To Acquire Wisdom, We Must Listen

Notes on Proverbs

As wisdom is based upon instruction, it is therefore necessary for us to listen to wise counsel in order to acquire wisdom. So the wise father calls upon his son to listen to his words.

Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many. I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; and if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life” (4:10-13).

Notice how the father tells his son to listen. “Hear…and accept my sayings” (4:10). “Take hold of instruction” (4:13). Elsewhere the wise man says, “Listen, my son, and be wise” (23:19), and, “Listen to your father who begot you” (23:22). The goal in this listening is to acquire wisdom. “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days” (19:20).

This listening must be more than just hearing what is being taught. One may listen to a parent, teacher, or someone else who is trying to impart wisdom to him, but the words go “in one ear and out the other.” He does not pay attention. He does not remember. And he certainly does not observe what was taught. We need to practice real listening if we hope to obtain wisdom. So the father says, “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways” (23:26). We have already noticed how the “springs of life” flow from the heart (4:23). Therefore, the instruction that we allow to be written on our hearts is the instruction that will have the greatest effect on our lives. So our listening must not be superficial and soon to be forgotten. We must absorb the wise counsel we receive into our innermost being so that wisdom can spring forth from our hearts to be manifested in our lives.

As we listen, we must also listen with a view toward observing what we learn. This is important because of the consequences of failing to do so – many of which we have already considered. The wise man says, “He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof goes astray” (10:17). The wise counsel we receive must be put into practice if we hope to gain the rewards of wisdom.

My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:20, 23).

This view toward observing what is taught is essential. Early in the book, Solomon writes, “My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding… Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God” (2:1-5). Listening attentively, even to the point of treasuring commandments (and, by implication, striving to follow them), is necessary if we want to gain knowledge and grow in wisdom.

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However, we must understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to listen. Let us first consider the right way to listen.

Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (11:14).

Similar statements are made elsewhere in the book (15:22; 20:18; 24:6). It is dangerous to have “no guidance.” We need to have others to counsel us in the ways of divine wisdom. But Solomon does not just talk about one or two counselors to provide help, but an “abundance of counselors.” It is good to seek guidance from multiple sources rather than putting complete trust in one man. After all, even our counselors may be mistaken from time to time. Therefore, it is helpful to receive instruction from several teachers. However, in doing this, we must heed the warning of Solomon: “The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps” (14:15). While an “abundance of counselors” can often be good, we must be careful not to believe everything we hear, lest we be like those of whom Paul later wrote who were “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). We must be careful that we accept godly wisdom and reject worldly wisdom (foolishness).

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (12:15).

The wise man is one “who listens to counsel.” He stands in contrast with the “fool” who is “right in his own eyes.” The implication is that the fool arrogantly holds onto what “seems right” to him (14:12; 16:25) and is, therefore, not willing to listen. “Through insolence [pride, KJV] comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (13:10). The wise man, exercising humility, is prepared to listen and grow even more in the ways of wisdom.

A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (15:12).

The scoffer is one who does more than just disregard or ignore wise counsel. He scoffs at it, or mocks it. He has no respect for the message or the one trying to present it. “He will not go to the wise,” and he will, therefore, not become wise (13:20). But if we listen with respect, both for the message and those who are faithfully presenting it, we can gain wisdom.

He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (16:20).

If we hope to acquire wisdom, we must also listen in faith (trusting in the Lord). Our faith is not in the wise counselors who might teach us. As we have already discussed, these individuals may, at times, be wrong. Therefore, we must be careful to what we listen (14:15). But our faith and trust must always be in the Lord. We must listen in faith, knowing that what He instructs is right and for our good.

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As there is a right way to listen, there is also a wrong way to listen. Let us notice a few passages that speak of this.

The wise of heart will receive commands, but a babbling fool will be ruined” (10:8).

We have already noticed that the wise are willing to listen. The fool, however, is not interested in listening, but in talking. Solomon later writes, “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind” (18:2). Therefore, as a result of his unwillingness to listen, preferring to speak before he has understanding, he “will be ruined.

Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (17:24).

Again we see that understanding – which comes as the result of listening – leads to wisdom. Sometimes the fool is unwilling to listen because he is only interested in speaking (10:8; 18:2). Other times he may listen, but he does not listen well because he is distracted. His “eyes…are on the ends of the earth,” and he will not focus on the instruction that can lead to wisdom.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (23:9).

In this verse, Solomon addresses those who teach, warning them of the futility of trying to teach one who is a fool. The fool will not listen because he despises wisdom. Therefore, any teaching he may hear as the result of one trying to instruct him will be rejected.

How blessed in the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (28:14).

The hard heart belongs to the person who refuses to listen because he does not believe he needs to listen. He is stuck in his ways, refusing to change or even acknowledge that a change might, at times, be necessary. He trusts in himself and does not see the need to fear God and follow Him. Solomon warns that one who “hardens his heart” will suffer hardship for it and will miss out on the blessings that come from humbly listening to wise counsel.


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