The words of the wise

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We’ve seen Job and the Psalms, now the books of “wisdom literature” continue as we turn to the book of Proverbs.   Here we have a long and colourful fireside chat.  It’s the words of a father to his son.  Verse 1 introduces us to the father:

“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel”

We already know about the wisdom of Solomon.  Verse 8 tells us who he’s addressing:

“My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.”

Solomon keeps saying, over twenty times in this book, “My son“.  The King is addressing the crown prince.  Essentially he is offering “the words of the wise and their dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6).  This isn’t a philosophical treatise (not as we would understand it anyway).  These “dark sayings” are riddles to be chewed over and reflected upon.

Too often people dip into Proverbs the way they might sample “pick and mix” sweets.  Those bite-sized proverbs – especially of chapters 10-31 – seem ripe for the plucking, a handy snack for Christians on the go.  People imagine that they can throw a dart at the book and come up with an apt aphorism.  But these are not the “fortune cookies” of the bible.  These are “dark sayings” – riddles – given from the King to his son.

This means that,

1) They must be chewed over thoughtfully, not gobbled in a hurry,

2) They are first words which are addressed to the crown prince, and not to us, and

3) The last twenty chapters (where the bite-sized proverbs appear) must be read in the light of the first ten.

And in the first ten there is one message which the King drums into his son above all others: Watch out for the ladies!

In particular there are two ladies the son needs to watch.

There’s a lady called Wisdom.  She is magnificent, she is heart-captivating, she is beautiful, she is more precious than rubies, she brings the “favour of the LORD” into your life, she is everything you need.

Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.  Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.  Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom:  (Proverbs 4:5-7)

And throughout the book, Wisdom and the good wife are spoken of almost interchangeably.  A good wife is also “more precious than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).  A good wife also brings “the favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22).  The young prince needs to marry Wisdom.

But there’s another lady.  She’s described like this,

A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing.  (Proverbs 9:13)

Here is a woman who is folly itself.  She is loud, flashy, deceptive, seductive and deadly.  She is the original femme fatale.  If you get her you lose everything.  Therefore avoid her, ignore her, resist her, don’t be seduced, don’t be ensnared by her.

And so folly is spoken of, almost interchangeably, as an adulterous woman.  Chapters 5-7 weave together warnings against folly with warnings against adultery.

So this is the message of the King:  My son, watch out for the ladies.  Embrace Wisdom, shun Folly.

According to Proverbs, success in life is not ultimately a matter of the intellect.  Nor is success about the will.  No, Wisdom and Folly are matters of the heart.

Solomon says to the prince in Proverbs 4:23

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

The heart is our wellspring.  What we love will flow out into every area of life.

Or perhaps we should say who we love.  Because Wisdom is very definitely a Person.  She is Lady Wisdom.

Chapter 1 introduces her like this:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: 21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, 22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.  (Proverbs 1:20-23)

She has words to speak, a reproof to give and the spirit of Wisdom to offer. Who is she?

Well she will be very attractive to the crown prince.  In Proverbs 8 she says,

By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.  (Proverbs 8:15)

She empowers kings.  But she is not just the Wisdom of rulers, she is the Wisdom of the cosmos.  In chapter 8 she speaks of her role in creation:

30 Then I was by [the LORD], as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; 31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. 32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. 34 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. 35 For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.  36 But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.  (Proverbs 8:30-36)

As the crown prince hears these words, his heart is to be won by Wisdom.  Wisdom will be his true partner, the one by whom he will rule.

If we imagine ourselves at the Father-Son fireside chat, it’s obvious who Wisdom represents.  Wisdom is the eternal Spirit, the Son’s true Partner, the One by Whom He will rule.

But what about us?  We are not the crown prince.  Can we expect to know Wisdom for ourselves?  And how?  Well the Apostle Paul has good news:

[Ye are] in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom  (1 Corinthians 1:30)

The Spirit belongs to Christ.  But if we belong to Christ, we get Wisdom.  So as we read Proverbs, we read it in Christ.  Therefore Christ is made unto us Wisdom.

This means that the Christian hears Proverbs 8:35 from Christ’s lips – and here is the key lesson for the book, in fact for the whole bible:

For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.

Forget “fortune cookie” aphorisms.  These are the most fundamental “words of the wise.”  Come to Christ and share in His Spirit.  Whatever else you get in life, get Wisdom!

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