Wisdom teaches us not to judge events by the way things seem to be on the outside or people based merely on outward appearance. The world does that. It proclaims that those who are the most successful, the most blessed, are those with wealth, fame, possessions, power and all the luxuries money can buy. It exalts and esteems the sexually immoral, the ruthless, the mighty, and celebrities as role models for all to emulate. But wisdom teaches us that what is valued in the world is not valued in God’s Kingdom. Riches are not a sign of God’s favor unless one has earned them by diligence and honesty. God looks at the heart and blesses the one who is obedient, humble, and generous and who possesses a zeal for justice for the poor and downtrodden.
Wisdom also tells us that righteousness is of great value, not just for the individual but also for the community and the nation as well. This righteousness is humble, prudent, and generous. It does not seek itself but the benefit of others. Therefore, all, including the highest rulers, prime ministers, presidents, politicians and kings as well as the common folk and everyone else in between should pursue righteousness. This, not the selfishness and materialism that consumes most Americans, produces harmony, peace and contentment. Despite the power, wealth and prestige of the USA and her citizens, such wickedness is unacceptable to the Lord.
He is a passage that is quite appropriate to consider on Thanksgiving. While America has set aside the day to be thankful to God for what we have, many use it as an excuse for gluttony, drunkenness, greed and excess. Too many Americans are overly concerned with satisfying their lusts and desires. This has led to sin as well as moral and cultural decay. So we think today about tempering desire with Godly discipline.
The first couple of verses indicate to us that the focus of this chapter is on the twin themes of discipline and desire. We may know that discipline is a good thing but may look doubtfully at desire as something that is harmful and leads us to sin. Yet both discipline and desire can both be used for evil, but together, they can lead us to joy and peace. We know that we all have desires and longings. Here they are described metaphorically with images of eating. Thus we understand that desire is part of our humanity, the way the Lord God made us. Those who are wise live in peace, for their desires are filled and satisfied within the proper limits set by discipline and wisdom. They live for others. Those who ignore discipline live for self. They are never satisfied or at peace. Rather they are consumed by insatiable greed.
These proverbs give us a strong warning against compromise. God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom do not mix, though we often think and act as if they did. Proverbs calls worldly wisdom folly and those that follow it are fools. All of us occasionally act as fools for we take the easy and pleasurable way, giving in to the seduction of the media, the heat of the moment, or the pressure and lax morals of our peers. Wisdom teaches us that those who take this way end up unhappy and dissatisfied. The wise man, not the fool or the sluggard, looks at the long range results and consequences of all his actions especially those related to the fulfillment of desires. If we would be wise we must do the same.
Once again we are reminded that those who accept correction and receive discipline with humility are those who are growing in wisdom. The wise man is well qualified to teach others. And a great deal of teaching in wisdom is involved with speech, with knowing when to speak as well as when to teach and how to exercise discipline in a godly manner. We must offer words of encouragement and love when needed but at other times we best keep silent. Often we are to keep our wisdom to our self, to listen and refrain from reproving others and overlook insults.
Today some aspects of society hate to overlook insults, but value revenge and displays of personal power. Someone gets insulted, someone feels disrespected and he or she immediately feels the need to show that he or she is not weak, to get back at the other and repay them evil for evil. This is why there is so much bloodshed and violence: people feel the need to show their strength, to have the last word. The foolish person cannot control his pride or ego and must shoot off his mouth to defend himself or to demonstrate his self-proclaimed superior intellect, status or power. The wise man is humble and does not need to do anything to exalt the self. The Lord knows the truth and will rise to his defense. However, the wise person is always quick to defend others and to help the needy and the abused.
The opening proverb gives us a clue as to how the rest of the verses may relate to one another. The Lord hates dishonesty in business dealings because wicked business practices are rooted in selfishness and greed. Those who practice such dishonesty commit violence against their community for they steal from others and abuse them, especially the poor and needy. Instead of seeking profit for ourselves first or exclusively we must seek the good of others first. We must use our resources to help them. We must be generous in every way and give to those who we can help.
