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Click here for the reading: Proverbs 9:1–10.

The preparations of Wisdom are lavish and they reflect her earnest desire to give sense to the simple and new life to the erring. It is in view of her invitation that the scoffing of the scoffer is uncovered. Who could say no to such generosity? Who could say no to such wholesome company and such an edifying feast? And yet, Proverbs 9 portrays a tragedy, for inasmuch as Wisdom would welcome any who would listen to her instruction, there are some who refuse to gain insight.

This divergence of ways among men belies the preference in our world for a broad path on which all who travel may wind up eventually at the destination. Not so in the city of Wisdom. There is a house of life and a house of death. There is Wisdom and there is Folly. There are scoffers and there are righteous men. And the two cannot understand one another. They speak different languages and they love different things. They love differently. And so the reproof directed at a fool falls on deaf ears and only produces bitterness. The warning against unrighteousness and death sounds to the scoffer like the nagging of a petulant wife.

For the wise man, however, such instruction is life and better than life. He has come to understand that there is truth against which all the comings and goings of men are measured. The faithfulness and sincerity of wisdom are to be prized above all else. The fog and haze of delusion and deceit must finally give way to despair. Thus the wise man hungers and thirsts for Wisdom. Her meal is the only one that will satisfy.

This picture holds whether we are describing worldly wisdom or divine wisdom. But the end of our lesson indicates that there is a crucial hinge on which all wisdom must swing else it become folly in the eyes of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It must be. If it is not, then the wise man who seeks wisdom offers sacrifices at the altar of a false god. Perhaps he does it with great integrity and in self-denial and zeal. But he has devoted himself to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, who own the landscape from worldly folly to worldly wisdom.


Where shall wisdom be found? Despite outward similarities, Biblical wisdom stands as its own unique genre of literature. Join us as we talk about what makes the wisdom of God distinct from the world and within the Bible, why it seems neglected, and how it might be recovered in our own day.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 19

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“Wisdom is better than jewels” (Proverbs 8:11), because wisdom endures while riches perish.  “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  This reading from the opening section of Proverbs emphasizes this truth, because all else is vanity and only with wisdom will a man truly prosper.

Wisdom speaks and describes the way of wisdom, somewhat in contrast to folly, but primarily positively.  The language of prudence, knowledge, and discretion, recalling the very beginning of the book (Proverbs 1:4), emphasizes virtue.  To be virtuous is to fear God, and to fear God is to hate what is evil.  A delight in what is corrupt shows that a man cannot be virtuous.  The godly man hates evil, just as the Lord hates evil.

Rulers govern also with wisdom (Proverbs 8:15-16).  All authority comes from God, and therefore one can say that all rulers exist because of the will of God (Romans 13:1-7).  Wicked rulers also serve as instruments in the hand of the living God, just as Nebuchadnezzar, whose name bears the name of the god Nabu, is described as God’s servant (Jeremiah 27:6).  However, as wisdom is not a vague virtue in the Scriptures, just and wise rulers are those who fear the living God (Psalm 2:10-11).

Wisdom is not elusive either, as if it hid even from those who feared the Lord.  Jesus says very clearly to His disciples:  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).  James also says:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  It must be emphasized that only those who fear the Lord will seek after wisdom, for the unbelieving fool has no such desire.

But for those who fear God and give Him glory, wisdom is a treasure far excelling all earthly things.  “More to be desired are [His commandments] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).  This promised inheritance comes for those who seek after wisdom and will “fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21).  Those who trust in the Lord have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Therefore, with such hope in the resurrection, we labor “as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23-24).

The last verse of this pericope, Proverbs 8:22, points to a couple of things.  On the one hand, it emphasizes, as in Job 28:25-28, that the Lord’s work in creation highlights the call to wisdom.  Recognizing that God has weighed out and measured the world in the act of creation is to also recognize that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

On the other hand, wisdom is clearly described in Proverbs 8:22-31 as being involved in the creation of the world.  This is not a vague reference, but rather an identification with Christ, the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3).  The Septuagint’s use of the word “created” instead of “possessed” here led some, notably Arius, to imagine that the Son was the first of God’s creations and thus different from the Father.  Passages such as John 1 clearly deny such a conclusion, since the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Here in Proverbs, therefore, we have a poetic description of an eternal reality:  the Father eternally begets the Son, so that even before the foundation of the world and the beginning of time, the Holy Trinity exists entirely self-sufficiently and unchangingly.

