I’ve begun this journey working through the “wisdom books” of the Bible this year and I think one thing that needs to be answered right from the beginning is the question of, “what is wisdom?”
The book begins with a call to wisdom:
To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
– Proverbs 1:2-6
Wisdom is clearly important to the writer of Proverbs and it is stressed that it should be important to the readers. Longman writes, “Wisdom is a rich concept and is not easily summarized.” He’s absolutely right, as you read across the book of Proverbs wisdom is personified, it is attributed to many different kinds of people as well as animals, wisdom seems to extend to as many subjects as one can find. One’s first implication might be that wisdom is intelligence, but mere intelligence doesn’t always merit wisdom. For the author of Proverbs, wisdom is knowledge applied and knowledge lived. One doesn’t need lots of intelligence to be wise. If it is the ant planning for winter, or the young man staying away from the promiscuous women, to be wise one needs to apply what one knows to make right decisions and right actions. Again, I find Longman helpful in defining wisdom:
…we will begin with the basic idea that wisdom is the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us.
If Longman has a right understand of what the author of Proverbs is trying to teach his readers, we’d be wise to heed the wisdom of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes and Job). Wisdom is for living, and I’m thankful God has revealed wisdom through the word written and the Word incarnate. In days to come I hope to expound a bit on some of the types of wisdom that are revealed in Proverbs.
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. – Proverbs 4:2-7