Although knowledge and wisdom are both by-products of each other, they aren't the same. Knowledge has perceivable limits. When Socrates made that timeless statement, 'I know that I do not know,' he was implying that no man can know everything about everything. And he was right! But wisdom isn't like that. It can't be measured by an IQ test or graded on some definitive scale. So how can we measure wisdom in our lives? How do we know when we've got it? Stephen tells us in this message.
“Wiser than an Owl”
Someone sent me a list of things called, “The Perks of Getting Older.”
Since I am, and maybe some of you are too, I thought I’d read them.
Here are the perks of getting older:
- In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.
- People call at 9 pm and ask apologetically, “Did I wake you?”
You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.”
- We’ll see about that.
- Your investment in health insurance all these years is finally paying off.
- There’s nothing left to learn the hard way.
- You can sing along with the elevator music – you know all the words.
- Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
- Here’s a good one; Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.
It’s one thing to get older . . . it’s another thing to grow wiser.
I have read that the Book of Psalms tell us how to get along with God. The Book of Proverbs tells us how to get along with people. The Book of Psalms helps us know how to worship while the Book of Proverbs helps us know how to walk.
That’s a far too simplistic categorization, but there is a kernel of truth in that.
While the Book of Psalms can be easily read in church, the Book of Proverbs can be read with one eye on the text and one eye on the daily news . . . a sentence or two in the middle of a quick lunch break on the job that can shape the rest of your day. This is an inspired collection of God’s wisdom that can help you navigate life in the fast lane.
In fact, I can safely promise you that if you read just a few Proverbs every day, you will more than likely see a demonstration of those truths come to life during the day.
Derek Kidner wrote in his commentary, “The Book of Proverbs [doesn’t really] take you to church. It calls across to you in the street about some everyday matter, or points things out at home. Its function in Scripture is to put godliness into working clothes.”
Quoted by Peter A. Stevenson, A Commentary on Proverbs (BJU Press, 2001), p. xi
Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Proverbs is a book that tells you how to become skillful in the lost art of making a life.”
Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful: Proverbs (Chariot Victor, 1995), p. 7
This book is filled with the hidden treasures of wisdom – and it is available for any treasure hunter who cares to dig beneath the surface.
What exactly is a proverb?
It comes from the root word “mashal” which basically means in its verb form, “to represent . . . or even to guide or rule”. There isn’t any doubt that the Book of Proverbs contains rules or principles which can generally represent the best way to live – and to give guidance to life.
Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, (Kregel Publications, 1995), p. 14
Adapted from Stevenson, p. 3
The English word, proverb, tracks back to the Latin word, proverbium – compound word; pro – meaning – ‘on behalf of’ and verba – meaning ‘words’. Put the two together and you have a proverb – a short statement on behalf of many words.
Adapted from Wiersbe, p. 14
The truth is, proverbs have been one of the key ways to teach great truths simply and quickly. You’ll find them in any culture and in every generation.
We’re familiar with a number of them in our own land:
- Look before you what? leap;
- Nothing ventured . . . nothing gained.
- A stitch in time saves nine. I have no idea what that means.
- A little longer one that I have often thought of before making a hasty decision: Better to be standing on shore wishing you were sailing than sailing wishing you were on shore.
Mark Twain provided a proverb that President Harry Truman liked so much he had it framed and hung in the Oval Office. It was this saying: Always do what is right – this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”
Ibid, p. 13
A short saying or proverb I put to memory recently is this one; You are most likely to hang yourself on the loose threads of life.
Here’s another one that’s worth remembering: it says a lot in a very short space of time: Your silence may be misinterpreted . . . but it can never be misquoted.
Just a few words that say a lot.
So, a proverb is a small statement with great significance. They stand in the place of a longer speech and yet deliver the deep lessons of truth.
And none are more important that the Book of Proverbs, simply because they are the inspired record of the Spirit of God.
Whether or not you know what a stitch in time saves nine means or not, might not matter, but these do.
God, the Giver of wisdom and in fact the personification of wisdom, made this list a part of divine revelation to guide your life and mine.
