The Beginning of Knowledge
Proverbs 1:1–7 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
16th Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2018 (am)
In the beginning, the God of all creation spoke the universe into existence (Gen.1:1). He said: Light, and darkness was corralled to it’s appointed place (Gen.1:3-5). He spoke again and there was heaven and earth, and then continents and oceans, and plants and planets and stars (Gen.16-19), and then animals of every kind (Gen.1:20-25). Finally, there were image-bearing creatures, a man and a woman who were entrusted with dominion over this newly-created world. They were given the ability, just like the animals, to reproduce according to their kind and fill the earth with yet more image-bearers, worshipers (Gen.1:26-28). All of this was done to the praise of God’s glory (Psa.19:1) and in manifestation of His limitless wisdom. The psalmist wrote: 104:24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all…. In Pro.8 that wisdom speaks as though it were a woman, and says: 27 When he established the heavens, I was there…, 29 … when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always. Wisdom was God’s joyful companion as He created of the world; the wisdom of God was woven into the fabric of His world.
But then it happened. The image-bearing man and woman were lured into sin by the lies of the serpent (Gen.3:1-7) who invaded the garden God planted for them. How was it that he ensnared their imagination? Gen.3:6 … When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit and ate it, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. The wisdom of God that formed and filled the essence of all that existed, that shaped and saturated the nature of all reality, was lost, even while it was sought to be gained! Now the man and woman and all their offspring were cut off from God in two ways: they were separated from the heat of life in Him, so they were cold in spiritual death. And they were separated from the light of life in Him, so that they were stumbling around in the darkness of ignorance. They and all their offspring were cut off from the joy of fellowship with God, and began living against the grain of His wisdom, making their own way in His world. Every woodworker knows it’s much easier to cut a straight line when you saw along the grain. But it gets much harder when you saw across/against the grain. But that’s what life is like in this world now that we’ve turned away from our Maker. Sin doesn’t just kill us image-bearing creatures, it makes us stupid (12:1). It makes our lives really hard.
But God didn’t leave us in this state of spiritual death and dullness. Even as He pronounced the curse on the serpent, He promised a reversal of this tragedy/mutiny through the Offspring of the woman (Gen.3:15), Jesus Christ, His Son, Who would die as a Substitute/Sacrifice to reconcile to God all who’d receive Him by faith. And He would rise again as the firstborn from the dead (Col.1:18) in promise of their resurrection. But in between the Garden tragedy and this great reversal, God called a people. He revealed His Law. He placed His people in a land. And He established a throne that would eventually be occupied forever by His crucified, risen, redeeming Son.
But it was through an early occupant of that throne that He provided a unique body of instruction for His people. It wasn’t the legal categories of the Law, where His holy standard is spelled-out. And it wasn’t the warnings of the prophets, where their fallenness was challenged and their obedience exhorted. But it was a genre called Wisdom: common, practical guidance captured with pithy brevity, vivid imagery, and richly clarifying contrasts (cf. Kidner 13). Instruction in life was cast in the broad categories of wisdom and folly, understanding and ignorance, life and death. Let’s group our study under three headings.
Some Thoughts on Wisdom Literature
The early occupant of the throne just mentioned, the one most identified with wisdom, is introduced to us in v.1. Wisdom was granted in unprecedented measure to Solomon, son of David, king of Israel (1, title) in answer to his prayer. 1Ki.3 records that: 5 … the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. … 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered…. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And the Lord granted his request.
Several examples of Solomon’s great wisdom were among my favorite Bible stories as a child. But we’re told that 1Ki.4:32 he also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and (wrote 1,005 songs). Solomon was the fountainhead of wisdom in Israel, the virtual embodiment of it, but also a collector of it from other sources (Fox 58). The wisdom of God for life in His world has flowed down to us through this son of David, king of Israel, and it’s recorded in the pages of our Bible to read and study, ponder and pursue, honor and obey.
And it’s an amazing genre. Proverbs takes an experiential, almost scientific approach to life. It looks at life itself in order to discuss directly how to see life (big questions about its meaning and down-to-earth questions about our understanding of topics such as friendship, marriage and the family) and how to live life on the basis of that understanding. It understands wisdom as thinking and living in accordance with how things actually are. Folly is a way of thinking and living that ignores how things actually are (Goldingay 585). So, you can read Wisdom and say: That’s not always true. And you’re right! But it’s wise. And it’s reliable—not because it’s unfalsifiable, but because it comes from God and He is trustworthy. He gives us not just righteous statutes, but practical instruction (cf. Dever 510).
A Summary Overview of Proverbs
Much more will be said about the nature and genre of Wisdom Literature as we proceed through this study. But today we need to get started into the text. So, let me just say a few words about how Pro. is organized/laid out.
