PROVERBS

Commentaries on Wisdom and Its Value

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Proverbs 1:20-3:8

INTRODUCTION

Normally when you think of Proverbs, you think of short pithy statements which help you know how to respond to various situations in life. It is a surprise then to see at the beginning of Proverbs long passages which discuss one or two topics at the most. Solomon at the beginning of this book is writing what is technically called a midrash, that is, a running commentary or a type of sermon on one or two thoughts. We saw this in Prov. 1:7-19 in which Solomon warned the prince against riotous, violent behavior. In this section the first sermon (1:20-33) centers on Wisdom and her warnings to those who reject her, while the second sermon (2:1-22) centers on the value of Wisdom and how that should affect us.

In his first sermon (midrash) Solomon does 2 things: first he uses personification and second he focuses on only one of God's attributes. By attributes we mean characteristics of God, such as, His holiness, His righteousness, His wisdom, His omnipotence, His love, etc. Although God is always loving, righteous, etc., Solomon is not concerned about these characteristics. For the purpose of this discussion he wants to zero in on wisdom. (Although Solomon will be discussing "wisdom," he is speaking about GOD'S wisdom. As a result, our response to this wisdom is nothing less than our response to God. Wisdom is not simply just some rules, regulations, or standards which stand on their own. It describes the way God Himself functions.) Personification, on the other hand, treats wisdom like it is a person. Solomon will write that Wisdom stands in the square crying out to all who would hear her. Wisdom literally does not do this; however, God whom wisdom is representing does this very thing. As a result it is appropriate to say that wisdom does it.


FIRST SERMON: WISDOM REBUKES THOSE WHO REJECT HER (1:20-33)

Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts up her voice in the square; . . . At the entrance of the gates in the city, she utters her sayings. (1:20-21)

Solomon presents wisdom as a lady standing in the square, crying out to all who would hear her. She stands at the gates through which a multitude of people pass daily. In other words, wisdom is not just for a select few, for the intellectual elite of society but for all people. This differs radically from other human philosophies. There is a reason why so few people major in secular philosophy--few can understand it. Bultmann's existentialism focuses on the "das" and the "was" (pronounced "vas"), while Kant zeroes in on the "noumena" and the "phenomena." That is not the case with God's wisdom. It is not uttered in the ivory palaces of academia; it is taught out in the public so that everybody can respond positively to it. When people are not wise, it is not because they were not exposed to wisdom; it is because they reject that wisdom.


How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, and Fools hate knowledge? (1:22)

Next, wisdom rebukes 3 classes of people who reject her: the naive, the scoffers, and the fools (1:22). You need to understand the words "fools" and "naive" in light of the term "scoffers." The naive are not the poor innocent who have never known better. They are the ones who when exposed to the truth say, "Oh, that's just too hard for me to understand." The truth is that they do understand it; they just don't want to do it. The same applies to the category of the fool. He's not a fool because he does not know better. He does know better. He just doesn't want to do it; he just doesn't want to change.

Jesus teaches just this same principle in His talk with Nicodemus: "And this is the reason for the verdict of condemnation--men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Rebellion against God is never an intellectual problem. It is always a moral problem. Men love evil and refuse to change.

Turn to My reproof, Behold I will pour out My Spirit on you; I will make My words known to you. (1:23)

The reason that God wants people to turn to Him for wisdom is that He wants to pour it out upon them. Many times we think that wisdom is so beyond us that even if we strain with all our intellectual muscles, we will never attain to this wisdom. That's just simply not true. God wants us to have this wisdom. God is such a communicator that He calls Himself "the Word" (John 1:1). God places only the following conditions upon His giving us wisdom: (1) when we ask for wisdom, we are to believe that God will give it to us (James 1:5-7) and (2) when He makes that wisdom known to us, we will obey it (John 7:17). God does not come to us as a negotiator; He comes to us only as Lord.


Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out My hand, and no one paid attention; And you neglected all My counsel, and did not want My reproof, I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes . . . Then they will call on Me, but I will not answer; They will seek Me diligently, but they shall not find me." (1:24-26, 28)

What is wisdom's response to those who reject her? She in turn rejects them. One of the major principles of the OT is lex taliones, which we call "an eye for an eye." The fool laughs at Wisdom; therefore, when calamity befalls the fool, Wisdom laughs at him. The naive mock at Wisdom; Wisdom, therefore, mocks the naive whenever terror falls upon them. For such a long period of time Wisdom called out to the scoffer, and yet the scoffer refused to listen. Now that calamity has befallen the scoffer, Wisdom refuses to listen to him. It is "eye for eye" applied to wisdom.

"But," you may say, "I thought God would turn to us whenever we repented." That is true. From the OT we see that God works this way: (1) we fall into sin; (2) God disciplines us; (3) we repent; (4) God restores us. We see this pattern repeated throughout the Bible. This is not what Solomon is referring to. He is referring to the person who keeps repeating this pattern in his life. After God restores that person, he sins again and the cycle kicks into gear again. We see this second pattern in the Book of Judges. After God had restored them, the Israelites fell into idol worship again after a certain judge had died. God would then discipline them; they would again repent; and God would again restore them. Then they would sin again, etc. After a while though, God said, "Enough! I am going to discipline them so severely that they will not be able to do anything but repent." So in 586 BC the Babylonians brought so much destruction and devastation upon the Jews that they never turned to idol worship again. Even though one of the best kings in Judah's history reigned from 640-605 BC (Josiah), it was not enough. Something drastic needed to change the Jews. It took the Babylonian invasion. We do all our shallow repenting until finally God says, "Enough" and does something so effective that we change permanently.

Not only does Wisdom reject those who rejected her; she also quits speaking to those who would not speak to her earlier. Earlier she had cried out to these people, and yet they turned a deaf ear to her. Now that the tables are turned, she has turned a deaf ear to them. Does God really do this? Ask Pilate. When Pilate first asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus gave him an informed, wonderful response. Pilate though responded in a flippant manner, "What is truth?" Later Pilate gets really nervous because the Jews have just let the cat out of the bag--"He claims to be God the Son!" Pilate now is unnerved and asks Jesus, "Where are you from?" Jesus' response? Total silence. Earlier He had dealt with Pilate in sincerity. Yet how had Pilate responded? By flogging Him. When God has dealt with us straightforwardly and yet we have rejected Him, many times He will then quit speaking. It is scary to be disciplined by the Lord; however, remember that according to Hebrews the kind of person who disciplines is a father. When God doesn't discipline a person, it is because that person is not God's child (Heb. 12:7-8). When God is silent towards a person, then that person is in serious trouble.


So they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be satiated with their own devises. The waywardness of the naive shall kill them. and the complacency of fools shall destroy them. (1:32)

So how does God bring about our disciplining? By allowing us to reap what we sow. With God the punishment always fits the crime. Once more probably the best illustration of this principle comes from the Lord of the Rings. Throughout the second half of the trilogy the creature Gollum desperately craves the one ring of power. He is plotting and scheming about how to get back the ring he once "possessed," even if it involves murder. Well, he does everything needed to get back the ring. The result? He along with the ring plunges into the fiery chasm. He brought about his own destruction. I learned this principle earlier when I was a youth minister. We would have a major trip planned for the youth and yet some of the youth I wanted to go on the trip were unable to attend. So what did I do? Accept it from the Lord that they were not supposed to go? No. I worked it out as hard as I could so that they could go. On the trip guess who caused me the most amount of trouble? The ones I just had to make sure attended. God didn't have to discipline me. I brought about my own discipline. Many times when God disciplines us, He merely leaves us to our own devices. This alone is enough to destroy us.


SECOND SERMON: THE VALUE OF WISDOM (2:1-22)

In the second sermon Solomon focuses on the value of wisdom. In the first sermon Solomon claimed that Wisdom cried out in the public square, a forum where any and all could hear her. Wisdom is not just for the intellectual elite; it is for all people. Now he changes gears though. It seems as if he contradicts himself--wisdom is public and yet here it is hidden. Solomon though is not contradicting himself. Wisdom is something so valuable, God is so precious that He should be treated as valuable, as precious.

