Lesson from Proverbs 2: When Wisdom Mocks

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,

in the public squares she raises her voice;

on the highest walls she calls out,

at the entrance of the gates to the city she makes her speech;

“How long, you gullible, will you love being gullible” –

and mockers delight themselves with mocking;

and fools hate knowledge?

Turn back to my rebuke;

then I will pour forth my thoughts to you,

I will make known to you my sayings.

‘But since I cry out, and you refuse to listen,

and when I stretch out my hand, none gives heed,

and you flout all my counsel,

and to my rebuke you do no consent,

I in turn will laugh when your disaster happens,

I will scoff when your calamity comes –

when your calamity comes like a storm,

and like a whirlwind your disaster arrives,

when distress and anguish come upon you.

Then they will call out to me, but I will not answer;

they will look diligently for me but will not find me,

because they hated knowledge,

and the fear of the LORD they did not choose.

They did not consent to my advice,

They spurned my every rebuke,

so they will eat from the fruit of their way,

and from their schemes they will be filled.

Surely the turning away of the gullible will kill them,

and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

but the one who obeys will dwell in security,

even at ease, without fear of harm.

Proverbs 1:20-33

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The father escalates the grim threat of certain death for all sinners (v. 19) – now referred to as fools – to the awful truth that their death is eternal. There is no third way between wisdom and folly, and there is no second change between life and death.

The setting for Wisdom’s instruction is in the street (v. 20) signifies that this sermon was meant to be heard publicly rather than the standard father-son instruction within the home. Wisdom lifts her voice in the public squares and on the highest walls (v. 20-21), which would be the most advantageous points to be seen and heard in ancient city. Wisdom chooses to stand at the entrance of the gates in order to confront and compel the gullible to make a decision to accept her in order to safeguard them against the fools within the city.

We should also note Wisdom is not dispassionate in her appeal. She cries aloud (v. 20) in order to get a full hearing. She intends that her voice would be heard above the noise of daily life and above the voice of fools within the city. In commenting about this, Kenneth Aitken states

Lady wisdom is no gentle persuader. She shouts, pleads, scolds, reasons, threatens, warns, and even laughs. Pulpit bashing and hell-fire preaching if ever there were! All quite unladylike; and nowadays also quite unfashionable, even frowned upon.

The Call to Repentance

Wisdom begins her sermon with an urgent appeal to the gullible to stop rejecting her and to respond to the stern rebuke she is about to give them. These youths have crossed the threshold into adulthood (with its corresponding responsibilities) and should have made a decisive commitment to Wisdom before this point. Instead of a hear that desires to serve the Lord and retain His revealed wisdom, these youths “love being gullible” (v. 22); in other words, they yearn to remain uncommitted and open to alluring sin. In today’s language, they claim to be “open yet cautious” about the way of wisdom. In truth, their heart is in a state of rebellion. Their guilt is their recalcitrance before legitimate authority and Wisdom pins their guilt to their rebellion against her counsel.

Thus, Lady Wisdom makes her appeal. Although mockers and fools are in a hopeless position, Wisdom calls these youths to repentance. There is still hope for them, but not forever. They must humble themselves and acknowledge that Wisdom is right and they must also acknowledge that they have been in the wrong in nursing their love to be careless and free of her discipline. In response to this repentance, Wisdom will pour forth her thoughts in such a way that they will internalize them and never forget them (v. 23).

The Certainty of Disaster

While wisdom promises blessings for obedience, she also promises consequences for disobedience. Judgment befalls all who ignore Wisdom’s words. First, Wisdom warns the gullible against a progressive hardening in apostasy. If they do not listen, they too may come to hate hear and to mock her, placing them in the same categories as fools and mockers (v. 24-25). Second, Wisdom warns that there is a certainty of catastrophe for all sinners and its finality is pictured as a devastating wind (v. 26). Judgment and calamity will come like a whirlwind and a storm which wreaks havoc. When judgment does come, the gullible will change from complacency and prideful insubordination to extreme terror. The gullible, fools, and mockers will “eat from the fruit of their ways” (v. 31).