Therefore, in Jesus, who is Wisdom, we see the clearest picture of what it means to fear the Lord.  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

Unlike the two previous readings from Proverbs, the Old Testament reading for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity comes from the main section of the book and not from the introduction. As I have said in previous studies, Proverbs resists easy outlining. The beginning of this chapter from Proverbs 25 proves this: “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” In other words, Proverbs is a collection of sayings, and their compilers seem to have put them into one book for the sake of having them all together.

That being said, there are sometimes correlations between the smaller subsections of the chapters. Proverbs 25 is a good example of this, since it seems that Proverbs 25:1-14 can be subdivided into three smaller parts. I have included Proverbs 25:1-5 in this consideration, because verses 6 and 7 are part of the first section and form its concluding thought.

The first subsection focuses on the righteousness of kings and is further divided into four points. God conceals, but kings search out. The righteous king therefore seeks out that which God has concealed, and wisdom consists in pursuing the things of God. Even so, as the heavens above and the earth beneath are beyond our ability to know fully, so also the heart of kings. David on several occasions is compared to the “angel of God,” who is full of discernment (2 Samuel 14:17), wisdom (2 Samuel 14:20), judgment (2 Samuel 19:27), and blameless (1 Samuel 29:9). Since the king is in this way similar to God, there is a close comparison between them, which is much of the point of this section.

Moving to the next point, silver free of dross is the same as a king free of the wicked in his presence. Solomon referenced this idea earlier in Proverbs 16:12-13. Wise kings, in this way, pursue righteousness and have no part in the way of wickedness (Psalm 2:10-12). As the Lord cannot abide wickedness in His presence, so also the righteous king.

Finally, Solomon closes this subsection with the only major point of contact with the Gospel reading of Luke 14:1-11. Setting yourself forward in the presence of the king is self-exaltation. Such a man will be set lower in disgrace. It is better to be told “Come up here,” for “let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). But the key here is the close connection between the king and God. As such presumption before a king is shameful, how much more before God? The exalted will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. The righteous king, therefore, is in the place of the righteous God, not as a replacement, but as God, so the king.

The second subsection focuses on the second great Commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40). Specifically, it is an exposition of “you shall not bear false witness.” A man who seeks to rush to be vindicated in court or elsewhere may very likely be operating with partial information. Better to be fully informed before doing what is right, or even better, to rebuke in private (Matthew 18:15-20).

The third subsection—from which the name of this site comes—praises wisdom. A word fitly spoken, that is, a wise word, is like gold framed in silver. The commandments of the Lord are more valuable “than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

This fit word, however, is especially the word of a sent messenger. If the rich man in torment imagined a great comfort in even a drop of water (Luke 16:24), how much greater will an actual comfort of the Word be (Isaiah 40:1-2)! A wise and faithful messenger, however, conforms in holiness to the Lord and His Word and has “no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “The one who hears you hears me,” but this promise is for those who abide in His Word (Luke 10:16). “If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jeremiah 15:19). But the faithless messenger are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds” (Jude 12). Such will be recognized “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20), “for when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

A reading from Proverbs appears a number of times in the lectionary, though the last one was the Second Sunday after Trinity.  There the focus was the contrast between Wisdom and Folly.  Proverbs 4:10-23 occurs within the same division of the book, but focuses instead on the pursuit of Wisdom.  For the wider context of the book of Proverbs, consult the previous study.

It is important to bear in mind that, as he says elsewhere in the book, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).  Solomon’s admonition to his sons, therefore, is an admonition to those who fear the Lord.  The fool, the unbeliever, cannot pursue Wisdom.  “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil” (John 3:19).  Faith, on the other hand, pursues Wisdom, because it fears God.

“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live” (Proverbs 4:4).  Because Solomon speaks to those who fear the Lord, they indeed delight in the Law in their inward being.  “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psalm 119:35)!  Faith delights in the Law, because it is the will of God.  This ties this reading from Proverbs very closely with the appointed reading from Galatians 5:16-24.  The fool delights in the works of the flesh, because they are contrary to the Law of God, which he hates.  God must therefore give him the Law in order to show him the folly of his ways.  The Law reveals that he is headed down the path of destruction, and his life confirms that verdict.  But for those who have the Spirit of God, the Law shows what is good and right in the sight of God.  “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).

The pericope has three primary divisions:  the admonition to avoid evil and seek wisdom (Proverbs 4:10-15); the way of evil (Proverbs 4:16-19); and the pursuit of wisdom (Proverbs 4:20-23).  While the exact division is debatable, this emphasizes Solomon’s three main points.

The first part flows out of the earlier part of the chapter.  Those who seek wisdom will see many years, just like the commandment to honor father and mother “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).  Seek life, because the Lord “is your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20).  The wise will not stumble and fall, because that is what will happen to evildoers (Psalm 27:2).  But one cannot go on limping between two different opinions (1 Kings 18:21).  One cannot serve two masters.  “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).  Therefore, those who are of the light must avoid the works of darkness and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:14).

