The opening verses of Proverbs describe the aims of wisdom, its purposes and gifts. The same verses also point to the source of wisdom: Where is skill in living well to be found? Where do we get training and instruction in this art?
Ultimately, wisdom has its source in Yahweh. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the Lady Wisdom that Solomon comments was there with the Creator at the creation (Proverbs 8).
But Proverbs also points to human sources of wisdom. If you want wisdom, you need to go to the aged. “Hoary heads” are more replete with wisdom than the darker heads of the young. In Proverbs, as in Ecclesiastes, wisdom arises in part from the knowledge of death – from experience of ends and from the confrontation with the death that eventually gets us all. The old are wise because they have seen many ends, and because they are closer to death.
Wisdom also arises within communities structured by relationships of authority. Solomon contrasts the wisdom that comes from father and mother to the murderous, larcenous folly that is likely to come from the egalitarian gang of young friends. As Proverbs makes clear, wisdom comes not only by verbal instruction but by discipline, and discipline only happens when there is a discipliner, an enforcer of discipline. Solomon doesn’t see the authoritative relation of parents to child as a limitation or oppression; it liberates the son to achieve wisdom.Wisdom comes from father and mother. The mother has, in Solomon’s words, her own torah to pass on to the son, and he is exhorted to listen to that as he does to his father’s wisdom. By contrast, the gang that entices the son away from wisdom seems to be an exclusively male, and very macho, club. This emphasis on the mother’s authority over a son is a rarity in the ancient world. For Solomon, wisdom isn’t likely to be found where a masculine voice drowns out the feminine torah, but instead where masculine and feminine voices entwine polyphonically.
(These reflections on wisdom were provoked by a sermon and Bible study on Proverbs 1 by Pastor Rich Lusk.)