Moreover, when the threatened judgment falls, it will be too late to respond. Wisdom does not laugh at disaster, but at the triumph of what is right over what is wrong when disaster does happen. In other words, Wisdom rejoices in turning the present upside-down world right-side up, when wisdom overturns folly, righteousness overcomes wickedness, knowledge overcomes ignorance, humility topples pride, and life swallows up death. Wisdom scoffs when the dreadful disaster of the wicked comes. This laughter expresses the inward joy and disdain that Wisdom experiences over her chief enemy – namely, folly. As Bruce Waltke says,

Truth has a harsh edge and Wisdom does not dull it. Her shock tactics aim to persuade the young to turn to her.

A question that often arises is whether Wisdom’s response to fools at the time of final judgment is a proper response. It should be noted that fools hated true knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord (v. 29). They did not ponder and consider their ways; rather they deliberately chose NOT to walk in the ways of the Lord and sanctioned other lifestyles. Wisdom’s response is valid because this life would be pre-empted of its true dignity if choices made now had no eternal consequences. Fools would be confirmed in treating this life with careless complacency if there were no eternal consequences. Also, those who follow Wisdom would be made to look foolish if the path of folly could be taken without any accountability.

Application

Even if we are not gullible youths, there is much we should consider in this sermon because Wisdom’s sermon reflects on the Scripture’s teaching on final judgment. First, we should note that Wisdom’s saving voice is not at human disposal; it can be forfeited through prior rejection. This is a theme that the prophets repeated proclaimed – do not harden your hearts against the Lord (cf. Hebrews 3:8-15). Second, it should be noted that many people deny the doctrine of final judgment because they do not want to give this life such dignity that current decisions affect an eternal future in a decisive and definitive way.

At the time of the final judgment, sinners will finally recognize that Wisdom possesses the true life and the security they had traded away for a pseudo-life in this world and false security. This false sense of security leads sinners to destruction. Deluded sinners, restricted by their very limited knowledge, foolishly became so wise in their own eyes that they could not see things from the heavenly perspective of God and so utterly misjudged the true situation. Hence, the complacency of fools causes them to fail to take precautions against the inevitable judgment bound up in their folly, and so it will destroy them. This is the warning that we give to all men and women in this world.

However, we also have the promise of the gospel message: the one who listens will dwell in security, even at ease, without fear of harm (v. 33). In Noah’s day, destruction came upon the world except for those who were safely secure within the ark. In the same way, when God brings judgment to this world, only those who have obeyed the gospel will be safe. This is the essence of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians

… when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when he comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed – for our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9

 

 

Lessons from Proverbs 1: Do Not Experiment with Their Addiction

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction

And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;

Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head

And ornaments about your neck.

My son, if sinners entice you,

Do not consent.

If they say, “Come with us,

Let us lie in wait for blood,

Let us ambush the innocent without cause;

Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,

Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;

We will find all kinds of precious wealth,

We will fill our houses with spoil;

Throw in your lot with us,

We shall all have one purse,”

My son, do not walk in the way with them.

Keep your feet from their path,

For their feet run to evil

And they hasten to shed blood.

Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net

In the sight of any bird;

But they lie in wait for their own blood;

They ambush their own lives.

So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence;

It takes away the life of its possessors.

Proverbs 1:8-19

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On the introductory blog to this series, we discussed the need to diligently study the book of Proverbs and how this book is particularly targeted towards young men and women. We now look at the first lesson of the book of Proverbs, which is an exhortation to reject the enticement of sinners.

The Reward of Wisdom

We begin with an exhortation to listen to instruction and to walk in the insight that has been passed down (v. 8). The implication is that there are ancient paths of wisdom that have been traversed by the godly and it is the responsibility of young men and women to walk in this path. Moreover, young men and women ought to build their lives on top of this instruction. In the hierarchy of authority, the parents themselves stand under Solomon’s God-inspired wisdom, and the children under the parents. This mode of instruction is repeat throughout the New Testament in which children are admonished to obey their parents in the LORD (cf. Ephesians 6:1).

