The Appeal of Wisdom: From a Father and From Wisdom Itself

Notes on Proverbs

The invitation to take hold of the wisdom that comes from above is universal. It is expressed in two ways in the book of Proverbs. First, we read of a father inviting his son to take heed to his words: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings” (4:20). Second, we read of wisdom personified extending the invitation for all to come, learn, and become wise: “Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? […] ‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naive ones, understand prudence; and, O fools, understand wisdom. Listen, for I will speak noble things…” (8:1, 4-6).

The Father’s Appeal

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (3:1-4).

An earlier statement in the book is similar to this: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (1:8). The earlier passage introduces the father’s specific instruction about friendships and evil influences that will be considered later in our study. The above passage (3:1-4) is more general; so for our purposes we will begin with it.

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” (3:1). The father’s instruction that his son “not forget” his teaching implies that his son had already been taught. The father is simply reminding his son of what he has instructed previously. The father’s invitation then is for the son to hear and accept his teaching, retain his teaching (“not forget”), and apply his teaching (“keep my commandments”).

For length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you” (3:2). Why should the son listen to his father’s instruction? He should listen, not just because of the authority his father has over him, but because he will benefit from heeding his father’s command. The children of Israel were told, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). Similarly, the wise man tells his son that by accepting, retaining, and applying his teaching, he will be blessed for many years. This, of course, is generally, not absolutely, true.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (3:3). The father again tells his son to retain his instructions. In this verse, he tells him to do this in two ways. To “bind them around your neck” suggests an outward manifestation of the son’s retention of his father’s teaching (actions, words). To “write them on the tablet of your heart” describes how his father’s instructions were to govern his inward being (thoughts, motives). The point is that the wisdom the father imparts to his son, and the wisdom found throughout the book of Proverbs, is for the whole man (actions, words, thoughts, and motives).

So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (3:4). The father mentions a twofold benefit of following his words of wisdom. First, his son would “find favor…in the sight of God.” As previously noted, a healthy “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7) and “wisdom” (9:10). One must follow after divine wisdom to be pleasing to God. Second, his son would be of “good repute in the sight of…man.” The application of the wisdom imparted by this father and discussed throughout the book of Proverbs is practical and can be easily seen and will be respected by others.

Wisdom’s Appeal

Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: ‘How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil’” (1:20-33).

This is the first of three passages we will be considering in which the wise man personifies wisdom and describes her appealing to man to take heed to her.

Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings” (1:20-21). The fact that wisdom is being described as shouting and crying out in the street, in the square, at the head of the noisy streets, and at the entry gates to the city is meant to show us that the call of wisdom is made publicly and openly to all. Yet there is no mention of a crowd gathering around, eager to learn from the one proclaiming wisdom; only an inattentive refusal to receive wisdom (1:24-25). The lesson is that though wisdom calls to all, not all will obtain wisdom. Therefore, if one does not grow in wisdom, it is because he has rejected wisdom, not because wisdom was inaccessible to him. We have already noticed the father imparting wisdom to his son (3:1-4). What if there is no father to impart wisdom? What if the father is unwilling or unable to teach his son? Though the son in such situations would certainly be at a disadvantage, there is still wisdom to be gained as it is calling out to all, openly and freely.

‘How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?’” (1:22). Incredibly, there are many people who prefer life without wisdom – at least the divine wisdom that is being offered to them here. They “love being simple-minded” and “hate knowledge.” We often hear the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” To those who are willingly foolish and naive, this is their motto. They know just enough about the wisdom that invites them to have convinced themselves that they want no part of it. Instead they “delight themselves in scoffing,” preferring to ridicule and mock rather than learn and grow. But why would so many people prefer simple-mindedness and foolishness over the wisdom that comes from above? Solomon gives an answer to this in the next verse.

‘Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you’” (1:23). For one to abandon his foolishness in order to take hold of wisdom, he must first receive reproof. He must be shown how he is in error so that he can make correction and follow what is right. This key component in gaining wisdom – reproof – is uncomfortable and undesirable to many. People do not want to have their faults pointed out to them and be told that they must now do something differently. This is why many reject divine wisdom. As we will discuss more in depth later in this study, we can infer from this passage that we must be willing to listen to reproof, admit wrong, and make corrections in our lives. If we are willing to do these things, wisdom says she will pour out her spirit on us and make her words known to us. If we apply ourselves to wisdom with the proper attitude, we will be able to acquire it.

‘Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof’” (1:24-25). God never forces anyone to hear, learn, obey, or grow. We must choose to do those things. In the same way, the wisdom that comes down from above will not be forced upon us. Wisdom will call, but we can refuse. We are free to choose to pay no attention to the appeal of wisdom. But there will be consequences, as they are mentioned in the verses that follow.

I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you” (1:26-27). Wisdom is described as laughing and mocking when trouble comes to those who refused to listen. To us, this may seem a little harsh. But it is no more harsh than the fool’s rejection of the appeal that was made to him by wisdom. Also, it is important to note that this calamity is spoken of as a certainty. The text does not say wisdom will mock if dread and distress come; it says that wisdom will mock when dread and distress come. There are negative consequences that come as a result of one rejecting wisdom. The timing and severity of these consequences will vary, but the fact that they will come is a certainty.

Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof” (1:28-30). We might wonder, if wisdom was previously crying out, why will she refuse to answer when these ones start calling on her and diligently seeking her? The reason is because “they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” They rejected the counsel and reproof of wisdom. We might wonder: does God not allow one who had previously rejected Him and His wisdom to repent? Of course He does (cf. Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9). But even if one repents, he will still have to face the negative consequences of the choices he made prior to his repentance. Therefore, since these individuals rejected the wisdom that could have prevented their calamity, even a penitent heart would not deliver them from the physical consequences of their prior decisions. Acquiring wisdom is a process. If we forsake the appeal of wisdom until we need wisdom, it will be too late. We must grow in wisdom now in order to prepare for the future.

