Daily Wisdom

Meditations on the Book of Proverbs

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

2 To know wisdom and instruction,

To discern the sayings of understanding,

3 To receive instruction in wise behavior,

Righteousness, justice and equity;

4 To give prudence to the naive,

To the youth knowledge and discretion…

 

 This ancient book of wisdom begins by declaring its purpose. And a lofty one it is. Who wouldn’t want to know wisdom and instruction? To gain discernment? Who wouldn’t want instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity? Who, given the choice, would keep the gifts of prudence, knowledge and discretion from the naive?

 Yet how much time do we spend pursuing these things? If the stated purpose of Proverbs had been amusement, sexual fulfillment, wealth creation or physical health – would this ancient book be more widely read today?

 Much of what we really desire – happiness, contentment, security, fulfilling relationships, honestly earned wealth, longevity, the respect of our peers – is not easily obtained. How do we get these things? Through knowledge, discernment, wise behavior, right living, justice, equity, prudence and discretion. This is what Proverbs offers to anyone who will listen.

 In a world abounding with techniques, this book offers something far deeper. Wisdom, self-discipline and virtue, these are the keys to life. Develop these traits and you will be able to stand and face whatever circumstances life brings your way.

 

 

1 My son, if you will receive my words

And treasure my commandments within you,

2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom,

Incline your heart to understanding;

3 For if you cry for discernment,

Lift your voice for understanding;

4 If you seek her as silver

And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord

And discover the knowledge of God.

 

 What is the fear of the Lord? This wise father clearly desires that his child discern it, and he knows this will not come easily. The child need not work to fear embarrassment or failure, abandonment or ridicule. Fear of other’s opinions comes quite naturally.

 To discern the fear of the Lord, however, requires effort. One must be attentive to the wisdom of earlier generations, and treasure what they say. Humility is needed, and the desire to learn. These things alone may not be enough, one also needs the courage to ask questions and seek challenges. 

But the path is worth taking, it leads to hidden treasures.

 Does it seem too difficult? Consider the alternative. Easy paths take you nowhere worth going. Those on the easy path mock the fear of the Lord. And why shouldn’t they? Many things seem absurd when misunderstood.

 The fear of the Lord appears to be a burden, but in fact it is the key to freedom. It is an acknowledgement of accountability. The fool rejects this, allowing his desires to enslave him. Accountability is a guardrail, keeping us from wrecking our lives. 

 The fear of the Lord also frees us from all other fears. Those who do not fear the Lord are bound to fear something – if not everything – else.

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,

But let your heart keep my commandments;

2 For length of days and years of life

And peace they will add to you.

3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you;

Bind them around your neck,

Write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 So you will find favor and good repute

In the sight of God and man.

 Why must we be reminded not to forget the lessons we’ve learned? Perhaps it has more to do with the heart than the head. It is often desire, not ignorance, which pulls us into trouble. A person who knows a thing will hurt him may do it anyway, if desire overcomes him. Remembering may make all the difference in the moment of weakness.

 Length of days, years of life, peace. Who doesn’t want these things? Yet they come at a price which many are unwilling to pay. It is difficult to fight your own impulses, to remember the things you’d rather forget, to hold yourself accountable even when nobody’s watching. But it is worth it. What’s the alternative? Which is best for your future self?

 Kindness and truth are commonly misunderstood. They often require courage as well. When kindness is risky, when truth is inconvenient, courage is the deciding factor. It is not the weakling who resists temptation, who does the right thing, who is kind to the unpopular and speaks the truth even when it costs him. They may be mocked as signs of weakness, but kindness and truth are strengths. Do what you can to hold them tight, you won’t regret it. 

 

1 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;

   pay attention and gain understanding.

2 I give you sound learning,

   so do not forsake my teaching.

3 For I too was a son to my father,

   still tender, and cherished by my mother.

4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,

   “Take hold of my words with all your heart;

   keep my commands, and you will live.

 

 There are, regretfully, many fathers who fail to instruct their children. Yet the subject here is the children. It may be more difficult for the fatherless to get sound teaching, but it is not impossible. In fact, the instruction contained in this book is that of a father – and we can all benefit from it whether our own fathers were present or not.

