Quest for wisdom

Of all the pursuits open to men, the search for wisdom is most perfect, more sublime, more profitable, and more full of joy. Thomas Aquinas

 Among mankind one finds a quest to understand the meaning and purpose of life, a quest for the ultimate nature of reality and man’s relationship to this reality, a quest for  wisdom, an intellectual thirst to understand: to understand oneself, one’s environment, the reason for existence, the problem of pain. This quest is a desire to grasp reality. The quest for wisdom begins with a desire to pursue it, to consider its worth, to see the benefit of it, to realize our need for it, to awaken our desire for it. This quest for wisdom has been part of mankind from the beginning.  We might even consider it man’s most basic drive.

When Satan tempted Eve in the Garden, he appealed to her quest for wisdom. He tempted her to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying: “God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” As a result Eve had another look at the tree and she saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” (Gen. 3: 5,6)

There is nothing wrong with this quest for wisdom, provided  it is done within the parameters set by the Sovereign Creator of the universe; under the authority of the Creator. But whenever this quest is undertaken in a way that ignores and bypasses God,  we run into trouble.  When our quest for wisdom comes forth from a desire to be like God and to live life independently from God, we will end up being called ‘fools’. Eve’s quest for wisdom let to her and consequently mankind’s downfall: the relationship between man and God, between man and man and between man and the rest of creation was broken and paradise was lost.

Our quest for wisdom, our desire to understand reality needs to begin with the acknowledgment of the absolute sovereignty of the Creator. Within these parameters we are free to explore, to pursue wisdom, to look for it, to look out for it.

The book of Proverbs encourages us to embark on this quest for wisdom in the following ways:

a. Wisdom is commended as something of the utmost value;

b. Those that have experienced this value of wisdom encourage us to acquire wisdom;

c. Wisdom herself invites us to come to her.

 A. Wisdom is commended as something of the utmost value

Blessed are those who find wisdom,  those who gain understanding,  for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.  She is more precious than rubies;   nothing you desire can compare with her.  Long life is in her right hand;  in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways,  and all her paths are peace.
 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;  by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.  My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion;  they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid;  when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.  Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have  it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse anyone for no reason—  when they have done you no harm. Do not envy the violent  or choose any of their ways. For the Lord detests the perverse  but takes the upright into his confidence.  The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.35 The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame.
(Proverbs 3: 13-35)

 Those who find wisdom are considered models to be envied and imitated, they are commended and are considered happy people, because wisdom provides all that money and wealth cannot buy:  real and everlasting life. Life as the Creator has intended it: peaceful, pleasant,  productive and secure in close fellowship with Him.  This is what mankind lost in Paradise, when because of sin the Lord closed their access to the Tree of Life.

Proverbs functions symbolically (and provisionally) as the “tree of life  that was lost in Genesis 2: 22-24. By  including this metaphor with  some prominence, the author  makes clear that until we reach ‘the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God'(Rev. 2:7), we hold fast to the life giving wisdom of the book of Proverbs and, more   importantly, to Jesus Christ, who supersedes Solomon’s wisdom.” (Waltke Bruce K, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, page, 260)

Mankind has tried to build a road back to this Tree of Life ever since, through religion, sacrifices, good works, self-flaggelation. But it can only be found back through wisdom, because, as the book of Proverbs makes clear wisdom is the fruit that grows from the attitude of the fear of the Lord.  Such fear encompasses both awesomeness and intimacy with the One who created the universe and all that is in it. He created and sustains the world through wisdom and when we submit our life to His authority will we begin to live in harmony with Him and with the created order and begin to develop that same wisdom in our own lives.

 If the Lord with wisdom as his tool accomplished the wonders of the various phases      of creation -setting the earth on its foundations by splitting the primeval waters and setting the heavens in their appointed place and watering the earth with dew from its  clouds -think what his revealed wisdom will do in the lives of those who find it.”   (Waltke, 261)

Wisdom brings us in harmony with our Creator and because we are reconnected with Him, we can learn to live in harmony with our fellow human beings, by avoiding to take advantage of them and refraining from abusing, harming or falsely accusing them.

Who doesn’t want to pursue this kind of wisdom that brings you in harmony with our Creator and the blessings that result from that and that enables us to live in harmony with our fellow human beings, knowing that they cannot harm us beyond the arms of the All-Powerful and All-Wise God?