These verses also speak of the proper use of our words and speech and the value of honesty and integrity in dealing with all people. They remind us of the certainty of punishment for evil deeds and of blessings for righteousness. In our daily life, things do not always seem to happen that way. In our society likes those who flaunt their wickedness are often lauded and honored. They seem prosper because of their dishonesty and lies. Yet society often disdains those who are honest.
Verse 22 gives us a graphic and striking image that lets us know that prosperity, talent or ability without wisdom is as useless as a gold ring in a pig’s snout. The beauty and worth of the gold does not diminish the unclean nature of the pig. No matter how hard they try, those who accumulate wealth and favor through wickedness and pride are still ugly and foolish.
In this section of Proverbs we encounter short practical sayings of wisdom designed to help us live in righteousness and peace. In these first verses we are enjoined to be diligent and to work with honesty and integrity. Such diligence has as its goal the benefit and enrichment of our families, our communities and our nation and thereby ourselves as well. Fools and sluggards do not work with such diligence for their goal and purpose is to enrich themselves, not others. This they do by mistreating others through outright theft, dishonesty, violence and abuse. Prosperity may also come to these wicked but this is short-lived and unstable. The wicked are never satisfied and never at rest in their attempts to satisfy their greed.
These proverbs also teach us of the importance of our speech, the words, thoughts and ideas we convey to others. Our speech reflects our character. It can bless or curse, build up or tear down. Therefore we must be careful to attend to what we say and how we say it for we are all aware of how our words can affect other people, especially those who are sensitive and emotionally or spiritually distraught. If we want to help people to grow we will speak words of encouragement and support. Our criticisms of others will offer words of instruction and help not merely words of rebuke. We must always speak the truth but in love, that is with concern for the welfare and well-being of others, not to justify or vindicate our self.
Wisdom teaches us not to think of ourselves first, but to consider the needs of our neighbors first. Yet in this world we are often though to think that wisdom is all about meeting our own needs and knowing our self. Consequently, the familiar verse 5 is often misunderstood as a warrant for us to suspend rational thinking and make choices based on perceived miraculous guidance from the Lord in the form of signs, impressions, mental state and events that we feel point us in the right direction. But what is meant by “our own understanding” is clarified in the ensuing verses. That is, we are not to rely on our knowledge, philosophies, concepts and ideas or those we borrow from the world because all such are often grounded in selfishness and tainted by sin.
Reliance on self allows us to interpret life and events as we see fit. Because of selfishness we frequently misinterpret and disobey God’s will while we think we are following it. Thus the only sure guide we possess in making decisions comes from the Lord through His word, His Spirit and His church. To acquire wisdom we must study it and we must apply it. The promises of this chapter come only from such study and application. There is nothing magic or automatic about them. As we follow the commands and instructions of the Lord we will prosper and grow. We will live without fear of want or trouble for we are on the path that provides blessing and peace.
Although these instructions are addressed to a young man, the words of wisdom offered by his parents are instructions for all of us as they provide teaching on how to discern good from evil, truth from error. Ideally our Christian parents are the ones who are the source of such discernment and godly wisdom as they have the primary role in forming our character and training us in righteousness. They are supported by the church, the community of believers who should also be involved in our spiritual growth. The basic teaching of God’s community is His word, His wisdom which inoculates us against the seductions, wickedness, lies and false promises of those who do not know God. They are fools because they reject God and His wisdom in favor of self.
Here we see wisdom personified as a woman. This has given rise to the false belief that wisdom is some sort of deity, labeled as “Sophia”, the Greek word for wisdom. This concept is foolish for it leads us away from God. The personification of wisdom is merely a literary tool that teaches us that God offers wisdom to all human beings as the way to bring them into right relationship with Him. Wisdom is centered on God, not on self. It is not meant to teach us how to achieve personal success, prosperity and self-fulfillment, but how to obey the Lord and serve Him in every area of life. Wisdom sets us on the right career path the one which allows us to honor Him above all else and not to seek rewards or praise for ourselves or from the world.