Throughout this treasure hunt, Solomon is going to give weighty words to all sorts of issues: He’s going to reveal wisdom regarding our hearts, our minds, our tongues and our spirits.
He’s going to talk about:
what we shouldn’t be but are;
and what we should be but often aren’t;
he’s going to delve into our world of relationships:
and even enemies.
Solomon is going to tell the truth about temptation, lust, greed, gossip, hatred and disappointment.
He’s going to talk about finances and freedom; rebellion and relationships will be covered a few words at a time.
Rarely are we given a written purpose statement from a book of the Bible.
In the New Testament, the Apostle John gave us that rare purpose statement, you remember, when he wrote in chapter 20, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
In other words, the gospel of John wasn’t the total record of Christ’s life and ministry and miracles, but it was enough for the reader to know that Jesus was no ordinary man – in fact, He was the Messiah.
The Book of Proverbs is not the sum and substance of wisdom either. But it is sufficient to allow the reader to walk in wisdom.
In fact, Solomon clearly delivers his purpose statement for this Old Testament book of the Bible.
He also leaves no question as to why these Proverbs were collected.
Turn to chapter 1:1, The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, King of Israel.
And what’s their purpose Solomon?
To discover 6 treasures:
- First and foremost, the overarching treasure of wisdom – he writes in verse 2, “To know wisdom.”
In other words, I’ve given you these proverbs to deliver to you and develop in you wisdom.
The Hebrew word for wisdom is chokmah: this is the ability to make the right decision, for the right reason, at the right time.
Wisdom sets the human apart from any other created being. The intellect and reasoning of human beings have long been a source of debate in the world as to their source.
Where did wisdom come from?
The Celtic religions believed their goddess Cerridwen created it. The Romans believed it came from Minerva and the Hindu’s pointed to their goddess of wisdom known as Saraswati.
The Greeks believed that wisdom came from the offspring of
Zeus. Evidently, according to their belief, Zeus had heard a prophecy that his wife was going to give birth to a girl who would become the Lord of heaven. So he swallowed his pregnant wife whole. However, when it was time for the child to be delivered, Zeus got a terrible headache and through an opening in his head, Athena, his daughter stepped out. Because she came from his head she became the goddess of wisdom. Athens would be named after her. They build the Parthenon in her honor. She was represented by an owl as her sacred bird. It gave rise to the superstition that lasts to this day that the owl is a wise bird . . . we talk about being wiser than an owl.
Richard L. Mayhue, Practicing Proverbs (Christian Focus, 2000), p. 41
In fact, another word related to the owl was adopted by the Greeks and used to this day. A group of owls is not referred to as a flock as with other birds, but as a parliament. Parliament referred to the gathering of wise owls. So today, we use the word parliament to refer to what we can only hope is a gathering of wise people.
Well, we know that wisdom comes from God. It is first and foremost who He is. He is the all-wise God.
Jude 25 says, “He is the only wise God.”
And James writes, If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask of God who will give it. (James 1:5)
Paul wrote to the Colossians and said effectively, I’m praying for you that you will be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding. (Colossians 1:9)
He communicates wisdom through the indwelling presence of the Living Word and the enriching presence of the written word.
David writes, the law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7). He goes on in verse 8 to write, the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandments of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The written word of God imparts the ability to make the right decision at the right time for the right reason.
Paul reminded Timothy when he wrote, but you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you wisdom – not only for salvation, but to equip you for every area of life. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
In other words, wisdom is developed as a result of hearing and obeying the scripture. Listen, a wise person is not necessarily the smartest person in the church, but the most submissive person to the scriptures.
This is the point of Solomon . . . “I’m delivering truths to you so that you will have wisdom.
- Notice Solomon also says in verse two that another treasure for the seeker of truth is not only wisdom but, verse 2, “to know wisdom and instruction.
This word instruction carries the idea of a parent’s instruction or discipline which then builds character.
