Passage: Proverbs 3:13–3:26
Proverbs chapter 3. Let’s dive in. If you’ve been with us, it has been made abundantly clear that this book is about wisdom. We have been taking small chunks from various places and looking at what they say about wisdom. We have talked about wisdom with money, we have talked about wisdom with sex, and we have talked about what wisdom wins us in this life. Now, Solomon tells us why it is that we should want wisdom.
We can know what is wise, but that doesn’t mean we are going to do what is wise. Millions of Americans know it is not wise to smoke cigarettes, but they do. We know through scientific data that we should eat healthily and exercise and why, but we are now the most out of shape society ever to exist. In my college ministry days, Angela and I would frequently meet students who knew it wasn’t wise to date the person they were dating, but they still did. One of the hardest things I have ever done was quitting dip. I knew it would cause cancer. I knew it was bad on the budget. And I knew it was just generally gross to everyone around. I remember sitting in the deer stand and taking my can of Copenhagen out and throwing it dramatically into the woods. An hour later, I’m looking through the bushes trying to find it. Why? I knew what the wise decision was, but I was still unwilling to make it. That is what this passage addresses.
In this passage, we see the value of wisdom, the power behind wisdom, and a call to action.
- The value of wisdom 13-18
The first six verses of this passage tell us three things about the value of Lady Wisdom. Remember, Solomon is using this figure, Lady Wisdom, to personify wisdom. To show the desirability of wisdom. First, she is more precious than the most valuable metals. 13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Solomon is talking about wisdom as something you can purchase and use. That’s why he talks about the gain you get from her. He isn’t saying that gold and silver are of no value. He’s saying they are of great value because you can profit from them, but even riches have limits to what they can buy you. They can buy you a home. They can buy you food. They can create a ton of security for you and for your children and grandchildren. None of those things are bad! Solomon isn’t knocking wealth, he’s saying as great as wealth is, wisdom is even better. With wisdom you can buy so much more than those things. Bruce Waltke says, “The profit you will get from buying wisdom is better than the profit of silver because money can put food on the table, but not fellowship around it. Money can get you a house, but not a home. Money can give women jewelry, but not the love she really wants.”
Solomon isn’t trying to bring money down a notch, he’s trying to raise wisdom up a notch. We sacrifice for the things we believe have value and, as a culture, we probably sacrifice more for money than anything else. We sacrifice our time and our hard work and our other opportunities to get money so we can buy the things that will bless us. Solomon is telling us that wisdom can buy so much more! Nothing you desire will give you more than she will. Pursue her, sacrifice for her, make her your top priority and you will not regret it.
Why is that? This is the second reason Lady Wisdom is valuable. She will give you the things you need most in their proper order. Verse 16: 16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Solomon is most likely using the image of the Egyptian goddess of wisdom and justice, Ma’at. But, by placing life in her right hand, he’s declaring that has greater worth. Again, this proverb is not knocking wealth, but it is showing us the limitations of wealth. Money is not a bad thing. Honor is not a bad thing. But, they can’t buy you the most important things. I have some friends who have more money than I could ever imagine and are esteemed in their fields, but their life is a wreck. Money and honor can’t buy you life. Real life. Abundant life.
So, what does it mean to live an abundant life? It means that wisdom leads us into the arms of God, our great shepherd, who leads us again and again to protection and pasture. That is the abundant life. And, in the words of John Piper, the apex of that abundant life is the worship of Jesus Christ. That’s where he is leading us. When we are worshiping our shepherd in the good pasture, whatever it is that is transpiring in our lives, we will have a deep sense of his goodness and his presence. That’s why the next two verses say this about Lady Wisdom 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
Then, the third reason Wisdom has value is that you are blessed by her. Look at verse 18: 18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. The idea of a Tree of Life wasn’t invented by Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This was a concept that was known in the Ancient Near East by both Israelites and pagans. In the pagan world, we have ancient pictures like a tree that is giving life to all the creatures around it as a source of life and strength. Avatar is not bringing us anything that new. So, this idea of taking hold of this tree of life would have made sense to the whole known world at that time. But, in the Israelite world, it would have had even more meaning. Way back in Genesis there were two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden.
