On this tape and the first side of Tape 5 we are going to be doing a topical study of the Book of Proverbs. There are many ways of approaching a book of the Bible. The usual method is to outline it and exegete it: so many chapters for this and so many chapters for that. In that way we follow the flow of the book as it goes along. The Book of Proverbs is not easy to study in that way. We could do it that way, because Solomon did not write all of the proverbs, and the book can be divided up between the various writers. But studying it that way does not give an easy flow. The meaning of the word ‘proverb’ is ‘a sentence saying’ that puts forward some strong message. It can be a parable or it can be a poem, and those little sayings – a parable here, a little verse there – can be found throughout the book. Because of that we cannot easily divide up the book so that it flows. And so the way we are going to study it on these tapes is to do it topically. That is, we shall look at the main topics of the book. These three sessions will not be exhaustive, and I hope that I shall be just dropping seeds so that you can read Proverbs as you have never read the book before.
The main topic that runs from beginning to end of the book is the comparison of the wise man and the foolish man. The second theme is part of that, and says in effect that the wise man knows when to keep quiet, and that the foolish man has a big mouth. The third great theme of the book is that the wise man enjoys life and leaps to embrace it, while the foolish man, the lazy man, yawns his way through the day. Those three main topics are the key that unlocks the whole book. In our study of these three main topics we shall jump from end to end of the book.
So, the wise man and the foolish man. When you read through this Book of Proverbs, you have the distinct feeling that you are learning about a community of people who are called wise. And those wise people live in a society of fools. This Book of Proverbs is written to the wise, instructing them in wisdom. It also hopes that the fools are listening and will also learn to walk in wisdom. But what is this wisdom that occurs from one end of this book to the other? Well, wisdom is the selection, out of all that a person knows, of proper and right goals. There may be many, many things that you could do; you may know many, many things. But you select that which is right – the proper goal – and then you set out to achieve that end in the proper and the right way. So wisdom is the achieving of right goals in the right way. It is possible to know very much and still not know where you are going. It is possible to have knowledge but no wisdom
In the Book of Proverbs there are three distinct kinds of wisdom. First, there is the plain wisdom of God. The book speaks of God as the wise God. That is the ultimate wisdom: the God who knows all things that are. We call it God’s omniscience. God knows everything. Before there was a world He knew all things that would ever happen in the world. And out of all that God knew – all that might be and will not be, all that could have been and has not been – He selected the right and proper goal. We call it God’s eternal purpose: that which God eternally willed. That is His wisdom, and it is innovative. He created. With our wisdom we look at what is. God started with nothing, and out of His knowledge of all that could be, might be, He selected that which shall be. That was the right end, the proper end, the beautiful end of His purpose.
When we speak of wisdom among men – the second kind of wisdom in the Book of Proverbs – we are talking of revelations. Our eyes are opened to see the wisdom of God. We see what He has planned, we see His purpose, we see what He is going to do and what He is doing. We receive that into our minds and we submit to it. We submit to what God says is right and proper. And we set out in the strength of God to achieve that right and proper end. In submitting to God’s wisdom we ourselves become wise.
That explains to me the Biblical meaning of wise and foolish. When I think about the word ‘fool’ I think of someone who has an empty head, who is mentally foolish. But always in the Bible the word ‘fool’ has to do with people’s morals and not with their heads. So the Bible will go to a very educated man who knows a lot and is a genius, and will say to him ‘you’re a fool’. That does not mean that he is an empty headed fool; it means that he has rebelled against God’s purpose, against God’s revealed wisdom. Anyone who rebels against God’s wisdom in the Scriptures is called a fool. So the Bible is not speaking about a man’s mentality but about his heart. In his heart he has rebelled against the only sense in the universe, and he has gone his own way.