This morning we’ll be looking at what we could call the Prologue, or even the Preface. We see the title of the book (1), the purpose (2-6), then what many call a motto (e.g. Fox, Kidner) or the theme (7). We could call this section the Introduction except that this seems to be a better label for the whole of cc.1-9, which do set the context for a deeper appreciation of the remainder of the collection. Cc.1-9 consist of ten lessons in wisdom from a father to his son. And these are broken up by four (or five) interludes (cc.1, 3, 6, 8, and perhaps 9), three (or four) of which are given to encounters with Lady Wisdom.
This opening section is offset by a Conclusion and Epilogue (cc.30, 31) which includes several complementary themes.
And in between are collections of proverbs that are more like what we have in mind when we think of this book: short, pithy statements of practical insight, often in couplets, that contrast different ideas or images toward expressing wisdom. 10:2 … A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. 2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. 3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
There are different ways to break down this large section (cc.10-29) into sub-sections, but we’ll talk more about that as we move into that portion.
Over the next four months we’d like to move one at a time through the father’s ten lessons for his son, recognizing that it seems like a royal son who is receiving this direction. And we will also cover the balance of cc.1-9 during that window, meaning the interludes I mentioned a moment ago.
But this morning we want to look at the Prologue (1:1-7527).
The Beginning of Knowledge – 1-7
1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel; these come in different forms, yet they’re proverbs because they’re validated by their source (a wise man) but also by their use (…public wisdom) (Fox 54-5).
The purpose then follows on the title to describe the goals and function of the proverbs (Fox 58). These make pretty good sense as we read them (2-6): the prize (this book) offers is wisdom (2a) and (more) wisdom (5) (Kidner 56), to see it (2a) and perceive/comprehend it (2b) to the point where we grasp (3a) the instruction we hear in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity (Gesenius). This makes sense to us. These qualities are reproduced in us. And then is when the simple receive prudence and the youth receive knowledge and discretion (4); the wise increase in learning and the one who understands (obtains) guidance (5)—shrewd, cunning direction (Gesenius) appropriate to the need/situation. The purpose of this book is for us to get it—get wisdom (4:7), get life (3:16)—to understand proverbs, and even elusive insights, like parables (cf. Fox 64).
So, how does all this happen? How do we receive all this? How does it stick and become characteristic of us? What is the key not only to hearing proverbs, and (receiving) them, but to getting them, and becoming characterized by them? Here it is: 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of this knowledge; it is fools who despise wisdom and instruction.
This is what sets the book apart from other collections like one I got from a friend for my twelfth birthday called Confucius Say. This isn’t just wisdom available to all—except that it is! This is wisdom cries aloud in the street, asking: How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will… fools (despise wisdom and instruction)? (20, 22) But it isn’t granted on our own terms. We can’t pull Pro. out of the Bible and give it to a friend as a birthday present as though it works like a magic charm.
No, this collection, this wisdom, is uniquely for those who fear the Lord—those who approach Him with reverence and awe, those who worship Him as He has revealed in His Word that He must be worshiped, those who worship in spirit and truth (Joh.4:24), we might say, those who love (Him) with all (their) heart… (Mar.12:30).
That is where we begin today. Every one of us would love to grow in wisdom. Since the garden of Eden us image-bearing creatures have sought after anything and everything that is (desirable) to make (us) wise (Gen.3:6). The good news is that this is available to us! Even though wisdom doesn’t grow on trees, it does cry aloud in the street (20)! It’s not hard to find. It just comes at a price. The price required is true worship of the Lord, the fear of the Lord, pure and undiluted, undivided reverence for the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord, the wisdom of this collection will elude us, and we stop our ears to the Woman (calling out) in the (streets) (20). Without the fear of the Lord, we are the simple, the scoffers, the fools (22), forever.
But the problem is, within our hearts there is nothing that responds to the wisdom collected here, nothing that yearns for it. If we can’t boast of developing it ourselves—if it doesn’t set us apart, make us unique—we’re not really interested in it. So, we bypass wisdom! And in so doing, bypass life, according to Pro. We’re in a truly bad way!
But fortunately, to the great praise of God, and according to His eternal plan, David, king of Israel had another Son. That promised Offspring of the woman who would (crush the serpent’s) head (Gen.3:15) has now come! He’s done His work! And He’s pronounced that: It is finished (Joh.19:30). He has proclaimed the wisdom of God. He has embodied it with godly perfection. He has completed His rescuing work. And now all that remains is for us to believe and receive Him as the One Who not only reconciles us to God but gives us a new heart (Eze.11:19) that delights to worship the Lord, to fear the Lord (7). Now we can be fit to receive the wisdom of Pro. We engage it in Him! In fact, Col.2:3 in (Him) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Do you long for this wisdom, my friends? Do you hunger and thirst after it? Does if fire your imagination, your appetite? With proverbic brevity: Receive Jesus, Son of David, King of (all Creation).