Treasure my commandments within you . . . If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God (2:1, 4).

The first way we properly value God's wisdom is by "treasuring my commandments within you." The idea of somebody claiming to love God's word and yet not obeying it is a contradiction. Claiming that you love God and yet not obeying Him are contradictory. The Bible claims that if you love wisdom, then you will apply it to your life. The Bible claims that if you love God the way He wants you to love Him, then you will obey Him. A gushy emotional heart is not the biblical definition of love; obedience is the biblical definition of true love for God (John 14:15).

Next, Solomon says that if we truly value Wisdom, then we will seek for her as we would seek for silver or search for her as we would for hidden treasure. Two things come to mind when Solomon speaks this way: the parable of the treasure hidden in the field and the parable of the pearl of great price. Jesus is that wisdom; He is that treasure, that pearl. If a man sells all he has to buy a field which has hidden treasure in it, how much more should we sell all we have to gain Christ, to gain wisdom. If a man sells all he has because he can purchase a pearl which is more valuable than the sum total of his possessions, how much more should we give up all we have to gain Him who is far more valuable than the sum total of our possession.

Why is this the case when Jesus wants us to find Him? It is because He wants us to treat Him the way He deserves, as precious silver and as a pearl of great price. We are so spoiled with all that we possess that we just junk things. A little child these days gets so many toys that he goes from toy to toy throwing them on the ground. He doesn't care for them. Well, Jesus (Wisdom) refuses to be treated this way. He will not be junked. It's like the character of Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. She preferred to have no relationship than to have a shallow relationship. She would be treated either regally or not be treated at all. In the same way Jesus takes us to this level in our relationship with Him. He will not be junked. He will only be treated as silver.


He preserves the way of His godly ones . . . To deliver you from the way of evil, From the man who speaks perverse things . . . To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress . . . For her house sinks down to death, And her tracks lead to the dead. (2:8, 12, 16).

The result of treasuring Wisdom in your heart is that you are protected from evil persons, especially the adulteress. Earlier Solomon was speaking about a woman to be treasured--Wisdom. Here he speaks about a woman to be spurned--the adulteress. Many think that he is speaking about the pagan prostitute. There is nothing though which demands that she was pagan. Rather, it appears that Solomon is addressing the issue of sexual promiscuity.

Jesus and Paul both frown upon sexual immorality. Although neither would claim it was the unforgivable sin, they both nevertheless saw it as being a serious problem. The reason sexual sin is so devastating is that it affects the whole person (1 Cor. 6:18). When a person lies, his soul and tongue are affected but not his entire fleshly body. When a person steals, his soul and hands are affected but not his entire fleshly body. Sexual sin affects the whole person--soul, mind, entire fleshly body. As a result sexual temptations become harder to overcome once a person has started giving into sexual desires. This is not to say that once a person has committed sexual sins that he cannot resist them in the future. If the Holy Spirit can raise Jesus from the dead, then He gave give people the power to resist sexual temptations even after they have already sinned this way. It is just that this kind of temptation is harder to overcome once you've started down this path.


For the upright will live in the land, And the blameless will remain in it. (2:21)

Again, this is a promise which holds generally true. Sometimes the good die young not because of any fault of their own. Sometimes missionaries like Bill Wallace and Bill Elliot are martyred precisely because they are Christians. Yet overall the truth is that the righteous do prevail, definitely in eternity, but also here on earth.

Why is this true? Look at the past. I am sure that the people living in the 30's and 40's wondered if Nazi Germany would be defeated. People living in the Soviet Union from 1917 through 1989 wondered if Communism would ever lose its tyrannical grip over them. Yet, although many times it may take years, oppressive regimes fall eventually by the wayside. Why? Because a righteous God supports the cause of righteousness in the world. In my own personal life I may not experience the benefits of a long life; however, righteousness will ultimately prevail here on the earth because God is righteous. Moreover, one day I too will prevail because the righteous God will insure that I do. Why then live any other way?