Other verses in Proverbs that confirms the immeasurable wealth of wisdom:

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver.  (16:16)

Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge  (wisdom) are a rare jewel. (20:15)

If I had a choice between 1 million euro and wisdom, what would I choose?

 B. Encouragement to pursue the acquisition of wisdom

 Secondly, those who have experienced the value of wisdom, for example parents and teachers, encourage their children or pupils to make the pursuit of wisdom one of their main goals. They point out that nothing is more important to acquire in life than wisdom. The price for wisdom is: all that you have. But it’s worth it.

 Eat honey, my son, for it is good, honey from the comb is sweat to your taste. Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (24: 13, 14)

 The father/teacher encourages his children/pupils to pursue wisdom because it provides present health and vitality to our soul and life eternal. In 23:18 the same blessings are mentioned in connection to fear of the Lord, linking wisdom (again) with fear of the Lord. Wisdom is compared with honey, it has medicinal value with a sweet taste; invigorating while giving pleasure.

Wisdom has all the immediate sweetness of honey, but also the additional  characteristic of a pleasure that lasts for eternity. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, page, 280)

Listen, my sons…..Get wisdom, get understanding, do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” (4: 1, 5-9)

This is a very strong encouragement from the father or teacher to his children and pupils: Wisdom is supreme, therefore get it. “What it takes is not brains, or opportunity, but decision. Do you want it? Come and get it.”  (Kidner Derek, Proverbs, 64) No price can be too high to get wisdom. Wisdom is worth all their time, energy and resources. “The dowry this type of Christ demands is nothing less than his heart.”(Waltke, 281)

The father/teacher motivates his encouragement by pointing out the benefits of such a pursuit, what wisdom will give:

  • protection (from our own stupid decisions that cause us harm or from others because we sense the harm they might bring to us and therefore we keep away from them, do not associate with them nor seek their company). Elsewhere in Proverbs we read that wisdom protects from the evil man (2:12-15); evil woman (2:16-19; 5:1-20; 7) and catastrophe (5: 22-23).
  • honor.  Also wisdom provides us with honor, respect and reputation in the community because wisdom shapes our character.

My son….Say to wisdom, “You are my sister” and call understanding your kinsman; they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words. (7:1, 4,5)

We are encouraged to establish an intimate relationship with wisdom as with a wife. It is like making a marriage commitment to wisdom. This will protect us from the temptations (both sexual and otherwise).

Be wise, my son and bring joy to my heart, than I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt. (27:11)

Buy the truth and do not sell it, get wisdom, discipline and understanding (23:23)

Wisdom is here associated with truth, discipline and understanding.

 C. Invitation from Wisdom

 In the book of Proverbs wisdom is not only advertised as the most valuable item to  search for. Not only are we encouraged on our pursuit  for wisdom by those who have experienced their richness and benefits (such as parents, teachers and friends). In this book, wisdom is not just an abstract value, a thing, but it comes alive.  It is presented to us as a person, a woman, who speaks, who invites, who challenges and who warns.  This makes the pursuit of wisdom also a response to an invitation. We find that Wisdom self, here presented to us in the metaphor of a woman, is inviting us to come to her, to pay attention to what she has to say.

 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,   she raises her voice in the public square;
 on top of the wall (at noisy street corners)she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:  “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?  How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?  Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,  I will make known to you my teachings.  But since you refuse to listen when I call  and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,  since you disregard all my advice  and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— when calamity overtakes you like a storm,    when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.  “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;  they will look for me but will not find me,  since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.  Since they would not accept my advice  and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,  and the complacency of fools will destroy them;  but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:20-33)

In this passage  we learn that wisdom is available; one can meet her on the street corners, on our way  to work, to home, while shopping, doing our business or have leisure time. Wisdom is available to each and everyone who want it. Nevertheless, not everyone pays attention to her.  We have a choice. We are invited, not kidnapped. We are perfectly free to not pay any attention to wisdom and to not make the quest for wisdom our highest goal. We may prefer other priorities, other ways of living. We are free to refuse to listen to what wisdom has to say and to accept what she has to offer. But as these words make abundantly clear: there are consequences to not paying  attention and these are spelled out for us.  We will eat the fruit of our own choices. We will reap what we have sown. Therefore we are warned to choose carefully. Wisdom points out that not choosing her is a foolish decision and therefore calls everyone to repent, i.e. to change their ways in order to turn to wisdom. But again: although the appeal is strong and even emotional, everyone is free to disregard it. It is important, however, that we understand that wisdom is not available forever. Her offer of help and protection and life go on for a while (how long?….vs 22), but it is not open-ended; her outstretched arms can be ignored and refused for a long time, but there is a transpire date to her offer. There may come a time that we desperately want what she has to offer (in fact, this passage seems to imply that such a time will definitely come), but that her offer is no longer available. This gives this passage also a strong sense of urgency. We need to pay attention before it is too late. To those who do, wisdom promises true security.

Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city,     at the entrance, she cries aloud: “To you, O people, I call out;  I raise my voice to all mankind.  You who are simple, gain prudence;  you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true,  for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right;  they are upright to those who have found knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver,  knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies,  and nothing you desire can compare with her. “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.  To fear the Lord is to hate evil;  I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power.  By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern,  and nobles—all who rule on earth.I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me and making their treasuries full.

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;  I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water;  before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth.  I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,  when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.  Then I was constantlyat his side.
I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. “Now then, my children, listen to me;    blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it.  Blessed are those who listen to me,  watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord.  But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8: 1-36)

Another powerful invitation from Wisdom, who is again described as a Woman.  Again, she stands at strategic places to invite all mankind to receive what she has to offer and to choose her instead of wealth and riches. Others have recommended her to us, but now it her turn to exhibit her attractions. She points out that those that have chosen her have not regretted it because she is morally excellent and she appeals to those that are still wondering whether or not to make the quest of wisdom their main objective in life. She tells them what she has to offer: insight, power, riches, honor, insight, wealth, prosperity, even life and favor from the Lord. What more do you want?  To those who wonder whether she can deliver all the goods she offers, or whether it is just flattery talk, (despite the fact that she has already declared that she detests wickedness and that what she says is true), she lists her credentials. She provides us with part of her autobiography. She particularly zooms in on her relationship with the Creator. The Creator Himself considered wisdom of prime importance and used wisdom to create all there is. Also God used wisdom to bring order and joy into the created world. With this impressive CV she shouts again: Now then…listen to me (33, 34), because if one wants to know how the world works and how to navigate life as best as possible, then we need wisdom. To those who wonder whether their quest for wisdom will be in vain, she promises that all who seek her will find her.

Wisdom has built her house;  she has set up its seven pillars.  She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city,  “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,    “Come, eat my food  and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”  Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;  whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.  Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;  rebuke the wise and they will love you.  Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;  teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdomyour days will be many,  and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (Proverbs 9:1-12)

This is the third time we receive an invitation from wisdom itself. Now the invitation is to have a fellowship meal with her. She has prepared a lavish banquet and issues an open invitation to all. Wisdom provides abundance and enjoyment. What she has to offer is marvelous. Although the invitation is open and free, it becomes clear that we will have to change directions in order to benefit from it. There is a need for repentance in order to enjoy the richness of wisdom. Not everyone is willing to do so. There are people who hear the invitation but ignore it or want to have wisdom on their own terms (without the fear of the Lord, which brings us back to the Fall in Paradise). These men and women will suffer the consequences of their decision.

We have seen that the quest for wisdom is very much encouraged in the Bible.  Wisdom is presented to us as something of the highest value that can provide us with everything  we want. It is offered for free, but it is not cheap. In order to benefit from all its riches, we need to give up all we have. The decision is ours.

Wisdom is to be sought, but cannot be bought; it is not to be mastered, but to be served.

“Of what use is money in the hand of a fool,  since he has no desire to get wisdom?”  (Proverbs 17:16)

Why is the world is there payment in the hand of a fool, to buy wisdom when he has no capacity to learn? (Waltke, II 44)

The mocker seeks wisdom, and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning. (Proverbs 14:6)

 A fool seems to think that wisdom is something you can buy, but wisdom is not something you have, but something you are. When one considers wisdom as a commodity, he not understoood. “Wisdom is not a commodity the proud can seize; only the humble find it.”(Waltke, I 587)you have not understood. You need to create space for wisdom, not in your house, or in your barn, but in your, where it can become part of you.  It takes humility to accept that you need wisdom. Wisdom is not your servant that you can control to accomplish your plans, but it is to be your Master, your Teacher, because she represents Gods order of things and His authority.

 

 

 

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