Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 11:5-13; 1 Timothy 1:1-11; Proverbs 1:1-7; Nehemiah 1-2
The Old Testament provides different types of literary material. One division is between the Law, the Prophets and Wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is part of the Wisdom literature. While the other material is generally broad and universal, the proverbs address the details and specifics of everyday life. As we wonder about how we should live, how to parent, how to conduct business, how to speak to others, and many other practical questions, the proverbs provide wise counsel.
These first few verses of Proverbs explain their goal: that we can gain wisdom and understanding that leads to right living. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge, though it involves knowledge. It is not just about actions, though it involves behaviour. Wisdom understands how life works, what makes for true health and wealth, and how to live life well.
At the same time, the book of Proverbs is not a do-it-yourself manual. When faced with a question about what we should do, Proverbs will not provide a quick fix. The proverbs are part of an apprenticeship in wisdom. This passage repeatedly ties wisdom to instruction, a Hebrew word that entails shaping one’s character. Developing wisdom is part of a moral education. The material should be reflected upon and acted upon, but this must be done within a relationship with the Lord which is changing our heart and character.
These verses present a few foundational ideas about wisdom. First, we are not born wise. Wisdom must be attained and developed. Becoming wise requires instruction, some of which comes from proverbs. A proverb is a short saying that conveys practical truth, often using imagery to help us understand or remember the concept. Metaphors and similes are common in proverbs, though at times the message is blunt: fools despise wisdom and instruction (v. 7). In contrast, the wise continue to grow in wisdom. With true wisdom comes the humility to know that we must continue to listen and learn; the discerning person continues to seek guidance (v. 5). Pursuing wisdom is a life-long endeavour.
Second, wisdom is relational. Verse 7 presents the main theme of Proverbs: wisdom and knowledge begin with ‘the fear of the Lord’. In Hebrew, this is a compound term that cannot be understood by separating its parts. Just as a ‘butterfly’ cannot be understood by knowing something about ‘butter’ and ‘fly’, this phrase is not about being afraid of God. The phrase ‘fear of the Lord’ refers both to a revelation from God and a response of fear, awe and trust.
The Proverbs are written in the style of Hebrew poetry where the second line clarifies something about the first. The second half of verse 7 reveals more about the fear of the Lord using its opposite: foolishness. To despise something is to regard it as worthless and even wicked. Fools arrogantly reject wisdom and will not accept instruction because they think they do not need it. Those who fear the Lord realise their need for help, and they humbly turn to him for instruction. They find that a Lord who loves to help and helps by loving. He is a God who reveals the way things truly are and how best we can live. As we study the proverbs, we will discover many nuggets of his wisdom. We become wise as we trust and act upon God’s wisdom.