As we continue reading Proverbs on Saturday, today let’s read Proverbs 1:20-33.
This portion of Proverbs 1 compares wisdom to a woman. What does this analogy teach us about wisdom? For one thing, it takes on some pretty popular notions about wisdom. Many people conceive of wisdom as something that is confined to obscurity and difficult to obtain. We are told that wisdom is something the elderly have or that it is the prized possession of some guru living high on a mountain somewhere. But these verses tell us, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech” (vv. 20-21). Wisdom isn’t hidden or obscure or difficult to obtain. She’s out there in the open and she is looking for you: “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” Admittedly, she’s not all that nice about it. She calls us “simple” “mockers” and “fools,” but that’s why she’s rare–we’re too proud to admit who we are and what we need. The great jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis once said, “The humble improve.” Have you ever tried to teach someone something but they’re too busy saying, “I know, I know, I know?” That’s what happens when I or you or anyone lacks the humility to learn and grow and become wise.
Ms. Wisdom calls us simpletons and fools to get our attention, to shock us out of our complacent attitude. That’s why she says, “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.” So wisdom is rare not because you have to wait until your old(er) to get it or because only the gurus have it, it is rare because although it is ubiquitous and trying to get our attention constantly, we do not have the humility to receive it.
This brings us to the second unconventional lesson about wisdom that this passage teaches which is that wisdom is not optional. Popular ideas about wisdom are that it is the best way to go, but not the only way to go in life. In other words, someone might say, “It’s not wise to go into debt to get a college education” but the implication is that it isn’t wrong to do so. We think of wisdom as a life-hack, a shortcut around commonly made mistakes. We think of it as shrewd, sage advice. Some of what is contained in the book of Proverbs may fit into that category, but mostly wisdom is moral. Wisdom does offer a pathway to a safer, happier life (see verse 33) but that’s because folly is a pathway to sin. True wisdom–biblical wisdom–the kind that wants to date you and marry you if you were smart enough to say yes when she asked you out flows from fearing God (verse 29).
If you walk with God, you will grow in wisdom. If you try to be wise without walking with God, believing and obeying his word, you might pick up some useful tips, but the sinful way of folly harm you in the end. Keep this in mind as we read the Proverbs together on Saturdays and ask God to give you a mind and heart that are ready to repent and receive his wisdom.