Daily Wisdom

Meditations on the Book of Proverbs

1 Does not wisdom call,

And understanding lift up her voice?

2 On top of the heights beside the way,

Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;

3 Beside the gates, at the opening to the city,

At the entrance of the doors, she cries out:

 

 Is wisdom a rare trait in our world? Do we as a society lack understanding? If so, it’s not because these things are hard to find. Here we have the personification of wisdom and understanding shouting from the rooftops, crying out to whomever will listen. Have we tuned out their voices? Have we become too distracted by our plans?

 The voice of understanding reminds us we have much to learn. If we would listen, if we would be more curious, we could grow in wisdom. Society is the sum of individuals, each responsible for what they contribute. Knowing this, the wise person adds what he can to the whole rather than criticizing its flaws. If wisdom and understanding are crying out, and I have not heard them, who can I blame but myself? Instead of denouncing others, how can I be an example to them? 

It is not easy to admit your faults, to listen to advice, to be teachable. Through the lens of humility, however, faults become opportunities. What faults are challenging you? How are you using them to grow? Humbly listen to the voice of wisdom and understanding, and you will be blessed by what you hear. 

1 Wisdom has built her house;

   she has set up its seven pillars.

2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;

   she has also set her table.

3 She has sent out her servants, and she calls

   from the highest point of the city,

4     “Let all who are simple come to my house!”

To those who have no sense she says,

5     “Come, eat my food

   and drink the wine I have mixed.

6 Leave your simple ways and you will live;

   walk in the way of insight.”

 

 Where can Wisdom be found? Is she always on the move, following opportunity wherever it leads? Is she mysterious like the Oracle, secluded from the world in a mountaintop temple? Or does she live like a queen, inaccessible in her guarded palace? No, she is none of these things.

 Wisdom lives in a pillared house, well established and easy to find. Guests are always welcome at her table. No pilgrimage is needed to reach her, she is the one who pursues. No credentials are required to meet with her, she excludes no one from her presence.  She is generous, proclaiming her invitation as broadly as she can, offering her nourishment to whomever will receive it.

Yet she is lonely.

 What keeps us from responding to her invitation? Wisdom gives us insight into the complexity of the world, inviting us to think things through. The simpleminded prefer, however, that someone do the thinking for them. They follow the advice of the world, bound to learn the hard way that life is tougher than they were told. The world’s advice is often deceptive, the rich and famous are often unhappy.

 Some of us would rather work than listen. If wisdom were difficult to find, if she were hidden on the top of a mountain, if she only met with those who had proven themselves worthy – we might be the first to embark on the journey to reach her. But when everyone is invited to her house? It is almost an insult to us. We’d have to be humble to eat with them, to admit that wisdom has something to teach us. We may be successful, we may be envied, we may embody all the world values – but that does not mean we are wise.

 When you hear wisdom’s call, when you see an opportunity to learn, when you encounter something that challenges you – how will you respond? There may be more at stake than you think.

1 The proverbs of Solomon:

A wise son brings joy to his father,

   but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.

2 Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value,

   but righteousness delivers from death.

3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,

   but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

 

 Chapters one through seven were the Father’s teachings, eight and nine were allegories of wisdom personified, and now we begin in chapter ten the proverbs of Solomon for which this book is known.

 Proverbs are observations, meant to teach us wisdom by emphasizing patterns and distinctions. They are not absolute statements, as the simple would like to read them. Simplifications take the place of thinking and discernment; the very skills proverbs are meant to sharpen. These wise sayings do not tell us what to think, they inspire us to become better thinkers.

 “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.” Fathers and mothers are equal in many ways, but that does not make them the same. Does the wise son bring joy to his mother too? Perhaps a mother’s love finds joy in her children regardless of whether they are wise. But the father especially loves to see his children live wisely, because the father sees himself as responsible for teaching them wisdom.  

 “Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death.” This gives as a glimpse of the long term. The future is an important thing to consider, because one day it will be the present. Lying, cheating and stealing may get you what you thought you wanted in the short term, but the value doesn’t last. Dishonesty may get you treasure, but what good is treasure without self respect? It is right behavior in the present, truthfulness even when it costs you, that frees your future self from the misery of regret.

 “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.” The simple mind, thinking only of food, immediately thinks of exceptions. Tens of millions of people were starved to death in the twentieth century, does this mean they were somehow unrighteous? And their murderers, some of history’s most wicked, rarely missed a meal. But food is not the only thing the righteous hunger for, and it is not the only thing the wicked crave. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” a very wise man once said, “for they will be filled.”

1 The Lord detests dishonest scales,

   but accurate weights find favor with him.

2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

   but with humility comes wisdom.

