Proverbs 3 & 9 | The Wisdom of God
Let’s open the Bible to Proverbs, chapter 3. We will read verses 13-18 in a minute, but first, let me remind you where we are. We’re spending some weeks looking at the mega-themes of the book of Proverbs.
Last week, we considered the first part of Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We saw that the fear of the Lord is a humble, reverent awe that helps us escape evil and find refuge in Christ. Today, we’re looking at what the fear of the Lord leads to: wisdom.
We need wisdom to navigate this complicated world. Alexa and Siri don’t have all the answers. There are just so many things you can’t Google. We run into so many difficulties in life. We need more than a rule book. We need something for all the gray areas, to help us choose between two good options, two bad options, and everything in between. There are so many things we could do, and we need wisdom to know what we should do, moment by moment. So, in the face of our great need, God offers his wisdom in the book of Proverbs.
So, today, through chapters 3 and 9, we’ll consider wisdom in three parts:
1. Wisdom is a gift from God that anyone can receive.
2. Wisdom creates a culture of life for the whole community.
3. Wisdom calls us to forsake folly and follow Jesus.
Wisdom is a gift from God that anyone can receive.
We saw last week in Proverbs 2:5 that if we fear the Lord, we will find the knowledge of God. One verse later, verse 6 tells us what we find is what God gives. “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” In other words, the wisdom we need does not rise up from within us; it comes down from the wise God above as we seek him out. God offers his wisdom from his book for his people.
Look at Proverbs 3:13-18.
13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
Verse 13 says the one who finds wisdom is blessed. Well, if we want that blessing, we need to understand what wisdom is.
We saw a few weeks ago from chapter 1 that the book of Proverbs uses some synonyms for wisdom.
· Wisdom is related to instruction. That is, training, a hard-won aspect of our character, as endurance to an athlete.
· Wisdom is related to understanding, insight, and wise dealing: practical knowledge of what to do in the hard-to-understand aspects of life.
· Wisdom is learning or knowledge, which Proverbs 2:5 and 3:6 tell us isn’t merely about facts but about a Person, about God himself, from whom wisdom originates.
So Proverbs shows that wisdom is more than a single thing—it’s a multitude of things that, together, define wisdom. We see this in the wise characters of our popular stories: Yoda, Dumbledore and Gandalf and so on. Why are they wise? Because they have a combination of all the necessary things: experience, knowledge, prudence, instruction, learning.
Everyone else in the story seeks their wisdom. But as wise as they are, Jesus is clearly the wisest man the world has ever seen. Up until his coming, Solomon, the author of many of these Proverbs, was. But when Jesus came, he said, “One greater than Solomon is here.” And unlike finding Yoda, you don’t have to travel to a different planet to access his wisdom. He’s promised to be with us by his Spirit. So the wisdom we need is not something unobtainable. It’s part of the deal God made in Christ. When we know Christ, we get wisdom—and anyone willing to repent of their sin and trust Christ can get in on this.
Look again at chapter 3, verse 13: blessed is the one who finds wisdom. The Hebrew word for one is the generic word for man or human being. God’s wisdom is available to anyone willing to come to God. The New Testament author James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all.” There is no caveat in that: if any of you. Not if any of you super-smart people, any of you Ph.D.s. You—whoever you are, if you lack wisdom, ask God and he’ll give it. God does not make this too hard for us! You just have to be alive and open to God. You just have to pay attention to his teaching, to his gospel message, and wisdom flows down from heaven. And when it flows down, we realize that what we search for in so many other things is found in getting wisdom.
Look at verses 14-16. “For the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.”
God says compare wisdom with anything else you can get, and wisdom is better because wisdom helps us know what to do with what we get. You might think you need more money, but maybe you just need wisdom to know what to do with the money you have. Get wisdom, and you’ll make the amount of money right for you. Get money only, and you might miss out on both wisdom and money in the end. Remember, King Solomon wrote this. He wasn’t a poor man! He was one of the wealthiest kings in Israel’s history. He spared no expense on his life, but in the end, he realized the best thing he had was the wisdom he got from God.
We live in a part of the world where there is more concentrated wealth than in just about any place in the history of the world. We have jobs that pay well. We have houses full of comfortable things. We have cars that rarely break down. We have vacation spots we visit annually. But do we have wisdom? What’s fancy food on the table without laughter to enjoy it? What’s a nice house that isn’t a home? What’s a family without unity? What’s a retirement plan without a reason to live? All the world’s goods without wisdom is like the Dragon Smaug in Tolkien's The Hobbit: a cave full of treasure but sleeping on it alone!
God offers a better way through wisdom. Look at verses 17-18. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.”