The wise man, on the other hand, may not know very much. You can go to a very simple peasant who knows no more than to plough his ground, and tell him that he is a wise man because he has seen the revelation of God and has submitted to it. You can go to a university professor and tell him that he is a fool, because he has seen the revelation of God and has rejected it and has rebelled against it. That is why Psalm 14 Verse 1 says, ‘The fool has said in his heart “there is no God.” ’ Actually, a better translation of that would be ‘the fool has said in his heart “no” to God’.
So there are these two kinds of wisdom in Proverbs: the wisdom of God and the wisdom of men. But there is also another wisdom. Proverbs Chapter 1 Verses 20 to 23a says,
- Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts up her voice in the square. At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: “How long, O naïve ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing? And fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof.
Do you notice something there? Wisdom is talking. Wisdom has become personified. Wisdom is not seen as just an abstract. She is talking, calling, speaking to us. The whole of Chapter 8 of Proverbs is speaking about wisdom as a person. In Verse 12 wisdom speaks to us: ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.’ Verses 15 and 16: ‘By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.’ Verse 22 to27a:-
- The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there.
Here is wisdom apparently speaking as a person distinct from God. And yet we have already established that wisdom is God. So here is God sharing with God. Maybe we shall understand this better when we read in First Corinthians Chapter 1 that Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. Or when we read in Colossians Chapter 2 Verse 3 that ‘in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were dwelling’. The same idea is in John’s Gospel Chapter 1 Verse 1: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ God has fellowship with God. God delights in God. And so wisdom is Jesus Christ.
Do you understand what I am saying there? In the Book of Proverbs we find Jesus on almost every page. What Proverbs understood as wisdom speaking to us, and wisdom enjoying fellowship with God; that wisdom became flesh in Jesus Christ. And we have come to see the ultimate divine wisdom in Jesus. And so in that sense we have an even better revelation of the Book of Proverbs than Solomon did when he wrote it. For what to him was wisdom personified, to us became flesh and dwelt among us and rose from the dead and lives in us by the Holy Spirit.
Now, how can a man be wise? Well, he can never be wise by himself. As you read through the Book of Proverbs you may well throw up your hands in horror. Look at Chapter 27 Verse 22: ‘Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him.’ That puts it rather succinctly. It says that you can put a fool in a bowl and bang him and crush him, but when he is put back together again he is likely to be a bigger fool than he was before. This proverb is saying that foolishness is bound up in the heart of man. It says that man has looked at God, and his heart has said ‘no’ to God. He will have none of it. That is the heart of sin, and when we are talking about sin we are talking about the heart of foolishness.
Go back to the Garden of Eden. The whole issue there was whose wisdom to follow: God’s or man’s. God’s wisdom had said ‘do not eat of that tree; obey me’. Therein is the essence of wisdom. The first chapter of Proverbs tells us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. And the wisdom that God taught Adam and Eve was to fear Him. As man learned to fear God, everything else would find its place. But as Eve stood in front of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she saw that it was a tree that would make people wise. She saw another wisdom. She rejected the wisdom of God, which was simply fearing Him and depending upon Him. She took of another wisdom that said ‘you can be wise with an alternative’. This other wisdom declares that we do not need God as the originator of wisdom. We do not need to follow God’s purposes. We can originate our own wisdom and can be the end to which we work. We become the object, we become the goal, we fill the horizon. That is being a fool.
Romans Chapter 1 Verse 22 refers to that event in Eden when it says that ‘professing themselves to be wise they became fools’. Man out of step with divine wisdom is a fool. In his heart is the heart of sin. Proverbs Chapter 27 Verse 22 says that you can pound a fool, beat him, do what you will to him, but in his heart he remains a fool. ‘Fool’ is a strong word. Even when you understand that the Bible is not speaking about your head, it is still a strong word. If only it would be a little more gentle! But when you think about it, every appetite of yours, whether physical or spiritual, without the control of God is marked ‘self-destruct’. Man independent of God is a fool. He can fill his head with knowledge, but he is a fool at heart because he is independent of God. He will destroy himself. As we saw in Proverbs Chapter 1 Verse 20, wisdom personified, the One that we know as Jesus, stands on the streets and on the corners. He enters right into our whirl of life and asks, ‘How long you naïve ones, how long you poor simple fools, will you go on your way?’
