What Is Wisdom? Solomon: “Listening!”

From Proverbs 1, an elegant and important passage by Solomon:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof, 
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.

I’ve been reading Proverbs lately, and have had the following thought impressed upon me by the biblical text: wisdom, in a scriptural sense, seems to center around listening.

Those who are wise are those who search out truth, yes, but they are fundamentally those who listen–to God, to His Word, to God-ordained authority figures like parents, and so on.  Being wise in a biblical sense has less to do with our more modern privatized understandings of wisdom–in which we embark on a solitary and self-directed course for truth and goodness–and much more to do with submission to the one who is wisdom (God) and those who possess wisdom (godly leaders and counselors).

This has been a good reminder for me.  Not that I need to mindlessly follow anyone who purports to be an authority.  More that I need to humble myself before the Lord, to embrace His teaching, and to submit to wise leaders placed in my life by Him.  Indeed, while the foundation of humility in Proverbs is listening to God in a posture of reverent fear, the writers proceed from this point to locate wisdom in listening to human leaders.  For example, Proverbs 2, immediately following this section, features counsel from a father to his son. 

One more small point: we’re not to be lauded to an extreme degree for being wise and listening to God and wise men.  We’re doing what we should.  We are, in fact, “fools” for not doing so (see verse 22 above).  Too often in our day we celebrate people when they make good choices.  On one level, yes, that’s good.  But in Proverbs, the one who lives wisely is, well, wise.  The one who does not is a fool.  This is a dichotomous worldview.  We certainly honor the Lord and win His praise if we obey Him, but we must remember that in obeying Him, we are simply doing what is right. 

To conclude this little piece, biblical wisdom is not autonomous and isolary, as so many of us might think in our individualistic age.  Biblical wisdom involves closing our mouths, humbling our hearts, and opening ourselves up to receive God’s transforming, redeeming, gospel-rich wisdom, the embodiment of which is Jesus Christ.  This has implications for all of us.  This means, at base, that we humbly listen to the Lord.  From there, we need to adopt a balanced posture of submission and humility in the presence of leaders, counselors, parents, and others whom God has ordained to “cry aloud in the streets” to people just like us.


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