I was in my early teens and we were coming home from a boys club outing at the lake. I was sitting in the back seat with several other guys and one of them was making all kinds of jokes. The whole trip home, he had me laughing. I liked him and I can clearly remember thinking, “if I want to be popular, I should be funny, people who make others laugh are popular.” That thought has had an impact on my life. In the years that followed, being in my teens, I struggled hard to be accepted by my peers. Humor was one of the ways that I used. I don’t think I ever prayed for God to make me a funny guy, but I sure wished for it.
A few years later, I was reading the Bible and I read about when Solomon ascended the throne of Israel, God met with him and promised him anything he wanted. He could have riches or fame, but Solomon chose wisdom. Knowing how well Solomon did, I discovered that being funny was not the best way. I learned the value of wisdom. When I read James 1 and discovered that God invites us to ask for wisdom, I began to desire wisdom and to ask God for wisdom.
About 15 or 20 years ago, I had to face a difficult question. After about 8 years of being a widow, my mother had been dating a man for a few years. She liked him and he had asked her to marry him. He had been divorced and so she had always put him off, but it was obvious that their relationship was growing. One day the question came to me, “how do you feel about us getting married and will you marry us?” This was a difficult question, how would I answer it? I could have answered the question legalistically and simply said, “divorce is wrong and I won’t marry you or approve of your relationship.” I could have answered the question liberally and simply said, “whatever you want is fine with me.” I didn’t do either of these things. Instead, I got advice from other pastor friends. I had a talk with the man who became my step-father. I spoke at length with my mom and after all those conversations, tried to do what was the wise thing to do. Discovering what is the wise thing is not always easy, but it is a much better way to proceed than simply following legalism or license.
This morning, I want to begin to look at the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is about wisdom. Over the next few months, whenever the opportunity lends itself, I would like to look at what Proverbs has to say about wisdom.
This morning, we will look at Proverbs 1-9, which contains an appeal to live by wisdom. In these chapters we are told the purpose of Proverbs, what wisdom is and why it is so great; and we are invited to seek wisdom. I trust that this study of wisdom will help us to learn more about what it means to live well in God’s world.
Proverbs 4:13 says, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” May that be our goal as we learn together.
There are many different kinds of literature. Even in a newspaper, we find that there are all kinds of different writing. There are news stories, editorials, reports, poems, advertising, human interest stories and statistics. Each different piece of writing has a different purpose. If you want a quick look at the standings, you check the sports statistics page. If you want to know why the Bombers lost again, you check the sports columnists. If you want to know when the next game is, you may check the advertising page.
The Bible also contains many different kinds of writing. Genesis and Matthew are more or less historical narratives. Psalms is a hymn book and a book of poetry. The letters of Paul are sermons intended to encourage faith and change behaviour. Ezekiel and Revelation are written to help us understand life from God’s perspective. Among all of these different types of literature, Proverbs is unique. What is the purpose of Proverbs? How is it written and how should we understand it?
The purpose of Proverbs is indicated right in the first chapter in verses 1-6. Read Proverbs 6:1-6.
Although the words “my son” appear a lot in Proverbs and much of it seems to be written to young men to teach them how to live, it is not limited to the young. From these verses we learn that it is “for giving knowledge and discretion to the young” but we also hear, “let the wise listen and add to their learning…” So the Proverbs are for all of us.
The first nine chapters of Proverbs are essentially an invitation to wisdom. They describe how wisdom works and what happens when we follow wisdom. Then chapters 10-22:16 are the proverbs of Solomon. Chapter 22:17 says, “Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise.” This begins another section which has proverbs of “the wise,” further proverbs of Solomon and then sayings of Agur and of King Lemuel.
In reading the Proverbs, we need to understand that they are just that. They are proverbs. They are observations on life which invite us to interact with them and learn from them. Sometimes they look at life from different perspectives. For example, Proverbs 22:2 says, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Both proverbs are about riches and poverty, but they give us different perspectives on these issues. Therefore, when we read Proverbs, we need to allow the different ideas to make us think. This understanding is important in verses like Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” If we look at this as a guarantee, we will get in trouble, because not every child follows the training he or she has received. However, most do and so we need to read it as an observation on life which encourages us to be diligent in raising our children.
So in summary, we find that the Proverbs encourage us to discover wisdom,
But what is wisdom, why is it so great and how does it function?
It is interesting to note that wisdom was involved in creation. In Proverbs 3:19-20 it says, “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.” We have a similar thought in Proverbs 8:22-31. There we see how wisdom has always been there and how significant wisdom was in the creation of the world.
When I think about our world and how well it is put together, then I begin to understand how wisdom is so great and what it does. For example, I think about how our bodies work, how all the different parts of the body work together in such amazing ways. There is a huge industry which repairs all the things that man has created. If something breaks, we just replace a part to fix it. Although there is also a huge industry to heal people, it is different. With humans, all doctors and nurses do is assist the self healing ability of people. Seldom do doctors replace parts, without understanding that the body is self healing. How did God create us so that we are alive and self healing and that all our body parts work together? How did God create a world which is just the right distance from the sun and which has seasons and day and night and in which the seasons and the day and the night are essential to the sustenance of the world and everything in it? How did God create us male and female, equal in the image of God, yet complimentary so that unique and beautiful relationships are possible which are also procreative. All of this merely hints at the great wisdom of God.
From this perspective we understand that wisdom is the understanding, knowledge and planning which has put all things together well. It is foundational to all of human life and existence. So we ought to seek wisdom because it is there behind all of life.
There are a great number of verses which indicate that the same life making function with which the world has been created is also available to us in this life through wisdom. Wisdom’s way points to the best way to live.