Wisdom calls to us because we cannot change ourselves. And if we will give ourselves to wisdom – that is, give ourselves to Christ – then wisdom turns the foolish heart into a wise heart. It needs to be a heart change. Proverbs Chapter 14 Verse 6a says, ‘A scoffer seeks wisdom, and finds none.’ It is as though the scoffer is saying, ‘I don’t want God, I don’t want any control over my life, but I like the habits you have and I’d like to live like that.’ Proverbs says that the scoffer wants wisdom but he does not want to stop scoffing. He does not want to change his heart. And because he will not change his heart he cannot find wisdom. There are thousands of people packing into Christian meetings, and they all want whatever is on offer. They are aware of a great move of something. They will be prayed for, knocked over, picked up, prayed for again. But they will not receive until their hearts change. The scoffer looks for wisdom and finds none because he will not change his heart. It is a heart change and not a head change that is needed. But let him come to wisdom, acknowledge his foolishness, and ask to be changed into a wise man; and immediately he will be changed.
Proverbs Chapter 17 Verse 16 says, ‘Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, when he has no sense?’ It pictures the fool coming with a bag of money and asking to buy wisdom. And the writer of the proverb shrugs and says, ‘Why are you coming with a bag of money? It is your heart that is wrong. Wisdom is without price, wisdom is free.’ Or to put it another way, salvation, which of course is what we are speaking of at this moment, is not just forgiveness. Every fool would like to be forgiven. That gives him a clean slate to go and be foolish again. When is a man not a fool? When he is a wise man and has been changed in his heart, not when he’s a forgiven fool. Scripture says that we come to wisdom not to be forgiven only, but to be turned into wise people. God is changing us to be wise people.
The essence of wisdom, says this book, is the fear of the Lord. You can study it in detail later. Chapter 1 Verse 7a says ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’; and Chapter 9 Verse 10a says ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. This is inviting us to acknowledge God to be who He is, to acknowledge the Godhead of God. We come in humility to God in Jesus Christ’s divine wisdom, and we admit that we are fools desiring to be turned into wise people. That may sound easy, but when we really get down to it we see what this book is talking about. We need to turn around against all the currents of the world, against everything that we have ever been taught. The whole society of fools is saying one thing, and we need to turn around and go right against the stream. We even need to go against our own emotions and our own reason.
Proverbs Chapter 2 Verses 1 to 7a say this:-
- My son, if you [wish to] receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom [and] incline your heart to understanding. For if you cry for discernment, [and] lift your voice for understanding; if you seek [wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright.
Wisdom, says this passage, does not just wash over us like a warm fountain. We need to turn around in the face of the world, cry for wisdom, desire it with all our heart, search for it as for hidden treasure, and desire it like silver. Do we really want wisdom, or was our wish a passing emotion?
Jesus was speaking from this part of the Bible in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said that the foolish man built his house upon the sand and the wise man built his upon the rock. I think that there is the idea here that the foolish man built a house on dust. ‘Dust’ or ‘earth’ is the meaning of the name Adam. So the foolish man builds his house, lays the foundations of his life, on the wisdom that came out of Adam. And the wisdom that came out of Adam is sheer stupidity. Jesus said that that house will collapse undoubtedly. The only way forward is to leave that house, even though it may be the masterpiece of your life. Leave your beautiful lifestyle, your philosophy, your magnificence. What is needed is a total change and a new foundation to life. Now you come and build your house upon the rock, which is God’s wisdom.
The very first thing that appears in this book concerning the wise man as he pursues wisdom, is that he knows one thing very well. He knows that he knows nothing. That is the key to this man in the Book of Proverbs. He has discovered that all true wisdom is vested in the revelation of God that is in Jesus Christ, and that he himself knows absolutely nothing. And he begins to seek after the knowledge of that wisdom with his whole being, with his whole heart. Craving and searching for wisdom is a life passion.
