All quotations are taken from the New King James Bible.
Apart from Christ Himself, Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. He made his request for wisdom early in his reign, and God responded by giving him such wisdom ‘so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you', 1 Kgs. 3. 12.
Word of his wisdom spread far and wide. The Queen of Sheba felt compelled to visit him and see for herself if the rumours were true. As he answered her questions and she saw how he managed his kingdom, she was overwhelmed, ‘Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard’, 1 Kgs. 10. 7.
What a gift, then, the Book of Proverbs is for us. As we read it, we are listening to Solomon passing down the wisdom of the Lord to his son. It contains practical advice to ‘give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion’, Prov. 1. 4.
Wisdom has three components: looking upward, looking forward and looking inward.
'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction', Prov. 1. 7.
How wise we are is determined ultimately by our attitude towards the Lord Himself. To fear the Lord is not to be terrified of Him, as though He were a threat to our safety. Rather, it is to have a reverence for His greatness.
Job experienced this fear when the Lord spoke to him out of the whirlwind. It gave him a deeper appreciation of God’s majesty, ‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You’, Job 42. 5. Upon seeing the vision, Job ceased to defend himself and, instead, acknowledged the Lord's righteousness and omnipotence.
Solomon explains that fearing the Lord will also effect change in our behaviour. We will trust in Him instead of our own understanding, Prov. 3. 5. We will depart from evil, v. 7. We will honour Him with our possessions and wealth, v. 9, and we will not despise His chastening and correction, v. 11.
'Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird', Prov. 1. 17.
Warning: The Book of Proverbs contains spoilers. Throughout, Solomon reveals and compares the outcomes of various attitudes and actions. These include diligence and laziness, love and hate, generosity and selfishness, and righteousness and wickedness.
Solomon makes one such comparison when offering his son relationship advice. The harlot of chapter 7 invites men to 'take our fill of love until morning', v. 18, whereas the loving wife of chapter 31 will do her husband ‘good and not evil all the days of her life' (emphasis mine).
Rather than crashing through life learning by our mistakes, we can take heed to Solomon's Proverbs. Through them, we can anticipate where our desires and actions will lead us. We cannot be wise without considering the long-term results of our choices.
‘To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity’, Prov. 1. 3.
Wisdom has a moral component. It is not merely a case of making choices that pay off in the long term. Our decisions ought also to reflect God’s moral character. This character was apparent in the law in the Old Testament, which contained many commands that encouraged generosity and a consideration of the poor and oppressed.
When landowners harvested their crops, they were to leave the corners of the field for the ‘poor and … stranger’ to glean from, Lev. 23. 22. A more natural, self-focused wisdom might have maximized the profits of the field for the landowner. God’s wisdom involved sacrifice, showing care and consideration for those in need. ‘He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honours Him has mercy on the needy’, Prov 14. 31.
To fear the Lord is to consider the consequences of our actions and reflect God’s heart in our attitude. That is the essence of wisdom. This wisdom honours the Lord, blesses those around us and preserves us from all kinds of trouble.
‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding’, 4. 7.