Study Guide

Proverbs Wisdom and Knowledge

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Wisdom and Knowledge

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NRSV 1:7)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (KJV 1:7)

This is probably Proverbs' most essential point. Fearing God provides the basis for all human conduct.

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you." (NRSV 1:20-23)

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (KJV 1:20-23)

Wisdom is loudly advertising her wares, but human beings aren't buying—because of their thickness. They've got no one but themselves to blame for their lack of wisdom, says Proverbs.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a fair garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. (NRSV 4:7-9)

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. (KJV 4:7-9)

Whereas earlier, Proverbs says that the beginning of wisdom lies in fearing God, here it says that the beginning of wisdom lies in getting wisdom (which is sort of, you know, obvious). But if getting wisdom means fearing God, then there's no real contradiction.

"The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race." (NRSV 8:22-31)

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. (KJV 8:22-31)

Wisdom reveals her back-story—kind of like Batman Begins. (Okay, so that might be a stretch.) Surprisingly, this gives us a peek into what God was doing before the first chapter of Genesis: he was creating Wisdom.

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, "You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight." (NRSV 9:1-6)

Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding. (KJV 9:1-6)

Wisdom has everything put in order for human beings to start to practice it. They just need to sit down and partake.

The plans of the mind belong to mortals, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All one's ways may be pure in one's own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit […] The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. (NRSV 16:1-2, 9)

The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits [...] A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps. (KJV 16:1-2, 9)

A good part of wisdom lies in recognizing that God's in control and that human beings can't scheme their way into success with any degree of predictability. God has the final word on everything that happens.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. (NRSV 17:3)

The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts. (KJV 17:3)

God tests the human heart by putting it through trials and troubles. Suffering "builds character," like people say.

"My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off." (NRSV 24:13-14)

My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: so shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off. (KJV 24:13-14).

You shouldn't see wisdom as being a particularly bitter pill—you might think that it seems like needing to eat your Brussels sprouts, but it ultimately proves sweet to the soul.

The leech has two daughters; "Give, give," they cry. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, "Enough": Sheol, the barren womb, the earth ever thirsty for water, and the fire that never says, "Enough." (NRSV 30:15-16)

The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: the grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough. (KJV 30:15-16)

Proverbs advises people to know when to quit, when to set limits to their desires. These things are metaphorical examples of desires that aren't satisfied, which have no restraint.

"Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a girl." (NRSV 30:18-19)

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. (KJV 30:18-19)

So, this is pretty cryptic—Agur seems to be expressing his wonder at sublime things that go beyond what the human mind can understand or contain. He's detailing the transcendent mystery and wonder of creation.

"Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in the summer; the badgers are a people without power, yet they make their homes in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard can be grasped in the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces." (NRSV 30:24-28)

There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; the spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces. (KJV 30:24-28)

Wisdom is something that specially aids the small and seemingly powerless in leading their lives. It creates strength that goes beyond the strength that they merely seem to have.

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