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The Beginning of the Beginning

The Beginning of the Beginning

Everything has a beginning, a first start, a genesis. Everything begins somewhere.  And according to the Proverbs, there's a beginning to knowledge, wisdom and instruction— and that glorious beginning is called "the fear of the Lord" (Prov. 1:7). But what does it mean to "fear the Lord"?  What does that look like in real life?  If "God is love" as the Scriptures say (1 John 4:8), how are we to fear His love?  Or His mercy?  Or His grace?  Or any other aspect of His character?  How can the fear of the Lord be the beginning of anything but a dysfunctional relationship with Someone whom we're frightened of and cower in His presence?  Fear is not a pleasant emotion that draws us closer to the one we fear.  So why would the Lord tell us that the fear of Him is the very starting point of knowledge and wisdom?  It would seem to me that love would be the beginning of our relationship with the Lord— not fear.

What Does Fear Really Mean?

And that's the main question, isn't it?  What do we mean by "fear"? Our English definition of fear reads like this: "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or is a threat."  Fear is also described as the "anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur."  You know, the fear of financial ruin, the fear of heights, the fear for one's safety, or the fear of speaking in public.  There are countless ways to describe fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by the possibility of something bad happening to us. But in the Scriptures, fear has an additional connotation.  To "fear the Lord" means to "honor, respect, and be in awe" of Him in addition to the idea of God Himself being "an awesome, terrifying and fearful thing."  In other words, the "fear of the Lord" means to show profound respect while recognizing that the object of our fear is "awesome and terrifying and fearful" and can bless or crush us at any time, for any reason, at His own whim, without recourse.  He is, after all, the Creator, the Highest Authority, the Sovereign One, and we are mere mortals, just dust and ashes. Having a healthy "fear of the Lord" should motivate us to please Him in all we do.  Why?  Because we will someday have to give an account to Him for what we've done, good or bad or indifferent, while living our lives on this earth (2 Cor. 5:10).  He will be our Judge, the final Arbiter of our fate, and He will judge us according to His infallible standard of righteousness and holiness and not by our lukewarm platitudes designed to excuse our apathy. And this, my friend, should give us great pause.  
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Riddles and Dark Sayings

Riddles and Dark Sayings

We are now ready to close out the preamble to the Proverbs, and Solomon does that in a surprising way.  Proverbs 1:5 tells us one of the primary purposes of this book, and of wisdom itself, is to allow to us "hear and increase learning (or, to receive teaching, insight, instruction)" and to "attain (or, get, buy, possess, no matter the costs) wise counsel (or, wise guidance, direction, or good advice)." But we already know that. What we don't know is why? Why do we need wise counsel?  What's the purpose, the pay-off, for us in real time? What's out there that is so important we're supposed to learn, to understand, to have insight into?  What about the last part of this passage?  What about the "riddles and dark sayings"?  Because it seems the "wise man" and the "man of understanding" will "hear and increase learning" and "attain wise counsel" for only one reason: "to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Prov. 1:6). And what does that mean?

The Climax of the Definition of Wisdom

Remember, a truly wise man is not one who has already attained wisdom, but one who's keenly aware that he hasn't, and is desperately striving forward to be more like Christ, or to "press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me" (Phil. 3:12).  He's one who's not satisfied with the spiritual status quo and is not content with his Bible College Diploma signifying he has learned all there is to know about Christ and His Word.  No, the wise man longs to dig deeper, to pray harder, to speak louder, to shine brighter, and to love more intensely than he thought humanly possible. And to this "wise man", to the "man of understanding", comes one of the greatest blessings of all.  He, by virtue of the wisdom given him by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, will learn to "understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Prov. 1:6).  To him, the doors of the deeper truths of the things of God are opened and he is graciously invited to come and dine. We know the meaning of proverb, but what's an "enigma"?  And what's all this about the "words of the wise and their riddles"?  
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Are You a Wise Guy?

Are You a Wise Guy?

As we learned from our last study together, Solomon has some pointed words to say to the simple and to the impetuous young men. Remember?

To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion (Prov. 1:4).

But he also has much to say to those who lived on the other end of the continuum: the wise, the learned, the men of understanding who seek wise, Godly counsel.  You see, Proverbs is a book given to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16) and is for all of us: the young, the old, the dedicated as well as the apathetic, the hot, the cold, and the lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-17), the theologically trained and the ones who only know one thing, "that though I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25).  It's for everyone.  And regardless of our sinful, broken past or our life of privilege and opulence, the wisdom of God revealed in the Proverbs calls each of us, no matter who we are, wherever we are, into a deeper relationship with Him. And in the closing two verses of the preamble to this grand gift to us, Solomon lets the pendulum swing hard to the other side and turns his attention to the opposite of the simple and naive.  He now addresses the wise and astute, the ones who should know better, who do know better, and shows us how to understand the book we are now reading. Let's take a look at what Solomon had to say to those who live on the other side of the spiritual track.

The Wisdom of the Wise

In Proverbs 1:5-6 we read:

A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.

