account.
Rejoicing in the children of men But verse 31 gives us a further progression: wisdom is now rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth and delighting in the children of men – the children of men means mankind. Why does wisdom particularly delight in mankind? Because here was a creation work, a being, a person who could understand, appreciate and appropriate and exercise the attribute of wisdom.
This was a being who was made in the image of God, able to reflect the glory of God in a unique way. Not a dumb animal. Not an inert plant. A being capable of wisdom. A being in which was wisdom’s delight, above all creations work. And so please note this great wonder: the imparting of the very wisdom of the eternal God, exercised in the counsels of redemption, exercised in the wonder of creation, is the very wisdom comes to man Himself. Man is capable of receiving and applying this wisdom. That is what we are told in verse 32, “Now therefore” – in light of all of this – “hearken unto me oh ye children. Blessed are they that keep my ways” – that is to say, the ways of the very same wisdom by which God created and which God possessed as a part of His eternal Godhead. Note therefore that we have established the key premise of Proverbs. Wisdom is from God. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of the Holy One, because it belongs to Him first. It comes to us as part of our conformity to His image and character in salvation.
The proper use of wisdom Note also, from verse 32 there and other references in this book, that it is the will of God that we appropriate wisdom. That is a fairly instructive point and it really answers the question: “What kind of people ought we really to be, fundamentally?” Proverbs tells us that really we should be the kind of people who hearken unto wisdom and keep the ways of wisdom. Christians ought to be wise. This brings me to a stunning point: wisdom is a legitimate form of divine guidance. Our lives are fraught with concerns over God’s will for us in what we are doing. The truth that we really miss is that the exercise of wisdom is a legitimate means of divine guidance. Or put another way, it is the will of God that we should live our lives according to wisdom. This is a key to so much of life that is in danger of escaping our notice. No, He won’t necessarily send bolts from heaven, voices out of the blue or signs and wonders. He created us with the capability to exercise wisdom, He is willing to grant it as we need it and it is His will that we use it!
Coming back to earth... The fact that wisdom is supposed to be exercised with respect to life is the reason why the Proverbs are so mundane to us. On first reading, we might be tempted to think that they’re not very spiritual. They’re not very religious either. It’s like Solomon hypes us up for the quest of a lifetime, espousing all these marvellous benefits, but then begins chapter 10 and says things like... “Well... ok... Watch your table manners. Don’t sit around too much. Work hard.” But this is because the whole of our life is encompassed here. God has given us all things that pertain to life, having told us how to live in entirety and He has transformed us to live every moment of every day to His glory. 1 Corinthians tells us it’s right down to the eating and the drinking15; the mundane and the ordinary. And here we have divinely inspired scripture which tells us even how to do that, but only so that we might attain to the very greatest spiritual stature and appropriate sublime blessing. This is why I find it tragic that there is something of a thought process in some people’s minds 15
1 Corinthians 10:31.
that ordinary life is less spiritual than some imagined life of epic service for God. That is not true. I have met a few young men in the past few months who are working in normal jobs and they lament it. They lament their uselessness to God. They lament their occupation as a waste of time and an unspiritual, worldly pursuit. I’m sorry, but that’s wrong. I won’t deny that God calls some to great service, but many of us just wake in the morning, eat breakfast, go to work... These are spiritual acts. These are acts that Proverbs tells us to exercise in the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of the Holy One and to exercise in wisdom. And it will tell us how to do that in chapter 10 and beyond. The mother who takes the children to the park is furthering the family testimony. Marriage and family are creation ordinances. This is a witness to God’s wisdom. The raising of children in the fear of God is of great value. The person on the bus going to work is working. This is God’s will. Work is also a creation ordinance. They, too have a testimony and they too are living in a niche where God can use them. Just as much as God calls people to epic service, God has also called His people in every corner of the world and every level of society, witnessing for Him in smaller ways. Our lives need to be lived this way. If any book in the Bible puts a bazooka to the idea that ordinary life is less spiritual than church life or that God doesn’t approve of the mundane and the ordinary so much as the epic and the extraordinary it’s the book of Proverbs. See you in the next study.