So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (1:31-32). When calamity comes, those who rejected wisdom will have to suffer the consequences of their rejection. The seed that they sowed in foolishness will bear fruit. Those who rejected wisdom will eat of this fruit (experience the negative consequences of their choices) and be satiated. This means they would be filled to the point of disgust, just as when one becomes sick from eating too much of an unhealthy food. The “waywardness of the naive” brings about death, reminding us again that ignorance is not bliss. The complacency, or prosperity (KJV), of fools brings destruction. As long as they are content in their foolishness and naivete, they will develop no desire to seek after wisdom.

But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil’” (1:33). Just as there are negative consequences for rejecting wisdom, there is also a reward for accepting wisdom. More of the benefits of wisdom will be discussed later in the study. But here, Solomon tells us that those who listen to the words of wisdom will enjoy security and peace from the threat of calamity that would be against those who rejected wisdom.

* * *

Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the opening to the city, at the entrance of the doors, she cries out: ‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naive ones, understand prudence; and, O fools, understand wisdom. Listen, for I will speak noble things; and the opening of my lips will reveal right things. For my mouth will utter truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They are all straightforward to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her” (8:1-11).

This second passage describing wisdom’s appeal to man contains an invitation that explains, in general terms, the teachings of wisdom. It also introduces the value of wisdom.

Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the opening to the city, at the entrance of the doors, she cries out” (8:1-3). The question in the first verse is rhetorical. Of course wisdom calls and lifts her voice. As we have already noticed, this call is made publicly, indicating that it is open to all (cf. 1:20-21).

‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naive ones, understand prudence; and, O fools, understand wisdom’” (8:4-5). This further emphasizes the need for all to take heed unto the call of wisdom. The wisdom that comes from above is intended for “the sons of men.” God expects people to gain wisdom and has made it so that all are able to do so. It is designed to give prudence and wisdom to those who are naive and foolish. Calling these ones naive and foolish is not meant to be an insult. Certainly everyone, at some point in their lives, has a time when they are naive and foolish simply because they have not yet learned what they need to know. The point is that we should not remain in a state of naivete and foolishness.

Listen, for I will speak noble things; and the opening of my lips will reveal right things. For my mouth will utter truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverted in them” (8:6-8). The wisdom that comes from above is different than the wisdom of the world (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-21). Because man is fallible, the wisdom of the world is fallible. Paul would later write, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). In contrast, because God is infallible, the wisdom that comes from above is perfect. As wisdom describes her teaching, was see a perfect message that has come from an infallible being. Wisdom speaks of things which are noble and right (3:6). The word translated noble or excellent (KJV) is used elsewhere to describe those in positions of civil or military power. It indicates that the words of wisdom are superior over the worldly wisdom that is contrary to it. The lips of wisdom speak truth and not wickedness (3:7). The teachings of wisdom are wholly righteous, containing no hint of any error or foolishness (3:8).

They are all straightforward to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge” (8:9). The previous verses describe the sayings of wisdom as being wholly noble, right, true, and righteous. However, not everyone is going to accept the wisdom that comes from above as being these things. Many follow the wisdom of the world, believing it is more noble, right, true, and righteous than the wisdom that comes from above. Why do some reject godly wisdom for worldly wisdom? It is because they do not understand or have knowledge. One who truly understands and appreciates the difference between the two types of wisdom will always choose to follow after the wisdom that comes from above. Those who follow the wisdom of the world either do not know the wisdom that comes from God, or they have not put forth enough of an effort to understand it.

Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her” (8:10-11). We will discuss more later in the study about the value of wisdom. The idea is introduced to us here. Those things which man values in this life – silver, gold, jewels, and any other desirable possession – cannot compare with the wisdom that comes from above. Therefore, wisdom calls us to listen to her instruction and gain the knowledge that will lead one to acquire wisdom.

* * *

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars; she has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table; she has sent out her maidens, she calls from the tops of the heights of the city: ‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding’” (9:1-6).

The final passage we will notice that describes wisdom’s appeal presents a picture of wisdom making preparations to host a feast and inviting others to attend.

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars; she has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table; she has sent out her maidens, she calls from the tops of the heights of the city” (9:1-3). The fact that wisdom has built a house, as opposed to pitching a tent, indicates that it is firmly established. The seven pillars indicate completeness, that it is lacking in nothing. Preparations are made for this feast and the invitations are sent. The call for men to attend the feast is done “from the tops of the heights of the city,” again, indicates a public invitation that is made to all (cf. 1:20-21; 8:2-3).

‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding’” (9:4-6). The invitation is directed to those who are naive and who lack understanding. Of course, all who lack wisdom from above need to answer this call. But one must be humble enough to recognize the fact that he is naive and lacking in understanding. Those who are rebellious or arrogant, though they are in need of godly wisdom, will not answer the call because they do not believe that they need it. We must be able to acknowledge our shortcomings and humbly seek after this wisdom. After one humbly receives wise instruction, he must repent (forsake his folly) and do the will of God (proceed in the way of understanding). It will not do any good for one to learn of the right way, then fail to give up his wickedness and follow after what is right. Acquiring wisdom must necessarily result in one applying wisdom. Most of the book of Proverbs is devoted to this application of wisdom.


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  1. […] considering the appeal of wisdom – both from a father and from wisdom itself – it is important to consider whether or not this same wisdom is good for us today. The wisdom we […]