Perseverance in this wisdom adorns the son with a wreath on his head and a chain around his neck, which are both symbols of honor and life (v. 9). It’s important to note that instruction and teaching are the adornments themselves; the adornments are not something future and extrinsic to them. The imagery of the wreath signifies victory and vindication over one’s enemies, as well as prestige. Similarly, all children who embrace the teaching of this book wear these teachings just as heroes wore the wreath. The fruit of their lives will be evidence of the reward for embracing these teachings. Furthermore, the imagery of necklace for the throat is not just symbolic of beauty, but it also symbolizes protection and guidance. Similarly, all who embrace the teaching of this book will be protected from the alluring enticement of sinners.

The Way of Greed vs. The Way of Wisdom

The reward of wisdom becomes particularly important when sinners do entice us. In this passage, it likely that the gang being described are the son’s peers who seek to draw him into their corruption. In particular, the gang is offering quick wealth through counterfeit means and a community based on a counterfeit worldview (i.e. they have no fear of the Lord). Although the young and naive tend to lack discernment, the father looks beyond the surface-level appeal of these sinners and exposes the true intent of their heart. In essence, the father is putting words into the sinners’ mouths that both condemn them and expose their enticement. In a similar way, the instruction of older godly saints and the instruction from the Scripture removes the rose-colored glasses of our society’s ethics and exposes the true wickedness of the world we live in. If we ignore this God-inspired wisdom, we will be the ones who will suffer the consequences.

The description of the gang from the father is rather ghastly. First, they seek to ambush the innocent (v.11), which means that they devise a coldly calculated plan against a victim and wait for the victim to fall into the trap. Second, they are in league with Sheol (v. 12). In other words, they love death and have a neurotic urge to plunder the innocent. In short, they are sinners who love their sin and are addicted to their sin. Third, their chief motivation (regardless of what they actually say) stems from covetousness and greed (v. 13-14).

In light of the true heart of this gang, the father exhorts his son: do not yield (v. 10). In other words, do not consider the plans and do not even ponder them in your heart. It is at this time in which God-inspired wisdom should be paraded about (illustrating one’s confidence and trust in God’s wisdom) and should be recited (as means of protection). Whatever enticements they use, the wicked are addicted to their sin. As the Apostle Paul writes, these sinners are walking according to the course of this world and are under the power and influence of Satan (cf. Ephesians 2:2). Because they are captivated by their sin, no one should experiment with their addiction.

Secondly, one must reject the company of these sinners because “bad company corrupts good morals” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33). Their company will result in calamity because God is the One who uphold justice and no one will ever escape His justice (whether it occurs in this life or in the life to come). It is well-known the way of transgressions is hard (cf. Proverbs 13:15), but the father also exposes the folly of sinners. The way of sinners is wrong, hard, AND stupid. In attempting the ambush the innocent, these sinners set an ambush for themselves because God will hold their lives into account.

Conclusion

With the true intention and folly of the gang exposed by the father, the wise son (with his father’s help) is now able to construct the trap of words set by the winners. Like every flying creature (v. 17-18), the wise son will take flight, for they spread their net in his full view. The father concludes his lesson by stating that the path of anyone greedy for unjust gain is analogous to these men. The unjust gain clings to the criminal and eventually destroys him. In commenting about this passage, Bruce Waltke states

The houses of these crooks, who think they are above all laws, are mansions in the best part of the city with high walls… The covetous see the world as a place of transferring wealth from the bank account of others into their own. Sinners love wealth and use people; saints love people and use wealth to help others.

In the New Testament, the same warning is given to Christians. Jesus clearly states that one cannot love God and wealth, for the one who loves wealth cannot love God (cf. Matthew 6:24). The apostle Paul repeats and expands upon this by stating that the love of wealth is the root of all kinds of evil, bringing destruction to many (cf. 1 Timothy 6:6-11). Just as the wise son will take flight from the enticement of sinners, Christians are admonished to flee the enticement associated with greed (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17-19). There are many in this world who are addicted to wealth and materialism and will use unjust methods to obtain it. The warning of this passage is clear: do not experiment with their addiction.

Walking Through Proverbs

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,

To discern the sayings of understanding,

To receive instruction in wise behavior,

Righteousness, justice, and equity;

To give prudence to the naive,

To the youth knowledge and discretion,

A wise man will hear and increase in learning,

And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

To understand a proverb and a figure,

The words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:1-7

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Disregarding Proverbs?