Look at Chapter 7 Verses 1 to 4:-
- My son, keep my words, and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live. [Keep] my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister”, and call understanding your intimate friend.
It is the same message all the time. Remember what we have said wisdom is. Wisdom is that purpose of God that focuses upon Jesus Christ. If we have opened our hearts as fools and have declared that wisdom is what we want, then God has united us to Himself. He turns to us and says, ‘Pursue it with all your might.’
Chapter 17 Verse 24 says, ‘Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding; but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.’ I like that Scripture because it puts a lot together. It says of a wise man that wisdom is always in his presence. He has passion, he has purpose, he knows where he is going. He has come to know wisdom. He knows that he is a helpless man, and if God does not teach him how to live he is finished. If God does not order his life he will self-destruct. Although he is a fool, he comes looking for wisdom. That, says the proverb, is a wise man. He has his eyes on one thing: wisdom. But it tells us that a fool has his eyes ‘on the ends of the earth’. The fool is always flitting like a little bird from one thing to another. He says, ‘I’ll think about that today and that tomorrow. I wonder what will happen next year. I wonder if God has something for me and will bless me in that meeting.’ The fool has ‘soul telescope’, binoculars that are always looking for whatever will happen next. He never really gets his teeth into wisdom, because his passion is different from that of the wise man.
I think that Jesus was referring to this when He told the story in Luke Chapter 12 of the rich man who spent his whole life gathering goods until he was a young millionaire. In Verse 20 God says, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you’. There, a man who gave his life with a passion to the acquiring of riches and possessions at the expense of his inner life is called a fool. If we turn that around we see that a wise man is one who gives his life, with like passion, to the gathering of wisdom and the knowledge of God. If you would be wise, or to use New Testament language, if would be spiritual; if you would walk with God and walk with wisdom; then I tell you to seek Him as a man seeks riches. Seek wisdom as a man will acquire possessions. Dig for God. Let your heart reach for Him as if you have been promised that you will be a millionaire. And then when your night comes, God will say to you, ‘You wise man, this night your soul is required of you.’
That is the message of Proverbs. I want you to notice that in none of this does the book say that God will just do it for you. In Proverbs you have this tremendous underlining of your choices: you acquire wisdom, you search for it, you go for it. Yet the underlying and hardly discernible message is that only God can give wisdom. And so on the one hand only God can give, but on the other hand it is for you to want what God gives more than anything else in life. That is not a message that is heard very much these days. We hear a lot about what God does for us. But the Bible gives us the choice: do we want what God is giving? All you need is a heart that wants. And as you choose to seek Him out, to search for Him, to open you heart up to Him, so you shall find Him.
Now if I know that apart from God I am a fool; if I know that left to myself I shall self-destruct; then I shall never trust myself. Chapter 3 Verses 5 to 7a say,
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes.
I think it speaks for itself. Inside us there are the cries and the shouts of our reason. As far as we can see, our reason says that such and such is right. Then there is all the wisdom that we have learned in the world. Everything that the world teaches us is wise and right. And mixed in with that are the voices of our emotions, our feelings, our passions. We milk this bedlam that is within us, and we decide what is the right thing to do. Now that is called our own understanding. The Scripture says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.’
Do you remember what I said? The fool has his eyes ‘on the ends of the earth’. He is a little butterfly. He must visit every flower: a prayer meeting here, a prayer meeting there, a dinner, a breakfast, a luncheon. The wise man, on the other hand, centres in on life. In wisdom you know what you are supposed to do, and you know what you are not supposed to do. And you do not care what anybody else thinks, because you know what wisdom is saying to you. The wise man is the person with one eye, one passion, and he gets that from within where he walks in the Light.
