Wisdom — Week 1

We’re spending some time in the wisdom and poetry literature of the Old Testament. Though we find poetry and songs throughout the Old Testament, when we speak of the “Wisdom Literature” we’re talking about Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. We begin in the Book of Proverbs, which addresses the “big picture” as well as day-by-day living.

 

Monday, August 6

Read: Proverbs 1:1-6

Consider: Wisdom. Usually when I teach, I begin a new discussion or topic by defining terms. I have always believed that communication is so precarious that if we begin a discussion with different definitions, we will simply engage in misunderstanding, talking past each other without realizing that we have little probability of finding common ground.

I still feel that way. The problem is that “wisdom” is one of those words that defies definition. That’s the case with the most important words we have—love, joy, peace, life, death, and God, to name a few. Those realities transcend our mental capacity to categorize. So, we don’t define. We can’t. We describe. We ask questions. We look for images that might open doors to our understanding.

That’s what scripture does for us. The Book of Proverbs—as well as the other Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament—is a great example of pictures, images, metaphors and even “riddles” (1:6, NIV). It speaks to our minds and our spirits. It stirs our emotions and addresses our fears. It gives us surety on some issues, while challenging things that we don’t want to question. And it humbles us. That’s why we say that deconstruction often precedes the building of our faith.

So, we can’t read the poetry and wisdom of the Bible the way we read history. We can’t comprehend the proverbs and the psalms of scripture by merely viewing them as instructional material. No, we’re in a different realm. And unless we let go of our need for literalism and structured solutions, we’ll miss what God offers us there.

Perhaps we need to even let go of our need to grasp the scripture by allowing it to take hold of us. There is a submission to scripture—a letting go of our old assumptions—that allows us to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

Pray: “Lord, teach me to see with spiritual eyes and listen with spiritual ears. Help me to be humble about my opinions, so that you can change me. Your words are not given for me to master them. They are given so that I can understand your loving mastery over all your creation—including me.

 

Tuesday, August 7

Read: Proverbs 1:7

Consider: This simple sentence provides a bridge between Solomon’s opening words and the content of his proverbs. But that one sentence is laden with meaning and includes two very important words — “fear” and “fools.”

For many people “the fear of the Lord” has set a tone for relationship with God that has impacted their lives in terrible ways. The thought of an authoritarian God who is eager to destroy us for any slight infraction is terrifying. And it doesn’t draw us to God with a desire to know him more intimately. Quite the opposite. It drives us away from faith and gives us a fatalistic view of God.

People who carry a picture in their soul of a wrathful God tend to go in one of two directions. Some spend their lives trying to placate God with their goodness or their religiosity. But they’re miserable, because they never know for sure if they’ve done enough or if God thinks they’re good enough. Some simply run in the other direction. They cannot live with constant guilt or fear of hell, so they put God out of their minds and go on with life with no regard for their spirituality. Some even declare their belief that there is no such thing as God.

Now those are the extremes, but there are a lot of people who live in proximity to one of those two poles. But trying to serve a wrathful God is not going to bring new life and new joy to your existence.

So, why does the Bible talk about “the fear of the Lord”? Well, we know that this “fear” is not terror, but that it falls somewhere in the realm of respect and consciousness of God’s greatness. We must look at the overarching narrative of scripture. It teaches us that God is our Father. It tells us that there is nothing more beautiful to him than those he created in his own image. It reveals to us the cross, which says God would rather die than kill. And it shows us the face of God in Christ—which means “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

So, as we use the word, I believe the only thing we have to fear is our own arrogance.

And that brings us to the second important word in Proverbs 1:7— “fools.” We’ll consider that word tomorrow.  

Pray: “Lord, I honor you and recognize your sovereignty over me and over all of creation. And yet that brings me no terror, because I believe that you love me more than I can possibly imagine. Help me to continually see 'God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ' (2 Corinthians 4:6) and to know that glory is your love."

 

Wednesday, August 8

Read: Proverbs 1:7

Consider: We return to that simple—but loaded—sentence we looked at yesterday. It contains two words that are important to consider as we explore the riches of the Book of Proverbs — “fear” (which we looked at yesterday) and “fools.”

In our culture, to call someone a fool is to hurl an insult, saying they are stupid. (It’s usually done behind their back.) If we use that term to refer to what was created in God’s image, we reveal our own moral blind spot. I hope we all got over calling people stupid when we left Jr. High, but if we need a reminder, we can read what Jesus said about insults in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:21-22).

So, why do the Old Testament wisdom writers use the word, “fool”? That word is found often in Psalms and Proverbs.

Solomon is not throwing an insult into someone’s face to demean that person. He is crafting a narrative about two choices—wisdom or foolishness. And he contrasts the two so that we can get a clearer picture of the wisdom we are to pursue throughout our lives.

So, he opens his writing on wisdom by contrasting awe, reverence and humility before God with the utter foolishness of ignoring—even despising—“wisdom and instruction.” So, in our vernacular, a know-it-all is a fool. Someone who is not teachable, who will not allow himself or herself to be changed by God, is self-sabotaging. The one who is stuck in a mode of thinking that will not allow new insight, change and growth is rejecting wisdom. And, as we will see, the stakes are high, for “the complacency of fools will destroy them” (1:32).