Wisdom keeps us from wasting our life on important but not ultimate things. What we need is not the weight of the world’s treasures but the lightness of God’s wisdom. We reach too low for “the good life.” God wants more for us than what this world can offer. He wants to free us from the chains of this world. That means God will ask us to give certain things up, not because he wants less for us, but because he wants far more for us. He wants pleasantness and peace of a good conscience before him, of a life well lived in his presence by his wisdom granted on terms of grace.
But gaining wisdom might not always feel like pleasantness and peace. But wisdom teaches us to look beyond our feelings. In fact, it helps to see the verses leading into this passage. Verses 11-12 show us that if we want God’s wisdom, it comes through his discipline. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
Why does he tell us not to despise the Lord’s discipline? Because he knows we’re prone to despise it! Why? Because it’s hard! Who wants discipline?
Every parent knows without discipline the child never grows up right. But with the proper discipline, the potential of the child is huge. We are to accept God’s discipline because it’s one channel through which God’s wisdom comes down to us. When he corrects us, we learn. When he reproves us, we grow. We tend to think of God’s discipline as his disappointment in us, but that’s not how the Bible presents it. The Bible says God’s discipline is his investment in us.
Wisdom teaches us that everything in our life is an investment in us from the good God above. He may take us through some really rough passages, but in every adventure, there is a bridge you don’t want to cross. And when you put your foot on the creaking board, and it sways a little more than you’d like but it holds you up, you realize the adventure God has for you is better than the one you dreamed up for yourself. It’s far more dangerous but far more exciting, and he’s leading you to something far more glorious than you ever imagined. He’s taking you from the silly life you’d live in foolishness to the full life you’ll live in wisdom.
All you have to do to go on the journey to wisdom is say yes to God. And when you do, when you say yes and follow him wherever he leads, you find that, ultimately, no matter what happens, his purposes for you are good because he’s your Father, and father’s don’t abandon their children, they invest in them. Sometimes the best gifts are ones we don’t think we need, and sometimes wisdom comes through things we’d rather not face. But he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
God’s investment is his delight in you. And when you know you’re delighted in by God, he works through you for the good of others, which is our second point.
Wisdom creates a culture of life for the whole community
Saint Augustine said, “I've read in Plato sayings that are wise, but I've never read in one of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” True wisdom is more than clever words; it’s the life-creating heart that lies behind them. When God’s wisdom comes down into a church, we get more than just right thinking; we get right thinking plus a life-giving culture. Which means life-giving culture is not an optional add-on to wisdom. A life-giving culture is the result of wisdom. It’s what God, by wisdom, created at the very beginning, and has sustained throughout time.
Look at Proverbs 3:19-20. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.”
By wisdom God founded the earth. He not only founded the earth and established the heavens, he created the method to create the rain and give the dew each night. God’s wisdom wasn’t just a good idea; it was a life-giving good idea. He created a world in which life multiplies. And in verses 22-27, he shows us how his wisdom gives life to us so that we can take his wisdom to give life to others.
It starts in verse 21. God calls us to keep wisdom: “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion,”
Now, in verses 22-26, we see how that wisdom beautifies our life.
22 and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
23 Then you will walk on your way securely,
and your foot will not stumble.
24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
26 for the LORD will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.
God’s wisdom gives life and adornment. It creates a straight path. It grants peace, removes fear, instills confidence. God’s wisdom beautifies our life, and when we receive that gift from God, God calls us to move it from an inward reality to outward action.
Look at verse 27. Here’s the gospel motivation for gaining wisdom: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” The alternative translation of that verse is “Do not withhold good from its owners.” In other words, if there is good we can do to another, they own that good, not you!
Ray Ortlund talks about this in his commentary.
“If you have good you can do for somebody, then legally you own it, but morally they own it. The state has no right to force you to be generous. And no one can walk into your house and start helping themselves to your things and say, “The Bible says I own it.” What the Bible says to them is, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). But what the Bible says to you is, “You shall not withhold.” We sin against each other not only by the bad things we do but also by the beautiful things we withhold. Withheld love is a life-depleting sin. It is a sin to tell ourselves, “I’m not doing anybody any harm.” The question is, what good are you withholding? Jesus withheld no good thing from you. Okay, now we know how to build a culture of life, by his power. A culture of life is where people love each other openly and eagerly with the love of Jesus. All around us are opportunities to breathe life into more people. We cannot do everything. But we can do something, for his sake. If we have the ability, they have the ownership. And we owe it today, not tomorrow.”
When God’s wisdom rules your heart, your desire to give life to those around you increases in urgency.
Proverbs 3:28-29 says,
28 Do not say to your neighbor, "Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it"—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.
