In the Bible there is a section of books referred to as “Wisdom Literature.” These books include Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and certain of the Psalms, like Psalms 1, 19, 37, 119, and 133. The Wisdom Literature presents us with two types of wisdom. One type is prudence or practical wisdom for daily living. The other type is a deeper wisdom related to the meaning of life and even to the existence of the cosmos.
Hebrew wisdom, or biblical wisdom is unlike the wisdom of the Greeks, or the so-called wisdom of the world. This worldly wisdom is highly regarded and sought after today by people everywhere, however, the Bible in no uncertain terms, calls this type of wisdom “foolishness.” The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’”
The vast difference between biblical and worldly wisdom is seen in James 3:17: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Biblical wisdom is not just head knowledge. It gives a person instruction on how to live successfully with other people and with God. The world’s wisdom does neither of these things. It often leaves people with little understanding on how to live in this world or in the next. Thus, there are many educated fools walking around today.
The Book of Proverbs is filled with practical wisdom for every-day life and gives us the true path toward biblical wisdom and knowledge. In Proverbs 1:7 we are told, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Here we learn that the fear or deep respect for God is where knowledge and wisdom take root. Without the fear of God there is no true knowledge.
SOME EXAMPLES OF PRACTICAL WISDOM
Of all the Wisdom Literature, Proverbs is probably the most useful for the believer on a day-to-day basis. Many believers realizing this try to read a chapter of Proverbs for each day of the month, along with their other Bible readings. Let us look at a few bits of sound wisdom offered in Proverbs.
The one instructed in God’s wisdom will be saved from adultery (Prov. 2:16-17). This, of course, will come as strange and shocking news to many in this adulterous age. Long ago the writer of Proverbs realized that adultery leads to death: “For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.” (Prov. 2:18-19). This observation has proven to be astonishingly correct today, even in the natural sense. Many have learned its bitter lesson in this day with over forty million people worldwide infected with the HIV virus.
Those who are wise are advised: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (Prov. 4:14-15). One characteristic of the fear of the Lord is this: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil…” (Prov. 8:13).
The writer advises the wise to adorn themselves with mercy and truth as they would put on a necklace. This will result in gaining favor both with God and with man (Prov. 3:3-4). The righteous are advised not to spurn the Lord’s correction and rebuke, seeing that it is but proof that we are children of God (Prov. 3:11-12).
In Proverbs 4:7, God’s people are advised to get wisdom, even if it costs everything they have. In a similar verse God says: “Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). Apparently the time will come when God’s truth will be so precious and scarce that it will almost be a collector’s item. Those who possess it will be extremely wealthy and blessed. Unfortunately, in the last days it will not be possible for others to obtain this treasure, as we can see from the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). The wise virgins could not share their oil with the foolish virgins, even though it was the seemingly Christian thing to do. After all, how can people share with others their own spiritual preparation when that end-day comes?
The wise guard their heart with great diligence, realizing that out of it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23). They avoid deceitfulness and crooked paths. They take only paths that are established and firm (Prov.4:25-26). They are industrious like the tiny ant (Prov. 6:6-11) and obedient (6:20). They hold their tongues (Prov. 10:19); are generous (11:25); truthful (12:19); diligent (12:27); humble (15:33); cheerful (17:22). There are many more examples and characteristics of wisdom in Proverbs and in the rest of the
REWARDS OF WISDOM
Many of the things people seek after so desperately today are assured for those who walk in the way of wisdom as outlined in Proverbs. For instance, those who respect God and listen to him will live in safety, security, and without fear (Prov. 1:33). They will be victorious, shielded, guarded and protected by the Almighty (Prov. 2:7-8). They will enjoy divine direction (Prov. 3:6)
Probably the first thing many people are seeking in this world today is health and how to prolong their lives. People buy tons of pills every year just for this purpose. Interestingly, there is a general promise about this for those who walk in God’s way. In Proverbs 3:1-2 we read: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.”
This scripture brings us to the second thing people are seeking today and that is prosperity. Proverbs offers us a sure road to eventual prosperity. The person who seeks after God and his wisdom will receive a better return than those who speculate in precious metals and gemstones (Prov. 3:13-15). In Proverbs 8:17-18, we see that those who love God and seek him find riches and honor, along with a wealth and a prosperity that endures. God’s blessing brings a wealth that has no trouble added to it (Prov. 10:22), while the wealth of this world often comes with much trouble attached. In Proverbs 10:3, the Lord makes a general promise that the righteous will not go hungry. Of course there are times for the sake of the Kingdom of God, or for the sake of God’s dealing with us, that he may temporarily set aside this or any other promise for a season.
We should note here that prosperity also comes by honoring God with the firstfruits of our increase: “Honor the LORD with wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine”
The desires of the righteous person will be granted, obviously because they are godly desires (Prov. 10:24). The righteous will never be uprooted (Prov. 10:30). He will be rescued in trouble (11:8); will thrive (11:28) and will flourish (14:11). Even if the righteous falls seven times he will rise again (24:16). While the wicked flee, the righteous are as bold as lions (28:1).
THE SECRET OF WISDOM
The pictures of the wise man in scripture are beautiful indeed. Although they were attainable to some degree in biblical times, their fulfillment was always incomplete and awaiting the future. We see this paradox and frustration in the wisdom Psalm 119. After the author has spoken of how he loves God’s law for 175 verses, he ends with the lament and cry, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psa. 119:176). We see a similar frustration in Ecclesiastes. After examining many aspects of life, including the world’s wisdom and knowledge, the Teacher sighs, “Meaningless! Meaningless! …Everything is meaningless!” (Eccl. 12:8).
Like so many other things in scripture, the picture of wisdom would await completion in the Messiah. We now know that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14:6). In Colossians 2:3 we read of Christ, “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There has only been one perfect life, lived in beauty and glory; fulfilling all the requirements, types, patterns, and shadows of the godly man.
That one life has now become the pattern for us. Not only has he become the pattern, he has also become the power within us believers to accomplish and fulfill the pattern. All we have to do is open up our hearts and receive him. Then we will begin talking about him and not about the world’s wisdom. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31: Jesus “…who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the LORD.’”
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1998).