The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
People pursue many things – relationships, jobs, degrees, success. You are no different. Consider the things toward which your mind gravitates, the things you find yourself thinking about when you haven’t made yourself think about something else. These are your pursuits.
Over the next few months, we’re going to see that wisdom should be among your pursuits. To be more precise, we’re going to see that wisdom should be woven in, with, and among every one of your pursuits. Wisdom will not only help us understand whether a thing is good, and therefore worthy of pursuit (because some things should not be pursued, i.e. going into debt for a car or signing a lease with a boyfriend or girlfriend), but wisdom will also teach us how to live well within the things we pursue and achieve.
In short, we’re after the good life. But even here, before we’ve really even begun, we need wisdom because that phrase needs to be defined. The good life is NOT the American dream. The good life is bigger than volleyball and dance, football and track, a college degree and a good paying job, a spouse, two kids, an SUV, a big TV, and season tickets. It’s not that these can’t be enjoyed in the good life – it’s that these, too often, become ends in themselves (and as the book of Ecclesiastes will point out, they will vanish like vapor). The good life requires wisdom. To understand why, you’ll need to read on.
Wisdom Literature in Scripture
If the good life requires wisdom, we will need to know where wisdom may be found and what wisdom is. Three books in Scripture are specifically dedicated to these questions: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Together they give us a full picture of wisdom and the good life. It’s important that we consider them together because each book offers unique and complementary insights into wisdom and the good life. This month we learn from Proverbs.
The Moral Universe of Proverbs
In Proverbs we are seated before a brilliant teacher offering insights on relationships, wealth, spirituality, and so much more. We are invited, even exhorted, to learn from this wise teacher, to think deeply on the instruction given and intentionally apply it. If we do, we will discover the good life. At the center of this good life is wisdom. According to Proverbs, this wisdom is an attribute of God that He has woven into the universe. It can, therefore, only be accessed and applied through a proper regard for the God of wisdom.
Proverbs calls this “the fear of the Lord.” This is the lifeblood pulsing through Proverbs. It isn’t terror, but awe and reverence. It is a proper recognition of our place in the universe. We are not God. We do not get to define good and evil, right and wrong. We do not get to define reality and the universe. As creatures, and fallen ones at that, we must have these defined for us. So, Proverbs invites us to humble ourselves before God so as to learn His definitions, accept them, and apply them to our lives.
Before continuing, it’s vital to appreciate the gravity of these words. We are creatures. We owe our existence to someone beyond us – God. We breathe His air. We occupy His space. We live in His universe. And His universe, as Proverbs insists, is a moral universe. Right and wrong, good and evil, have objective definitions beyond us. Living the good life requires acknowledging these and living in line with them.
When we do, Proverbs teaches, things will tend to go well for us. So, if you pursue wisdom, if you live virtuously with integrity before the Lord and your neighbors, you will find success and peace. If you don’t, if you scorn wisdom, if you live an inwardly turned, prideful life (i.e. one that refuses counsel and correction), you will reel in ruin and shame.
So, for example, if you practice financial restraint (i.e. living on a budget), sexual purity (marriage then sex then babies), and discipline (regular worship and hearing the Word of God), you will enjoy the good life. If you abandon financial restraint, embrace sexual immorality, and sink into spiritual laziness, you will miss the good life and be left with bitterness, guilt, and ruin. This is the moral universe of Proverbs.
Proverbs communicates this moral universe through multiple means. The first nine chapters invites us to listen to ten speeches of a father to a son and four poems from Lady Wisdom to anyone who will listen. The final 21 chapters detail hundreds of individual proverbs that range through nearly every conceivable area of life, inviting us to consider each patiently and meditatively in turn.
The Wise Father
We hear first from the father.
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God (2:1-5).
So great is wisdom’s worth that this father exhorts his son to seek it “like silver” and to “search for it as for hidden treasures.” If you learned a great treasure was hidden somewhere on your property, would you be content to leave it unfound? Wouldn’t you invest in a metal detector? Wouldn’t you develop a systematic system of searching? Why would we give any less to wisdom’s pursuit? Such is the question this father is asking his son.
“Then,” the father observes, when you have discovered wisdom, when you have discovered the moral thread God has woven into His world, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord…” In other words, when you discover wisdom, you will discover the good life, the life rightly ordered in God’s universe. In fact, if space allowed, we would continue reading the father’s words and see him conclude,
So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous (2:20-21).
Because wisdom is an attribute of God, pursuing it will mean fearfully pursuing God Himself, a pursuit accomplished through the intentional and prolonged study of God’s self-revelation in His Word. It is this pursuit which produces the good life.
Proverbs next invites us to listen to Lady Wisdom (a personification of God’s attribute of wisdom). She roams the earth calling out to any and all who will listen, exhorting them to learn from her:
Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
“…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” (8:1, 6-11).
As mentioned before, this is God’s moral universe. It is laced together with God’s moral thread. Lady Wisdom calls us to see it, appreciate it, and lace our lives with it. And, as Proverbs emphasizes repeatedly, this can only be done through a healthy fear of the Lord.
And when it’s done, Lady Wisdom concludes,
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death” (8:34-36).
Whoever finds wisdom finds life, the good life.
Continuing its pursuit of wisdom and the good life, Proverbs turns to hundreds of individual wise sayings. We will consider only a few.
1. A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
but a just weight is his delight (11:1).
2. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid (12:1).
3. One who lacks sense gives a pledge
and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor (17:18).
4. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion (18:2).
5. The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender (22:7).
Let us briefly consider the wisdom communicated here. In the first proverb, unjust economic practices are condemned. In the second, discipline and reproof (correction) is extolled. The third exposes co-signing as nonsensical (there’s a reason the person needs a co-signer – he’s probably not going to pay!). The fourth exposes a fool for his ill-considered opinions. And the fifth reveals the true nature of debt: enslavement to the lender. There is great wisdom here! Learning these proverbs alone has the potential to transform a person’s life!
This truly is God’s moral universe. The good life is discovered by living in line with it. Yes, there are exceptions. Sometimes the wise suffer. Sometimes the faithful experience loss. Sometimes God’s people suffer injustice. Scripture is not ignorant of these. Remember, Proverbs is but the first book in Scripture’s collection of wisdom literature. They are to be studied together.
Further, we must remember that these proverbs are not promises; they are probabilities. Fearing God and keeping His commandments, living wisely, does not guarantee us everything will go well, but it does teach us how to live the good life no matter our circumstances. If you desire wisdom, your pursuit begins in Proverbs. – Pastor Conner