Wisdom removes selfishness and infuses generosity. Wisdom protects from evil and creates trust. By wisdom, God gives life not only to you but to the community around you through you.
A wise community says so much about the person and work of God because a wise community shows this foolish world what shalom looks like, what true peace is. But even more than that, wisdom shows this world where true peace is—in Jesus Christ alone, which leads us to our third and final point.
Wisdom calls us to follow Jesus and forsake folly
Let’s jump ahead a few chapters. Turn with me to Proverbs 9. We see two options open before us, personified in two women in two houses. Let’s read verses 1-6, then jump down to 13-18.
Verses 1-6 show us Lady Wisdom.
1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
Now, verses 13-18 show us Lady Folly.
13 The woman Folly is loud;
she is seductive and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house;
she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by,
who are going straight on their way,
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
And to him who lacks sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet,
and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But he does not know that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
So, Wisdom stands at her door. She’s built a great house, with seven pillars—beautiful perfection. She’s made all the proper arrangements. She has meat. The wine is mixed, that doesn’t mean it’s watered down, it means t’s spiced up and therefore better. The table is set. And she goes out to the streets to call all who will come to dine at her table, with her, forever.
And Folly is at her door. She’s loud and incompetent. She’s seductive, a temptress. She doesn’t stand at the door of her house; she sits because she’s lazy. She didn’t build her house; she just occupies it. But her house does sit at the high place of town, so it looks impressive. She didn’t prepare the meal, she stole it, and it’s not meat and wine, it’s bread and water. Folly’s is the loud house party that looks fun from afar, but get close enough, and it turns your stomach.
Wisdom offers ever-increasing life. Folly tricks her guests into death.
The contrast couldn’t be more stark. But there is one commonality between the two. Look at verse 4 and verse 16. They’re the same. “’Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’” Wisdom and Folly call the same people. What does that mean? Both Wisdom and Folly are open right now to anyone who will come. These verses push us to a decision point. Which house will we choose—the house of Wisdom or the house of Folly? We can’t have both, and there is no third option.
The right answer is obvious, isn’t it? So why is it so hard to walk through Wisdom’s door? Because we’re complicated people. Sin complicates our otherwise obvious choice. Our hearts are like vinyl records. Over the years, sin creates deep grooves in our soul, and the needle of the world always finds the groove to play it’s sad, lonesome song. What we need is a new song in our heart. And that’s what God gives by his grace in Christ. God’s gospel song that he sings over you changes the song of your heart from cheap pop music to Mozart. When that happens, we see the house of Folly for the loser she is and run to the house of Wisdom as fast as we can.
And when we get there, we find not merely a virtue to take back with us into the world; we find a Person to go with us into the world. The Bible presents Wisdom as more than a Personified Lady. The Bible presents Wisdom as the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Proverbs incarnate. In the choice between Wisdom and Folly, we’re choosing between life with Jesus and life without him—it’s that simple.
Look at verse 6. Part of Wisdom’s invitation is, “Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Now look down at verse 17. What comes after Folly’s invitation? Nothing! There is no offer of life and insight because there is no life and insight with Folly. All that’s there are the dead ones, the ones wasting their life, dead even before they die.
The Bible calls Jesus the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). And Wisdom stands at the door of his house calling all who will turn in to him.
When Christ as Wisdom calls us to eat and drink, he’s calling us to more than a meal at the Sage’s house. On the night before he died, he stood before his disciples at the last supper and “took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
After that, Wisdom gave himself up to die on the cross. He was condemned unjustly to execution, beaten senselessly to exhaustion, nailed ruthlessly to a cross, crucified mercilessly to death. And it was no accident! It was the plan of God!
That looked like a foolish plan to the world. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men! The Bible says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Why is it the power of God? Because by the cross Jesus won our heart. He purchased our salvation. He paid for our sins. He gave us his righteousness. He saved our soul! As the old hymn says,
“No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found!”
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! It’s ain’t Christmas yet, but we’re close enough now to start singing!
Let’s close with this.
Jesus is not only the Sage we need; he’s the Savior we need. The wisdom of God is more than just right thinking; it’s the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love.
Here’s the point: the wisdom of God is not the obvious choice to fools like us. But the Wisdom of God is not an unreachable thing for fools like us! Why? Because Christ came to take upon himself our foolishness at the cross. And when he died, what looked like folly to the world was the wisdom of God three days away from bursting forth in new life for all of God’s people for all time.
Wisdom calls us to forsake folly and follow Jesus. And we find the power to do that by beholding the wisdom of the cross where the Prince of glory died. The risen Christ is calling us to more than a meal at his house. He’s calling us to salvation in his kingdom. The only question remaining is: will we go?