That’s a pretty bold statement. Take heart, though, because it’s followed by a “but…”

“The complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (1:32-33)

Pray: “Lord, you have taught me so much. In instruction, in relationships, in joy, in sorrow—in life—you have been my teacher. And yet, I have so much more to learn. I pray that knowledge gives me a thirst for more knowledge. I pray that the wisdom you’ve imparted to me makes me hungrier to know the depths of the wisdom that comes from intimacy with you. Thank you for your love and your patience with me.”

 

Thursday, August 9

Read: Proverbs 1:20-23

Consider: We saw Monday that wisdom defies definition. We need images to begin to grasp it. And that is exactly what the Book of Proverbs gives us—a powerful and beautiful image.

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint) and in the original manuscripts of the New Testament, the word that we’ve translated “wisdom” is sophia.

To most of us today, Sophia is a female name. I love that word because it’s my granddaughter’s name. And that is part of the image. As is the case with many languages, in Greek, nouns have genders. Sophia is in the feminine gender. And so, to illustrate wisdom, it is personified as a woman. Today we read that…

“Sophia calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square…she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech…” (1:20-21)

We’re given the picture of Sophia—wisdom—as one who is beautiful, loving and desirable. She is someone we admire. She is offering to give herself to us. She calls out to us and says that, if we will listen, “I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings” (1:23). In other words, I will be placed inside of you.

Think of the most beautiful person you know. Now, of course, I’m not talking about physical beauty, but inner beauty. It may be a woman or a man. But it is someone in whom you consistently see an inner life that is amazing. And yet, that person is humble. Now ask yourself, “What if I could have that kind of inner beauty?”

Well, take that to another level, because the wisdom of Sophia is really the wisdom of God. She is just an image to show us what God wants to do inside of us. He wants his wisdom to grow in our souls and he wants us to know his very being inside of us.

And he’s calling. Am I listening? How can I be more attentive to his call?

Pray: “Lord, not much changes in my life unless I want it to change. And I certainly can’t change myself by my own efforts. So, help me to desire your wisdom. Humble me so that you can pour your thoughts into me and show me your wisdom.”

 

Friday, August 10

Read: Proverbs 2:1-11

Consider: Yesterday we looked at the powerful image of wisdom—Sophia—as personified inner beauty. What makes Sophia so compelling in the Book of Proverbs is that she is majestic and glorious…

“Blessed are those who find wisdom (Sophia), those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.”
(3:13-18)

But, as we will see later, she is also brutally practical when it comes to time, money, sex, food and all the other stuff of everyday life.

One of the things that the Proverbs writer wants us to understand is our responsibility in learning God’s way. The wisdom of God is something we must actively seek.

“If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God…then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.” (2:3-5, 9)

When we pursue God’s wisdom like we would pursue a paycheck — “look for it as for silver” — and when we yearn for it as something precious — “search for it as hidden treasure” — then we discover how to live. We discover how to use our time on earth—our years and, in turn, our months, weeks, days and even our hours.

Pray: Our lives are full of beautiful things. But they are also filled with distractions—those things that take our eyes off our ultimate values. That’s why, from time to time, we should pray for the right desires. Today, ask the Lord to help you see what the real “hidden treasure” is—what should receive your best efforts and greatest passion. Then ask him to help you desire what he is showing you.

 

Saturday, August 11

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Consider: As we have considered Solomon’s wisdom this week, we need to also read one of the great commentators of the Old Testament, the Apostle Paul. The reason Paul brings forth so much insight from the Hebrew Bible is his Christocentric approach. In other words, Paul read the Old Testament through his understanding of Jesus Christ. His vision of Christ became his vision of God. So, when he wrote about wisdom, it was not based on the values of his culture. Jesus had clashed with both the government and the religious establishment. And, because of Jesus, Paul saw the absurdity of the old ways of thinking.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards…but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1:26-27)

Jesus was one of those “weak things.” God came to us as an outcast and gave himself to the outcasts. He was persecuted, but he refused to retaliate. He was willing to die, but not willing to kill. He always identified with the powerless, not the powerful.

This is very difficult for us to see. It’s easy to say, “I’m a Christian, so I’m walking in God’s wisdom.” But then we embrace the “wisdom” of the world. We accept the political alternatives of right or left, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. We buy into the materialism of our culture. We let the world tell us what it means to be a good, patriotic citizen, when the Bible tells us our citizenship is from another reality (Philippians 3:20). We forget that in order to understand what it means to live for Jesus Christ, we must acknowledge and live the truth that “the ‘wisdom’ of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

As we saw on Monday, the wisdom literature of the Bible will challenge us to question some things that we really don’t want to question. So, we must be teachable. We must be willing to go through God’s deconstruction of our values, so that we can allow him to build a new and vibrant faith in us.

Deconstruction is painful. But death is followed by resurrection.

Pray: “Lord, I’m pretty comfortable with my belief system. After all, I’m a Christian. And yet, I know that the one who is unwilling to change and to grow is who Solomon called a ‘fool.’ Give me knowledge and insight that will humble me and make me teachable. Give me wisdom that makes me yearn for more—more wisdom and more of you. And give me the courage to see the ways that I have accepted this culture’s ‘wisdom’ as if it were yours. And thank you for your love for me and your patience with me.”