 

 The Lord, creator of all things, is the ultimate upholder of justice. Yet each of us is tempted to sit in his seat and tip the scale as we see fit. Some judge in favor of the powerful, hoping to impress them. Others judge in favor of the poor, hoping to help them. Even when we believe our intentions are good, unjust judgments cause more problems than they solve. The road to hell, it is said, is paved with such intentions.

 “But accurate weights find favor with him.” We may leave justice to the courts, but none of us can avoid the decisions of everyday life. How many reasons do we need to be accurate in our assessments? This proverb has given us two, but there are many more. If you are honest you will be trusted, if you are impartial your opinion will be valued. If you judge yourself accurately, you empower yourself to improve. Honesty may be difficult, but dishonesty is a lot more work.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” The proud person doesn’t ask for help, because he doesn’t want to look weak. He doesn’t seek advice, because he doesn’t want to look stupid. He doesn’t listen, because he doesn’t care to learn. But by doing these things he ensures what he had hoped to avoid. Unprepared and ill advised, he is one bad decision away from learning how weak and stupid he can be. The humble person, on the other hand, is always learning. People enjoy helping him, they respect him for seeking advice. When bad things happen to the humble, they learn from them and grow wise.

1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

   but whoever hates correction is stupid.

2 Good people obtain favor from the Lord,

   but he condemns those who devise wicked schemes.

 

 There are those whose main concern is looking good, and there are others who focus instead on being good. How does one distinguish between them? Watch how they respond to discipline, instruction and correction.

 The one who wants to be good, always looking to improve, responds to discipline by making adjustments. She is not overly sensitive to criticism, because she sees it as an opportunity to grow. She asks for advice readily, because she knows others can help her to reach her goals faster than she could on her own.

 The one who cares only about looking good, however, hates to be corrected. She may work hard (looking good is not easy), but she doesn’t grow much. This is because she doesn’t ask for help, especially from those she is trying to impress. She is much more likely to deceive, pretending to be something she’s not, to maintain her appearance of success. She is always at risk of being exposed. 

“Good people obtain favor from the Lord, but he condemns those who devise wicked schemes.” The focus here is on behavior, not on appearances. How do the good obtain favor? By doing the right thing, even when difficult. Many wicked schemes have been justified in the minds of those who devised them, because they convinced themselves there was no other way. Even those who get away with it must live with the fear of being found out.  A life lived in hiding is condemnation in itself. Are you tempted to bend the rules, to deceive someone, to do something you know you might regret? Be honest with yourself, there is more at stake than the thing you are after. 

1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,

   but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

2 From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things,

   but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence.

 

 Today’s insight begins with a contrast between the wise son and the mocker. This is especially relevant today, as mockery prevails from entertainment to politics and everywhere in between. The mocker has the ability to ignore things he doesn’t want to hear, simply by ridiculing the source. This saves him from the difficulty of thinking and from the burden of responsibility. It is much easier to burn down a house than to build one. But when the mocker’s work is complete, like the arsonist, he has little to show for his efforts.

 “From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things, but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence.” The first verse was about listening, and this one is about speaking. Those who are faithful to the truth avoid the bondage of dishonesty. More importantly, they are able to enjoy the fruit of their truthfulness. Good things gotten dishonestly tend to be bitter.

 The unfaithful expect others to be as deceitful as they are, which twists their appetites. Would you rather something good happen to you, or something bad to someone you don’t like? The deceitful person sees these two things as one and the same. Like the mocker he seeks to benefit from the destruction of others, not realizing that he destroys himself in the process.

1 The wise woman builds her house,

   but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

2 Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly,

   but those who despise him are devious in their ways.

 A household is a difficult thing to build, but the wise woman is up to the task. She sees that dignity comes with responsibility, and that freedom comes with discipline. She has goals for her family’s future, and she sacrifices in order to achieve them. Bit by bit, the things she does accumulate, bringing order out of the chaos of family life.

 “But with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” The foolish woman’s house isn’t destroyed from the outside, but from within. She sees responsibility as bondage, discipline as toil. She sacrifices her future to avoid them, not considering where that path will take her. When things fall apart she blames others, but she only fools herself.

 “Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly, but those who despise him are devious in their ways.” What do we know about those who fear the Lord? They acknowledge accountability, which empowers them to do the right thing. They don’t spend much time in the judgment seat, leaving that to the one who belongs there. They aren’t driven by fear of others, which keeps them from moral compromise. They humbly admit their faults, so they have nothing to hide.

 Those who despise the Lord, however, have nothing to protect them from themselves. They reject accountability, seeing submission as weakness. Not only do they put themselves in the judgment seat, they put everyone else on trial. They despise the Lord for things they don’t understand. Seeing themselves as victims, they justify their irresponsibility. Fear of others may keep them in check for a while, but sooner or later it will backfire. What is more devious than a person with something to hide?