 The author of this text is the most famous son, King Solomon, of the famous King David. Yet Solomon’s own son Rehoboam rejected the advice of his elders, and the kingdom was split by his error. Whether you pay attention to wisdom and gain understanding, regardless of the source, is much more important than who your father is.

 We don’t choose our fathers, but we have the dignity of choosing our paths. There are those who take the easy way, and there are those who choose their destination. What use is it to spend your life on the path of least resistance, if it can never take you where you want to go? It is difficult to observe your heart and to keep wise commandments, but it is the path to a better life. Where do the other paths lead?

1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom,

   turn your ear to my words of insight,

2 that you may maintain discretion

   and your lips may preserve knowledge.

3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,

   and her speech is smoother than oil;

4 but in the end she is bitter as gall,

   sharp as a double-edged sword.

 

 We are reminded again to pay attention and listen. These reminders may seem repetitive, but they give us insight into ourselves. The wise father knows how easily his son can be distracted – that he must be diligent in fighting this tendency. And here, for many sons, we have the greatest distraction of all. The provocative woman.   

 There is much wisdom in the father’s advice. His goal is not merely obedience, it is foresight and understanding. “Because I said so” cannot be found here, or anywhere else in Proverbs. What do we find instead? Visions of benefits to be had, and warnings of pain to be avoided. “Heed my advice,” says the father, “and you will become the kind of man who is not easily fooled.” The opposite is implied. If you allow yourself to be taken in by temptation, you betray your own future.

 This is also a warning to daughters, who may be tempted to manipulate with their beauty. Such women put themselves on the path to bitterness, and will get there sooner or later. One needn’t look far to find an example of this. Such women may be beautiful and wealthy, but they are tragically unhappy.  

 The virtue taught here is prudence, which is a very valuable thing to have. The prudent person does not let present benefits outweigh future costs. How does he achieve this? By weighing his future into present decisions. The prudent person knows the value of sacrificing now to benefit later. It is foolish to sacrifice your future to your present temptations. 

1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,

   if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,

2 you have been trapped by what you said,

   ensnared by the words of your mouth.

3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,

   since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:

Go—to the point of exhaustion—

   and give your neighbor no rest!

4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,

   no slumber to your eyelids.

5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,

   like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

 

 Have you ever made a promise you can’t keep? Regardless of the details, two things hang in the balance: your freedom and your reputation. Having made a pledge, you are now bound by your word. Break it and your reputation will suffer. Be very careful in making commitments, and in following through on them. Freedom and reputation are not easily restored.

 There is wisdom in the way this warning is given. It does not say “never make a pledge,” it’s much more nuanced than that. What should you do if you find yourself caught in a promise? Expecting these situations to happen, the father prepares his child to deal with them.

 The wise child develops competence, able to benefit from commitments and able to handle them when things change unexpectedly. The child who is told never to commit misses out on two things: the trust of others and the confidence learned through adversity.  

 How do you free yourself from a commitment you cannot keep? The key is humility. Go to the other person and humble yourself. Explain that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Apologize for your failure to follow through. Do it as soon as you can!

 You can maintain your freedom and your reputation. Humility may even enhance your reputation. But you must sacrifice your pride. To hold on to your pride is to sacrifice your reputation, but you know better than that. What good is pride anyway, if it’s the only thing you have?  

1 My son, keep my words

And treasure my commandments within you.

2 Keep my commandments and live,

And my teaching as the apple of your eye.

3 Bind them on your fingers;

Write them on the tablet of your heart.

 

 It is not enough to listen to the Father’s words, they ought to be kept and treasured. What does it mean to keep something? It is not only to observe, but also to maintain and protect. Keeping involves behavior. “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

 This instruction, along with many others, gives us insight into human nature. We need not be told to do things that come naturally. Restraint is unnatural, as is patience and humility. It takes effort to develop these traits. You must fight your own nature. What advice are we given to keep up the fight? “Bind [my commandments] on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Then they will be there when you need them. 

 Structure your world in such a way that you’re encouraged regularly. A ring on your finger may help, but there is more to it than that. Do nothing, and your desires will take over your life. What reminders do you need to keep things on track? Figure out what works for you and set it up. Develop good habits. Don’t rely on willpower alone. “Keep my commandments,” says the Father, “and live.”