As you can see, Solomon is addressing two categories of people in this passage: a wise man and a man of understanding.  But who are these people and what about their character draws us to them?  
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Four Verbs, Part Two

Four Verbs, Part Two

As we discussed yesterday, in digging deep into the preamble of Proverbs 1, we came across a few intriguing verbs: know, perceive, receive, and give and also the nouns associated with those verbs: wisdom, instruction, understanding, justice, judgment, equity, knowledge and discretion.

In Proverbs 1:2-4 we again find:

To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion.

As a reminder, notice again the natural progression of action.  To know, then to perceive something, then to choose to personally receive and embrace what we now know and perceive, and finally to share, to give what we have now received to someone else. We've already looked at the first three verbs.  Now let's spend some time trying to see and understand what the Lord expects us to do with what we've now received from Him, in Christ, by grace. And the answer to that question is found in one simple word: give. But a few questions remain.  What are we to give to others?  And who are the others we are to give something to?

To Give

So what are we to do with what we have received from Him?  We are to give it away, we are to give our very lives to others.  This is the meaning of: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39).

Question:  But what are we to actually give to others? Answer:  What we have received from Him: grace, love, understanding, hope, and wisdom.

Question:  And who are we to share and give His wisdom to? Answer:  Everyone. But specially the "simple" and the "young man."

Look again at Proverbs 1:4:  To give prudence to (who) the simple, to the (who) young man knowledge and discretion.  
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Four Verbs, Part One

Four Verbs, Part One

As we dig deeper into the Proverbs we quickly come across a few arresting verbs: know, perceive, receive, and give.  And, of course, we see the corresponding nouns associated with each of these verbs. In Proverbs 1:2-4 we find:

To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion.

Notice, if you will, the natural progression of action.  To know, then to perceive something, then to choose to personally receive and embrace what we now know and perceive, and finally to share, to give what we have now received to someone else. But what does it mean to perceive something or someone, maybe a new truth or a deeper understanding of a known truth?  And how does someone then receive that true or understanding to themselves that they have just perceived?  What does that process look like?  And how does that exchange actually happen?  And finally, ultimately, to whom do we give what we have received? And what specifically do we give them? The answer is found in the nouns connected with our actions, our verbs. But let's begin by looking at the four verbs.  
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Wisdom is a Choice, So Choose Wisely

Wisdom is a Choice, So Choose Wisely

From the account in 1 Kings we find little to shed light on the specific details of that momentous event.  What we do see is Solomon overwhelmed with the responsibility of leading the kingdom he inherited from his father David and recognizing he is but "a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in" (1 Kings 3:7).  Then, in a marvelous way, God grants his request and gives him, not only a "wise and understanding heart" (1 Kings 3:12), but also throws in what Solomon didn't ask for, "both riches and honor" (1 Kings 3:13) simply because He wanted to. And from then on we see Solomon acting, sometimes, in the wisdom God gave him and, at other times, living like a rich, spoiled brat making "dumb as a brick" decisions for himself, his family, and the nation God trusted him to lead. But how is that possible?  How can a man given the very wisdom of God make dumb, lousy, selfish decisions?  Didn't God make Solomon a wise man when He gave him His wisdom?  Didn't God just zap him, like He did Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, and turn him into something he wasn't before?  Or maybe God simply enhanced the wisdom Solomon already possessed?  Maybe Solomon was already a wise man and God just gave him the 2.0 update?  Plus, when God gives you or me His wisdom, does that mean everything we do or say is wise and from God?  And if not, why?  How can we, like Solomon, be given the wisdom of God and then go around making lame, stupid decisions?  How is that even possible?

Solomon Was Not a Wise Man

Let's nip this one in the bud right out of the gate.  Solomon was not an inherently wise man.  He was not one whose very nature oozed wisdom.  How could he be?  The decisions and choices he made as a father, husband and king are anything but wise and they reflect his true nature.  When Solomon relied on the wisdom of God, he made incredibly wise decisions— some of which we still marvel at today.  But when left to himself Solomon, like you and me, made decisions and choices according to his own nature, according to what he was made of on the inside.  And for Solomon, his nature was anything but wise. Just think, how wise was it as a husband to have 300 wives and 700 concubines?  How wise was that?  Think of the infighting within his own family.  Think of how used and rejected his wives felt, not to mention the concubines.  And this selfish, unwise decision to marry so many women wasn't a momentary lapse of reason for Solomon.  It wasn't something he did and regretted later, vowing to never make the same mistake again.  This pattern of thinking was habitual, ingrained, and occurred over a 1,000 times. Then you have the children.  Hatred, jealousy, bigotry, and bitterness was the rule of the day, so much so that the kingdom was irreparably torn in two after Solomon's death by two of his own children.  What does this show us about Solomon's nature and core values regarding his responsibilities of being a father?  Where's the wisdom in any of this?  
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Jesus is Our Wisdom

Jesus is Our Wisdom

We discovered yesterday, from 1 Corinthians 1:30, that Jesus "became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption."  This verse clearly shows us Jesus Christ is, in Himself, the wisdom from God.  Jesus is all wisdom, complete in Himself, and if we desire more wisdom from the Father (James 1:5), He answers by revealing more of His Son to us.  We ask for wisdom, we get Jesus.  We look for wisdom, we see it in Jesus.  We want to know wisdom (Prov. 1:2), we must know Jesus, and none other. The wisdom from God is found in only one person— and His name is Jesus.