One Jewish commentator pointed out that moosar – this word here refers to gaining knowledge based not only on hearing the truth but learning from the mistakes of others. Solomon is saying that by reading this book you can learn from the fruits of other’s experiences.
Derek Leman, Proverbial Wisdom & Common Sense (Lederer Books, 1999), p. 11
You ever learn anything from other people’s mistakes? I remember my three brothers and I learned a lot of things from their mistakes . . . I taught them a few too.
I remember being convinced that a person could jump off the back side of our garage roof which sloped down to about 10 feet above the grassy backyard without getting hurt if you held an umbrella in your hand. Evidently I had watched Mary Poppins one too many times. I was convinced that the umbrella would allow you to float down without any problems. But I wasn’t totally sure of my hypothesis so I convinced my younger brother that it would work. He happily went ahead with it . . . as soon as he jumped the umbrella swooshed inside out and he hit the ground.
I was able to learn from his experience.
Solomon is going to show us not just good decisions but bad ones . . . so that we can learn from others as we watch them.
- Solomon goes on in verse 2 to deliver another treasure for the wisdom seeker; To discern the sayings of understanding
To discern is a verb which describes an ability to distinguish between opposites: good from evil; right from wrong; honor from dishonor.
Discernment, activated by the Living Word, through the indwelling written word, submitted to and lived out.
- Solomon adds a fourth treasure: he writes in verse 3, To receive instruction in wise behavior.
And what does that wise behavior look like? He tells us, righteousness, justice and equity.
If there was ever a lack of wise behavior it is our generation. And the older generation that should have been passing along the wisdom of God has abandoned its post.
The younger generation is now, on author wrote, living on the moral edge.
Every day in America:
1,000 unwed teenage girls become mothers;
1,106 teenage girls have abortions;
4,219 teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease;
1,000 teens begin drinking alcohol;
500 take their first drugs;
2,200 teens drop out of school
6 commit suicide.
Josh McDowell, Right From Wrong, (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 6
One author wrote, “The government says the solution is better education; job opportunities for graduates; activists say we need to eradicate oppression and injustice; others say we need more police, punishment, prisons and social programs.
Ibid, p. 10
These are dealing only with the symptoms. These are better Kleenex’s for life threatening pneumonia.
What you will discover in Proverbs is that the answer is the radical infusion of wisdom from the scriptures – which is then demonstrated in wise behavior.
- Solomon adds a fifth jewel for the treasure hunter.
Proverbs have been delivered to you, verse 4, to give prudence to the naïve or simple.
The word prudence can be translated with the nuance of shrewdness – critical thinking.
Why? Because the naïve are gullible. They’ll believe anything.
Throughout Proverbs, the naïve are warned to think. In chapter 27:12 Solomon writes, A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty.
The word naïve means unsuspecting. Frankly, some people are so gullible they believe everything they are told. And pay the penalty.
One Jewish commentator I’m reading said that this word naïve refers to someone who isn’t thinking.
Leman, p. 12
I’ve had this article in my files for quite some time that perfectly illustrates this. Richard Dimbleby of the BBC news was famous for pulling April fools jokes on the BBC radio on April first. He normally covered all the royal ceremonial events and was a symbol of trust in the eyes of British viewers. One year he did a current affairs program where he showed a film of a spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. The film showed trees dripping with long ribbons of white spaghetti while Dimbleby voiced over, “Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley.” Swiss villagers were shown carrying great baskets of harvested pasta to be dried in the sun. Workers were seen trimming the spaghetti out of the trees. He concluded the show by saying, “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like home-grown spaghetti.” The switchboards lit up with callers asking how they could begin to grow spaghetti in their own gardens. The BBC answer, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a jar of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Another year, Patrick Moore, a British astronomer, had everyone fooled. He told BBC listeners that in the morning the planet Pluto would pass directly behind Jupiter, producing a slight gravitational pull on Earth that would make everyone feel lighter. He urged listeners to jump at precisely 9:47 AM. By 9:48 the switchboards were blazing with delighted callers saying that they had experienced the floating sensation when they jumped. One woman said her entire coffee group of 11 women floated around the room.” I wonder if they were drinking coffee? Another man complained he had hit his head on the ceiling.