During my early days as a Christian, perhaps my favorite book of the Bible was Proverbs primarily because I felt that Proverbs was written for me – a young and impressionable teenager who was trying to understand life. I read through this book for the first time when I was about 15 years old and now my wife and I are in the position of teaching the book of Proverbs to teenagers at our church. The teenagers at our church are the type of children who grew up memorizing and learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism; however, it was a shock to me that most of them had not read through the entire book of Proverbs.

I began to realize that this experience is not unique to our church. Commenting on this matter, Bruce Waltke states:

But, tragically, the church has practically discarded the book of Proverbs… Of its 930 ancient sayings many Christians know three – to fear the LORD, to trust Him, and to ‘train their children in the way they should go.

This quote is unfortunate because we live in a world bombarded by foolish speculation, inane cliches, and triviality. As a consequence, the expression of true wisdom is rare and in short supply today. The church stands alone as the “pillar and support of the truth” and we have been given the rich repository of inspired tradition that carries a mandate for a holy life. As the course and bulk of biblical wisdom, the book of Proverbs remains the model for humanity to learn how to live under God and before mankind. As a consequence, this book calls the church to diligent study and application. It calls the fool, both young and old, to turn from their folly and to walk in the path of wisdom given to us from the Scriptures.

Wisdom vs. Folly

We begin considering the primary author of the book of Proverbs – King Solomon. He was the last king of united Israel and the Scriptures tell us that the Lord gave Him remarkable wisdom (cf. 2 Chronicles 1). However, Solomon adopted and adapted sayings by other wise men or sages in Israel. Like most wise individuals today, the sages of Israel drew their inspiration for coining proverbs by observing and reflecting on nature and human behavior. At times, the sages learned wisdom and proverbs from the wisdom literature of surrounding nations, primarily Egypt. However, this was not simply a “copy, paste, repeat” type of learning. In all of their learning (include the insights from foreign nations), everything still had to be considered and filtered through Israel’s worldview, which was based on Israel’s unique covenant relationship with God.

This book was written primarily for young people as a compass by which to direct their lives. The sayings of the book of Proverbs aim to give Israel’s youth insight and it emphasizes how important it is to seek, purchase, and learn true wisdom and true understanding. In the book of Proverbs, Israel’s youth is generally categorized as the “naive”, the “simple”, or the “gullible”, which all describe a person who is easily misled or easily seduced. Although they are saveable, they are morally culpable for their actions and if they do not embrace this biblical wisdom, then they will head to destruction.

The truth of the matter is the wisdom and folly are competing for our attention; yet, it’s important to note that our default position is folly. Until we decide to no longer remain uncommitted to biblical wisdom, we are in a wayward state. Many of us have experienced the folly of youth – where we are prone to trust every word and stumble into various misfortunes. Many of us have childhood friends who have walked on the path of folly and their lives ended with destruction. However, because young people are easily shaped, they can be improved by proper instruction so that they walk in the path of godly wisdom. The hope of this book is that young people will develop insight by observing and reflecting upon the suffering of others, which prevents acts of folly.

Obtaining Wisdom and Insight

The foundation of this wisdom is the fear of the Lord. As Bruce Weltke says,

What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the LORD is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.

The responsibility to respond to instruction lies squarely on the shoulders of the simple. They must listen to it, accept it, love it, prize it more highly than money, and not let go of it. In order to receive this wisdom, one has to admit that they are truly naive and simple – this is true for both young and old. One must submit himself to instruction in order to quell the innate waywardness and rebellion. This illustrates a very essential theme in the book of proverbs: wisdom cannot be possessed without instruction to correct a moral fault and this instruction is connected to reproof and teaching. The blessing given to the person who submits under this instruction will give him the same testimony as the Psalmist:

Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed your precepts. Psalm 119:98-100

This book was given to young people so that they would personally internalize and experience this wisdom. This wisdom will give the young person intellectual discernment; in other words, wisdom trains a person how to think properly in God’s world. The wisdom gained from instruction will protect a person from temptation, enable him to behave wisely and speak well, and increase in strength. Discipline springs from the power of internalized wisdom.

As we walk through Proverbs, my hope is that we all grow in wisdom, insight, and understanding.