This ‘God-ward’ attitude becomes ‘man-ward’. It is an attitude of life. You will find that the wiser you get, the less you will talk. (We shall see that on the other side of this tape.) The wise man in Proverbs is one who listens a lot more than he talks. God gave you one mouth but two ears. I think that you should use them proportionately. Chapter 12 Verse 1 says, ‘Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.’ And Verse 15 says ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.’ So this wise man does not lean on his own understanding, but waits on God and also on other wise men. He knows that he himself does not know wisdom, so he is always listening to God and weighing the advice of wise men who are around him. He chooses his companions accordingly. Chapter 13 Verse 20 says, ‘He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.’
You know a person by the company they keep. You begin to walk with spiritual people because something inside you wants that. If, on the other hand, you walk with fools it is only because you are a fool. Sometimes mothers come to me and complain that their children ‘get in with the wrong crowd’. But I know those kinds of children. I have observed them at prayer meetings. I just have to say ‘let’s bow our heads’, and they refuse to do so. They are looking around to see who else is not bowing their heads. I guarantee that before long they have found every other non head-bower. Your heart reaches out for your kind. If you would be a wise person; if you would walk with God in His Light; find others who also walk with God in His Light. Gravitate to people who want God more than anything. Gravitate to people who are not bound up by denomination and tradition. Gravitate to wise people. But if you want to be a fool, find some fools to play with. It will encourage your heart to be foolish.
Chapter 17 Verse 10 says, ‘A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool’. This is saying that you can take a whip to a fool and bite deeply into his skin, but he will still be a fool. But reprove a wise man and he will immediately accept your counsel. How many times have you said to your children, ‘Haven’t you heard it yet?’ How many times have I counselled people, and they still do not hear! The Bible says that if you wish to be wise you need to keep your ears open. Speak one word to a wise man, and he has understood. But you can drum the message into a fool repeatedly, and he still does not hear. Chapter 18 Verse 2 says, ‘A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.’ A fool does not wish to hear. He wants to tell you his opinion. It is impossible to teach that person. Sometimes I have such people in my meetings. They do not want to be taught. They only come to set me straight. In our correspondence course I have one student who gives me more instruction than answers. This kind of person has a mission in life to try and teach their teacher, to reveal their own mind. On the other hand, as we have said, the wise man knows himself to be a fool apart from God, and becomes very teachable by wisdom. He walks with wise men and walks in the truth.
So the wise man has a new heart and is a brand new person. You could say that he is characterised by one word, ‘teachableness’. When you begin to walk in wisdom, your life will reflect it. You will have a new kind of affluence: the affluence of the Spirit. All through the Book of Proverbs you will find that the fool is called a ‘poor man’. He might be very rich in money but he is called a very poor man. Whereas the wise man is always regarded as being rich. He walks through life with true riches. This man is also very powerful. Chapter 21 Verse 22 says, ‘A wise man scales the city of the mighty, and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.’ You do not need to be strong or rich in money to conquer the city. If you walk in wisdom you are the most powerful person. That is why Jesus spoke to His disciples as being the most powerful people when He gave them all authority over all the power of the enemy. The wise always overcome the mighty. The little community of the wise in the middle of the society of fools is the powerful one. A wise man is aligned to truths. A wise man is hooked up to the very laws that run the universe. And that man is walking in a harmony with that truth, and in the end he will overcome.
The blessedness of the wise man is seen in Chapter 3 Verses 13 to 18:-
- How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding! For its profit is better than the profit of silver, and its gain than fine gold. [Wisdom] is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares 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; and happy are all who hold her fast.
That is the reward of wisdom. When you have found wisdom you will have found the meaning of life. I suppose in one sense that what I have said is the most important thing I will say. If I could send you away from here craving to know God, craving to walk in His wisdom, and craving that more than anything else in the world, then I shall have achieved my whole purpose. Imagine if I could put your head into a bucket of water and hold it there until you are struggling with all your might to get out. When you want God as much as you want to be out of that water, you will find Him, you will know Him. That is just what Proverbs is saying. The way to acquire wisdom is to want it with all your heart; want it by looking to God in every situation; want it by associating with wise men; want it by listening and being teachable. And as you thus want it you will find it.