American Way, March 18, 1986, p. 10
Leave it to somebody to file a lawsuit.
How naïve can you be!
- Solomon goes on to deliver another hidden treasure found in these Proverbs, v. 4b To give to the youth, knowledge and discretion.
You say, well, that rules me out . . . I’m aging remember?
The word youth is actually used in scripture to refer to an infant (Exodus 2:6) to a 17 year old (Genesis 37:2) to a nearly middle aged man (Genesis 41:12).
Youth seems to refer to anyone on the threshold of maturity. And that fits us all, who are not just growing old but growing up.
Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 178
That’s exactly what Solomon describes in verse 5. A wise man will hear and increase in learning. And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
That word, “acquire” means literally to grasp . . . to seize wise counsel.
How desperately do we want wisdom? Those who have ready hands to seize wise counsel find the treasure of wisdom.
- Solomon adds one more treasure to his purpose statement for Proverbs, by writing in verse 6. To understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.
In Solomon’s day people loved riddles – I believe they love them today as well.
Sophocles, the Greek writer who lived 500 years before the birth of Christ wrote of the sphinx – a fallen angel shaped like a lioness with the wings of an eagle and the head of a woman. She asked history’s most famous riddle as people passed by to their peril. The riddle was this, “What has one voice, and yet is four footed in the morning, 2-footed at noon and 3 footed in the evening.” If the person got it wrong she killed them. That would make quite a game show. One hero was able to answer it however. It’s a human being. At birth – in the morning – he crawls on all fours. Later in life he stands on two feet. In the evening of his life he uses a crutch. The sphinx became so upset the riddle was figured out she threw herself off the mountain and that ended the game.
I believe that Solomon is referring to the riddles of life. In other words, if you want to figure out the riddles that life will bring you – some innocent and some far more serious, you need to understand the proverbs written herein.
James Dobson wrote an article I filed away for later use. He told the story of a friend of his that was flying a small, single-engine airplane toward a country airport several years ago.
He was behind schedule and arrived after the sun had dropped behind the nearby mountains at the close of the day. By the time he had maneuvered into a position to land, the field was dark and hazy at best. He couldn’t see clearly enough to risk a safe landing. He had no lights on his plane and there was no one on duty at the small local airport. He circled the runway for another attempt to land, but by then the darkness had become even more impenetrable. He should have attempted a landing when he had the chance. Now it was too late.
For two hours he flew his plane around the clearing where he knew below was that small airport and grass runway. The darkness of the night had swallowed him up. He knew that if he didn’t land he would face certain death when his fuel ran out but by now had no way to even determine where the landing strip was located. As greater and greater panic gripped him, a wonderful thing occurred.
A neighbor who lived near the airport had heard the continual droning of this man’s plane engine and realized his predicament. He hopped in his car and drove out to the grassy airstrip and raced back and forth a number of times. The pilot spotted him and watched as this man drove up and down the airstrip several times to show him the location and length of the runway.
This man then drove to the far end of the runway and put on his high beams to cast just enough light for this pilot who was able to safely land his plane.
Focus on the Family Magazine/August 1987
That man’s kindness served somewhat like the Book of Proverbs. Here are the guidelines . . . stay within the boundary of this inspired light – these beams of Divine revelation will guide you to not only land safely, but live wisely.
This is the purpose statement of Proverbs . . . would you like to be wiser than some owl . . . as if an owl was wise?
Let me give you several observations before we wrap our study up tonight.
- A person is not considered wise because he knows everything, but because he longs to learn more.
- A person is not considered wise because he know what to say, but because he knows how to listen.
- A person is not considered wise because he knows everything, but because he obeys what he learns.
Do you want to be truly discerning . . . alert . . . shrewd? It’s dark out there . . . so very dark.
Do you want to do more than grow old . . . but grow wiser than an owl?
Here it is . . . simply put, listen . . . learn . . . obey.