In Proverbs 2, there are two examples of how wisdom works in a practical situation. If wisdom is followed, it will prevent all kinds of trouble. In 2:12, it says that wisdom “will save you from the ways of the wicked.” In 2:16, it says that wisdom “will save you also from the adulteress.”
Throughout chapters 1-9, there are a broad and comprehensive list of different things that following wisdom will do in our life.
Proverbs 2:9-11 - read.
Proverbs 3:13-18 - read.
We find similar thoughts in many other passages with many other expressions. Since wisdom is so life giving and life affirming, we ought to live our lives by wisdom.
One of the key verses in Proverbs is 1:7 where we are told, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…”
What does it mean to fear the Lord? I believe that we need to take note of several ideas in the concept “the fear of the Lord.”
We are reluctant to speak of being scared of God, but terror of God is entirely appropriate. God is the Lord of all, the Judge over all, the Holy One. The terror felt by Isaiah and John as they had visions of God is a part of what it means to fear the Lord. When we have such a fear of God, it will help us to relate appropriately to Him because it will help us recognize who he truly is.
But if our terror of God becomes negative, if we see Him only as someone who holds a big stick over us, then we will relate to Him in a negative way. We will cower in His presence instead of being lovingly related to Him. Therefore, seeing God as the loving Father who has wisely made all things and holds the whole world in his hands is another part of the fear of the Lord. When we respect God because He knows all things and when we admire Him for all He has done, we will fear Him in a much more positive sense.
In fact, such a view of God that respects His justice and his compassion, his wisdom and His power will lead us to have a confident trust in God.
When we fear God in this way, then we will be able to recognize that His way is true and is the best way to live.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom when we understand that He knows how to handle us and all of life. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom when we understand that all of life is put together under His wise, all knowing eye.
In the mall you will often find a map of all the stores and where they are. When you find such a map, there is usually a large red button which indicates “You Are Here.” When you know where you are and where you want to go, you can find your way. If someone would put the “You Are Here” button in the wrong place, you would be starting at the wrong place and the whole map would make no sense to you. You would waste a lot of time just trying to find your starting point.
If we correctly understand the fear of the Lord, then we understand that it is the right starting point for a life lived in wisdom. If you start anywhere else, you will be confused and will spend much of life just trying to find the starting point. God made the world and His way is the best way to live in it.
Proverbs is about seeking wisdom and wisdom is simply learning to live well in the world God has made.
And so we have an invitation to follow wisdom. This invitation is presented numerous times throughout these chapters. I would invite you to turn to Proverbs 9:1-18. In this passage, there is a presentation of two ways - wisdom and folly. Two women call out to us - Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. How do they invite us? What do they offer? What will happen if we respond to their invitation?
The two ways are represented as these two women each inviting us to a meal.
The first invitation, comes from Lady Wisdom. In verses 1-12, we have her invitation.
Lady Wisdom has prepared a great banquet. Inviting language is used to entice. It is a well prepared banquet and one that has good things presented.
After the preparation for the banquet, the invitation goes out. Sometimes when we have an event, such as a wedding, we limit attendance to our family and friends. The invitation does not go out to everyone. Wisdom’s invitation is not so limited. Sometimes wisdom is presented as secret or hidden. There are groups who have ideas which only those who have been initiated into those secrets can understand. Outsiders are not welcome. Wisdom is not such an invitation, it comes, as verse 3 says, “from the highest point of the city.” It is visible and available to all who respond to it.
The invitation goes out to those who are simple. Lady Wisdom calls out, “Let all who are simple come…” The invitation also goes out to the wise who are able to grow even wiser.
For all those who respond to the invitation, the result will be, as it says in verse 10, knowledge of the Holy One and in verse 11 “years added to your life.” In other words, the banquet of Lady Wisdom will provide a full and satisfying feast.
The other invitation comes from Lady Folly. Lady Folly is herself loud and undisciplined and lacking knowledge. Her appeal is the boldness and freedom of her invitation.
Her invitation is only to the simple ones because the wise would never be fooled by her. Her appeal is to offer a banquet that is sweet and delicious, but there is already a hint in her invitation that should warn all who may be enticed by her. It is “stolen water” that is sweet and “food eaten in secret” that is delicious.
The picture language is helpful in its descriptions. There are some people, sometimes, we are those people who give in to folly. The path they choose looks enticing. We like bold confidence, even if it is misplaced. Lack of discipline appeals to us because it looks so free and self fulfilling, but we need to be warned. What Lady Folly offers and what she delivers is not the same thing.
The invitation of Lady Folly is amazingly similar to the invitation of the adulteress in chapter 7. In other words, we are to understand that Lady Folly is a whore. Her invitation is appealing on the front end, but the consequences on the other end are destructive. For those who are inclined to follow the way of Lady Folly, verse 18 holds the strong warning - “the dead are there” and “her guests are in the depths of the grave.”
So as we are presented with these two ways, we have a decision to make. It may not seem like much of a decision. Wisdom is so far superior to folly that it seems obvious which choice we should make. Yet throughout life, folly still presents an option for us and we sometimes follow it. So there is a choice and we need to make it, will we follow Lady Wisdom or will we follow Lady Folly?
Proverbs is about how we choose to live. We can live by law, by passion, by feeling, by rote, by habit, but God invites us to live by wisdom.
In Proverbs, God invites us to make a choice – will we follow wisdom or folly?
In Proverbs God recommends a starting point – wisdom begins with a decision about God.
In Proverbs, God encourages a pursuit – wisdom is not always obvious and needs to be pursued, discovered and learned.
Where are you this morning? Do you need to make a choice? Do you need to affirm your starting point? Do you need to begin a pursuit?
Next week and as opportunity arises after that, we will look at some of the values wisdom teaches us and so begin to learn more about the path of wisdom.