To Know and Perceive Wisdom and Understanding

But the Proverbs begin by telling us the grand purpose of this book is "to know (yada) wisdom and instruction, (and) to perceive the words of understanding (Prov. 1:2).  What does that mean? Wisdom, as we know, is "the ability to discern or judge what is right, true, and lasting" and instruction means more than teaching or exhortation.  Instruction is "discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves."  Which brings us to the last half of this verse, "to perceive the words of understanding" (Prov. 1:2). To perceive means "to discern, consider, understand, to be attentive or pay attention to."  And "words of understanding" mean "words or speech of comprehension, discernment, righteous actions, with a strong moral and religious connotation."  In other words, "to perceive the words of understanding" is not something to be mentally perceived or discerned, but to follow through with righteous actions, works, or deeds of strong moral and religious connotations that bring about God's wisdom and the ability to choose what is right, true and lasting.  Do you see what the Lord is saying to us? The purpose of Proverbs is for us to know (yada) by experience, or by doing, in an intimate, passionate way, the wisdom of God, or Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30), and possess the ability to discern and choose what is right and Godly in any given circumstance.  The New Testament would call this sanctification (1 Thess. 4:13), having the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), or "walking in the Spirit, and not according to the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). Its purpose is for us to know wisdom, the wisdom found only in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30), and to be "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10).  
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How to Become a “Wise Guy”

How to Become a “Wise Guy”

In Proverbs 1:2 we've discovered one of the great goals of the book of Proverbs is to allow us to know, in an intimate and experiential sense, both wisdom and instruction.  We've already looked at what the word know means in this passage in yesterday's post.  But what about wisdom?  And instruction? Wisdom is defined as "the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment, or the quality of being wise.  It's the ability to discern or judge what is right, true, and lasting."  Wisdom is not the mere accumulation of facts about someone or something, it's the ability to properly apply those facts in a given situation to determine the right and God-honoring outcome.  Wisdom is manifested when a person can see the circumstances they face and match them with truth they know, God's Word, and then plot a course of action based on the truth and not on the urgency of the situation. Instruction, surprisingly, is not primarily defined as teaching or exhortation, as we would expect.  Instruction (muwcar) is defined as discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son.  So the book of Proverbs is designed to help us know (yada) by doing, to learn by experience, in an intimate, personal way, the ability to discern what is right, true, and lasting versus choosing the cheap trinkets and toys our culture offers.  And we are to learn the wisdom of God by discipline, correction and chastening.  After all, the Lord disciplines the ones He loves (Heb. 12:6).

How to Get Wisdom

And that's a question we all ask, isn't it?  How do we get wisdom?  There are several verses that speak to this desire.  The most well-known is found in James:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

As we can see, wisdom is given to anyone who asks, just as long as they ask in faith.  For if they doubt when they ask, they shouldn't expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Why?  Because they are "double-minded" and "unstable" in all their ways.  
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To “Know” What? – Part 2

To “Know” What? – Part 2

The Lord tells us in His preamble of Proverbs that one of the purposes of this great book is for us "to know wisdom and instruction" and "to perceive the words of understanding" (Prov. 1:2).  And bam!— there it is again, right before our eyes— another troubling yet vital four-letter word. But this time the word isn't love, but know.  What does it mean to know something, to know wisdom and instruction for example?  What does it mean to be in the know, to have knowledge, or to acknowledge someone or something? Our contemporary definition of know is "to be aware of something through careful observation, inquiry, or information; to develop a relationship with someone through meeting and spending time with them, to be familiar or friendly."

"Oh, ask me, I know the answer to that question." "You don't have to remind me, I know I have to pick them up at the airport at 5:00pm." "I know who you are, I recognized you from your Facebook profile." "I know all about Abraham Lincoln, I read about him in my textbook."

But there are several different words that are translated know in the Scriptures:  in the Greek, primarily edio (1492 in Strong's) and ginosko (1097 in Strong's) and in the Hebrew, yada (3045 in Strong's).  Plus, the Hebrew word yada is essentially the same as the Greek word ginosko.   So let's take a few minutes and dig a bit deeper into the difference between knowing something edio or knowing someone ginosko (or yada) and why that is even important.

To Know With Your Head or Your Heart

This is the question that defines these two words and describes the different aspects of what it means to know.  Is it merely head knowledge, the accumulation of facts and raw data?  Or can I know someone on a more personal level, with more intimacy and passion?  Can I know them by my experience with them and not just know facts about them. In the Greek, edio (1492) is defined as "to see, to perceive with the eyes or the senses, to observe, to get or gain knowledge of something, to understand."  It's a mental, cognitive retention of some facts.  It's head knowledge, or book learning.  It's preparing for your final exam by memorizing all the answers and then forgetting them immediately after the test is over.  It's knowing, for example, that George Washington was the first President of the United States yet that fact having absolutely no impact on your daily life.  "Yeah, I know all about George Washington.  I saw his picture and watched the movie.  But so what?  Who cares?"  
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