The second part speaks of the way of evil.  Those who seek after the way of death and destruction do so with their whole being.  They “cannot sleep unless they have done wrong” and “eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence” (Proverbs 4:16-17).  Nor is it a matter of being only partly wicked.  Those who are opposed to God cannot submit to Him at all.  “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)?  As Jesus says:  “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

The last part of this pericope calls to the wise to pursue Wisdom and to listen to his words.  “Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart” (Proverbs 4:21).  In the last part of the chapter, which is oddly not included in the reading, this admonition is much clearer.  Put away crooked speech, but “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4).  Ponder the path of your feet, and “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Do not turn to the right or to the left, but pursue the Lord diligently and without wavering.  These are commands directed to the believer and not to the unbeliever, which is to say that they do not save.  But the believer is commanded to run and to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10), because faith is a living and active thing.  Let us, therefore, wage a holy violence against all that would hinder us and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

The book of Proverbs can be rather difficult to outline.  Most of the book is composed of fairly unrelated or loosely related proverbs.  Solomon is the author of most of these proverbs (Proverbs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1), though not all of his sayings were recorded (Compare 1 Kings 4:32).  However, there are other authors noted in the book, such as “the wise” (Proverbs 24:23), Agur, son of Jakeh (Proverbs 30:1), and King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1).  The heading in Proverbs 25:1 notes that the “men of Hezekiah, king of Judah” compiled the book.  Therefore, Solomon is the primary author, to be sure, but the book itself appeared in the form we have it near the time of the exile.

However, the book does fall into a larger pattern.  Proverbs 1:1-9:18 is essentially a lengthy discourse on the value of Wisdom, especially in contrast to Folly, both of which are personified in several places as women.  Proverbs 10-29 contain the content of wisdom, and almost all of these sayings (with the exception of Proverbs 24:23-34) belong to Solomon.  Proverbs 30-31 are two additional groups of sayings attached to the end.

The reading for the Second Sunday after Trinity, which is Proverbs 9:1-10, therefore falls within this initial discourse of the value of Wisdom.  The contrast with the woman Folly is important here.  Wisdom builds her house and is diligent in her work.  Folly relies on her seductive powers while knowing nothing (Proverbs 9:13).  Wisdom sends her handmaidens to call from the highest places and bids the simple to leave his foolishness behind, going on the difficult but rewarding way of insight.  Folly herself either seduces a passerby or goes to the high places, but she bids the simple to go the easy path of stealing her so-called “wisdom,” the path of idleness, sin, and finally death (Proverbs 9:14-18).

Note also the comparison between the wise and the foolish in the middle of this chapter.  The fool, here called a scoffer, resists instruction and hates those who attempt to teach him (Proverbs 9:7-9).  The wise man, however, gladly receives instruction so that he may be wiser still (Proverbs 9:8-9).

But this is not a generic call to wisdom, as if it were enough to be “wise” in some vague sense.  Rather, the key verse of this passage, and arguably of all of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes for that matter) is:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:1).  The one who fears the Lord is wise, and the one who does not fear God is a fool.  This has nothing to do with education or book-learning, as one might say.  It is not even so much to do with practical wisdom, street-smarts.  Rather, everything on earth which is undertaken or attempted apart from the Lord is folly and will ultimately come to nothing.  Build a name for yourself:  the grave will take it away.  Build a house with your own hands:  time or disaster will turn it to dust.  Seek pleasure or work hard:  all will finally come to an end.  But the fear of the Lord is wisdom, because the things of the Lord will never pass away.  Though heaven and earth will pass away, the Word of the Lord will never pass away (Matthew 24:35; Revelation 14:7; Isaiah 40:6-8; Luke 10:41-42).

It should also be noted here that the fear of the Lord is not a term of intense respect, but a genuine fear.  God is almighty and all-holy.  He is our Creator, and we are His creatures and will always remain so.  That sort of power should cause us to tremble.  There is a difference from this fear which gives God glory and the fear which only cowers.  This is why passages like Exodus 20:18-21 are so instructive in this regard.  The people cower, which is why Moses instructs them to “not fear,” but he also notes that God has come down on Sinai to teach them so that “the fear of Him may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  Cowering before God only seeks to avoid the blow, but fearing the living God is turning away from that which He hates.  Fear God, then, and give Him glory, because to turn away from evil is to walk the path of life (see also passage likes Matthew 10:28; Revelation 19:5; Genesis 22:12; Exodus 1:17-21; Ecclesiastes 12:13).