Reading: Proverbs 1
Most people believe that if we just know enough—know the right stuff—we will attain happiness and long-life. Wisdom has been at the center of man's quest for the tree of life from the beginning (Genesis 1:6), and from the beginning there have been competing voices of wisdom (Genesis 2:17; 3:4). The book of Proverbs is also about the quest for wisdom, the pursuit of the tree-of-life (Proverbs 3:18). Proverbs begins by describing the competing voices of wisdom and telling us where to find true wisdom.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge1, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)
Folly is the belief that we can be wise apart from God's truth. The folly and sin of Adam and Eve began with a lack of the fear of the Lord and a pursuit of wisdom in the absence of God's truth. Paul Tripp writes in Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer,
Satan was not just selling Eve the best fruit in the garden, but something more fundamentally appealing. He was telling Eve that if she ate the fruit, she would be independently wise. The promise was autonomous personal wisdom, without any need for God or his revelation!... Satan was offering a different path to wisdom, holding out the promise that people can discern life on their own....The serpent is selling Eve the most attractive and cruelest of lies, the lie of autonomy and self-sufficiency. He offers her wisdom that does not need to bow the knee to God.” (emphasis mine)
Wisdom is all about which voice we listen to. Just as in the garden the serpent's voice was persuading Adam and Eve, it still attempts to persuade. Yet, just as in the garden God's voice was also speaking, so now God's voice speaks today in order to persuade us. God's voice was clear: “in the day you eat you will die.” Adam and Eve didn't have the fear of God.
The only way back to the tree of life is wisdom. The only way to wisdom is to listen to the right voice. The only way to listen to the right voice is through the fear of God. Wisdom begins with the fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 outlines the two points of the rest of the chapter which are given in two parables. Proverbs 1:8-19 describes how we find the fear of God; Proverbs 1:20-33 describes the outcome of the one who despises wisdom and discipline.
The first of these parables, describes two voices—two voices that everyone encounters in life. The father's instruction and the mother's teaching represent the first voice. Their voice holds out a promise—no flashy marketing department—a clear promise (Proverbs 1:5). The garland represents victory over enemies. The chain adorning the neck most likely represents protection and guidance. They are saying, “Listen to me and you will have victory...protection...guidance through life.” Each of these speak of a delayed reward. Victory comes at the end of the race. Protection is for a time when enemies attack.
The second voice, the gang, is a virtual marketing department. It promises vast, immediate reward (Proverbs 1:13). The father warns, “their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood.” (Proverbs 1:16). Honestly, the promise of the gang seems a lot more alluring than the father's. One is future; the other immediate. So what motivation could dad possibly have?
17How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! 18These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! 19Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it. (Proverbs 1:17-19)
Until now, the whole scene has been horizontal. Now, the father introduces a vertical dimension. The gang has been carrying out their plans down here, looking left and looking right. But they have failed to look up. Birds fly around up there... above us, in the sky, seeing everything below. They have a “bird's-eye-view” of all they are doing. It is as if the father is saying to his son, “You can make your own decision, but you need to be aware that someone above sees all that is going on. And He is tinkering with the outcomes. The traps the wicked man sets will, in the end, trap only himself.”
The father has planted a seed in the son's worldview. A seed of the fear of God. Wisdom begins when we consider God and how He will interact with our lives. Wisdom starts when we look up; when we realize there is One to whom we will give an account; that our lives are in full view! Wisdom begins when we understand the truth of Hebrews 4:13.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
The second parable of this chapter describes what life will be like if we despise wisdom and discipline. The fool will not remain a fool for lack of opportunity (Proverbs 1:20-25). Wisdom is calling out! The fool remains in his foolery because he hates and rejects wisdom. “They love their simple ways... they delight in mockery (thinking wisdom is a joke)... they hate knowledge.”
What happens to those who reject God's wisdom? There is day coming when calamity will overtake you, disaster will sweep over you like an unexpected tornado, like a rushing tsunami, and when it does you are going to remember my appeals (Proverbs 1:26-31). It will be as if you hear wisdom echoing in your head, laughing at you, mocking you. “Wisdom” here is a personification of this body of knowledge. Wisdom won't really be laughing and mocking at the disaster; this is poetic. What happens when disaster comes? We play the reel back of all the times we could have done it differently. “What if only I had... or only I hadn't...” We replay it a 1000 times. We will replay wisdom's warning forever and it will be mocking us in our heads.
What is the point of this warning? To rescue you now, before you get there! God offers discernment, the ability to see clearly the difference between good and evil, and it begins with the fear of God. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that Jesus Christ has become for us Wisdom from God. How so? When we “look up” and recognize the dilemma we are in (for we have all been fools), we must understand the whole story of God's wisdom. Instead of mocking us in our folly, God sent His Son to die for us. There is One who has made a way for fools to become wise and it begins when they come to Him in repentance for their folly, their rejection of God's truth and ways, and rejoice in the free provision of righteousness He gives. Now they gladly rejoice in His ways and follow Him. They have found the tree of life!
(For more on Proverbs 1, consider listening to the message, The Quest.)
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1 “Knowledge” is used here as a summary of all the forms of wisdom and knowledge described in Proverbs 1:1-6 – wisdom, discipline, understanding, a disciplined and prudent life, prudence, knowledge and discretion.