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A Repeated Call to Humility

Proverbs 1 and the Need for Wisdom

April 01, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 68, Proverbs 1, and 2 Corinthians 1–3.

Every time I come back around to Proverbs 1 I find myself all the more challenged to pursue wisdom. This month will be my third time through the book this year, since I have been reading it start to finish each month (save February, where I read through some of the other Wisdom literature). I had not spent much time with the Proverbs over the past few years, in part because I had struggled to and not known how to integrate them with the broader flow of the Scriptures. Several things persuaded me to integrate them into my daily reading this year. First of all, this is the word of God! All of it is profitable for us—enough said. Second, as I have walked further into adulthood, I have increasingly recognized the need for wisdom, whether in my own life or in caring for other believers. The world is a hard and complicated place this side of the New Jerusalem, and it is only by having deep, sound, Godly wisdom that we can walk it well.

The book tells us its purpose from the outset:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

—Proverbs 1:2–6

Then it tells us how this will all be accomplished:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

—Proverbs 1:7

So here I am again, being reminded that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (In some sense, that made me bordering on a fool for several years as I skipped over this simply because I did not understand it. Shouldn’t the response be exactly the opposite?) If I want to understand mysteries and riddles, to understand proverbs and sayings, to receiving instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity, to become prudent and knowledgeable and wise, to increase in learning, to obtain guidance—and who would not want these things?—then I start by fearing Yahweh.

Situated against the backdrop of the canon, this opening is all the more compelling. It is not fear of God generically that is the beginning of wisdom, nor even knowledge that there is a creator. It is personal knowledge of the Lord, of Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. This cannot be separated from knowing who Yahweh is as he is revealed in the rest of Scripture. Yet if I am truly to grow in knowledge and understanding of righteousness—one of the chief topics of the Bible!—then I must come time and again to these words, and seek wisdom. I must time and again humble myself before our Creator-Savior-God and recognize that my own wisdom and the wisdom of the world around me is ultimately bankrupt. I have nothing to teach God; from him I have everything to learn.

And it can only be learned in that posture of humility before transcendent wisdom that surpasses human understanding. That is the lesson of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes): as we turn and begin to seek wisdom on our own, we will increasingly fall into folly. No wonder, then, that immediately following the invitation to be wise here in Proverbs 1, in Lady Wisdom’s first monologue, comes a rebuke and a warning to fools and simpletons who do not seek true wisdom. It is an easy enough course to take—the easiest, the most natural for us as fallen people—but it is deadly. There is a cost when I fail to fear Yahweh and keep his ways.