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Proverbs Week 1: Life's Wisdom Flowing from Reverential Faith in God

Author: Jody Green

Life is messy. Most people might want it to work like self-help advice – ‘3 steps to happiness’ or ‘ 5 principles for a perfect marriage - but it doesn’t. Life is not simplistic, neither is it formulaic. However, life is not futile, random or meaningless either. The Hebrew sages - Solomon (1:1), Agur (30:1-33), King Lemuel (31:1-9) and “sayings of the wise” (22:17-24:34) - wrote Proverbs after pondering life’s questions and tensional truths. As one of five wisdom books, theologically woven “in the fear of the LORD,” Proverbs focuses on life skills.

First, however, consider what you would have chosen in Eden’s garden? Would you have trusted God - His Word and way - or tried to forge your own life apart from God? In Proverbs, Solomon suggests we each face similar forks in our own life-road. Will you choose the path of wisdom in ”the fear of the LORD,” Solomon queries, or the path of a fool that leads to destruction? This two-tree, two-path, two-road choice is repetitive throughout Scripture. In Proverbs, our two-option choice is (1) the righteous wise (2) or the ungodly fool. The proverbial ‘tree of life’ is a relationship in “the fear of the LORD” producing wisdom, practical skills for life.

The major contributor of Proverbs, Solomon, prayed for and received wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15) from the LORD, just as we can ask (in faith) for wisdom today and receive it (James 1:5-7). Sadly, Solomon failed to maintain His relational “fear of the LORD [that] turns away from evil,” (Prov. 3:7) and reaped a fool’s reward later in his life. This is a warning to all: God Himself is the fountainhead of wisdom. Proverbs aren’t universally valid truths or formulaic propositions that work without God-dependent guidance. The sages offered insight and advice “true only at the right time and in the right circumstances” (Longman, 31). It is God Himself, today through His Spirit, that enables believers to “read people and circumstances to know what applies” (31).

This contextualized application keeps wisdom-seekers God-reliant, as well as graciously attuned to people, aware of life-situations and cognizant of their own motives. Without God’s guidance in application, proverbs can be misused and dangerous. “A proverb in the mouth of fools [is like] a thorn bush in the hand of a drunk” (26:9). God gives wisdom within a right relationship with Him; “the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (1:26). A wise character of discernment and insight come from God alone.

Within Scripture’s Wisdom genre, the “fear of the LORD” is a Hebraic relational perspective which contrasts greatly the Western behavioral mindset in our culture. As you read, reflect, then chew and do the Proverbs, watch for character clues. The sages believed wisdom flows out of the “fear of the LORD” and changing a person’s character is a divine endeavor. Then, much like God’s Spirit conforming believers today, a relationally-reflective transforming process occurs over time - in prayer and meditation of His Word. In His incarnation, Christ’s character, conduct, teaching and relationships were “the visible image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). This includes “the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge” (Rom. 11:33). Christ fully revealed Divine wisdom.

Today, in a believer’s life of Spirit-filled dependence, much like awed-reverence of Yahweh in past generations, “wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you [and] understanding will guard you.” Then or now, when God’s people walk the path the LORD has set for them, the relationship of knowing God by faith, hope and love is paramount. “For He stores up sound wisdom for the upright … and watches over the way of his saints.” (2:7-8)

“Understanding proverbs is not just … [an] academic exercise” (41). Rather, it “flows from a character formed by wisdom” (41). For ancient Israelites, character resulted from choosing Yahweh and the path He set before them. The same choice is yours every day. Are you “abiding in Christ and His Word,” or have you left God’s path when ‘sinners enticed’ or ‘greed tempted’ you? Are you ‘ignoring counsel’ when people warn you? If so, it’s u-turn time. Today can be the day for "making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (2:1-2). God’s wisdom calls you; “If you turn at [wisdom’s] reproof … [God] will make His words known to you.” (1:23). God’s wisdom for life’s messiness is available to those who live Spirit-dependent daily.

Source: Proverbs by Tremper Longman III.

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