The Tree of Life which they could eat and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which they could not eat. Genesis 2:9: And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
But, then the serpent came: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” - Genesis 3:1-3
That was the day that changed everything for humanity. And one of the many ways our lives changed was that we could no longer eat of the tree of life. Let’s pick back up at verse 22: 22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. - Genesis 3:22, 23
We now die. The tree of life in Scripture represents eternal life, immortality. We lost access to it in the fall. Adam sought wisdom by being independent of God. He wanted to be like God and that is the crux of the curse we all endure now. We want to be independent of God. We want to be like God. We have cut ourselves off from the only true source of life that exists. But, this proverb is telling us that there is a way back and Lady Wisdom can show us. That is the blessing wisdom offers us.
Wisdom will show us the true nature of our situation. Wisdom will humble us to not want to be like God. We will want God to be big and us to be small. We will value what God values and that is an indication in itself that the curse is being lifted. Bruce Waltke says that Proverbs functions symbolically as the tree of life that was lost in Gen. We hold fast to wisdom because wisdom will bring us back to the Tree of Life where we will worship God for eternity. This is the promise of Jesus in Revelation 2: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ - Rev 2:7
And then we jump all the way to the end of the story and we see our sure future secured for us in Jesus. Revelation 22. This is the vision of the Apostle John seeing the New Earth: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. Rev - 22:1-3
That is the value of wisdom. Until we worship God rightly back in the presence of that tree, we hold fast to Lady Wisdom who is herself a picture of Jesus. Solomon is talking to young men and he’s using their greatest desires to point them to wisdom. And, at the same time, the Holy Spirit overseeing all of this is using that imagery to point us to our greatest satisfaction: Jesus. We should not just desire wisdom, we should lay hold of it...or rather, we should lay hold of him. Lady Wisdom is a typology of Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus is the great blessing and the ultimate reason wisdom has value.
This is why she says in chapter 8, 35 For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD, 36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.” - Proverbs 8:35, 36. Paul writes 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, - 1 Cor 1:30. Lady Wisdom isn’t literally Jesus, but she is a type of Jesus paving the way for a blessing that goes beyond the here and now and into eternity.
And because of this, there is power behind wisdom.
- The power behind wisdom 19-20
Wisdom isn’t just an idea or an ethic, it is a power to lay hold of. It isn’t some small, mystical unseen power like a Harry Potter spell. It is a power that we see everyday. Wisdom is what the Lord used to create the universe and everything in it. Verse 19: The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;
This passage assumes that wisdom predates creation. Actually, chapter eight explicitly says that. Just think about that. Have you ever felt the power of creation standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon or next to the Pacific Ocean? Have you ever studied the complexity of creation, understanding every little piece of an ecosystem so delicately and perfectly organized? Have you ever felt the enormity of creation looking into the stars? I’ll never forget a very cold night in Eastern Europe when Angela and I were far from any major city and I looked up and I have never seen stars like that. The whole Milky Way and her hundreds of billions of stars on beautiful display...and then realizing that our galaxy is but one of 200 billion galaxies that we know of. The Lord did all this through wisdom!
But God didn’t just use his wisdom to create everything and then step back and let it spin. He continues to use it to nourish and uphold his creation. Verse 20: 20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew. The imagery here is that the deeps broke open and revealed life from the ocean. Then the clouds dropped dew down from the heavens sustaining that life. The picture is a light rain that nourishes everything on the ground. Now, it’s hard to appreciate this in Central Florida in the Summer when it monsoons everyday and we have a hurricane bearing down on us. But, in the arid climate of the Ancient Near East, this light rain was not only a blessing, but a power they could not live without. That is a part of the sustaining power of God and God does that through wisdom.
So how does that work? Do you remember who Lady Wisdom is ultimately depicting? Jesus. And how is it that the author of Hebrews said God created and sustains the world? but bin these last days che has spoken to us by dhis Son, whom he appointed ethe heir of all things, fthrough whom also he created gthe world.3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and hthe exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. - Hebrews 1:2, 3
And this power is being offered to us! If Jesus accomplished all the wonders of the various phases of creation, setting the earth on its foundations, splitting the primeval waters, and sustaining all life...think what he can do in the lives of those who find him. That is the power behind wisdom. That is why it really works. It isn’t just a socially acceptable ethic that will keep you on the straight and narrow. It is a God ordained power that will draw you into his presence and make you both joyful and fruitful.
And that brings us to the last part of the passage. With all that in mind, Solomon now calls us to action.
- Call to Action 21-26
You can almost hear the Father of this young royal son saying, “Now use it!” Don’t lose sight of these things. Keep sound wisdom and discretion with you at all times. They will be life for your soul. That means the Lord will keep you. The Lord will guard you. Just keep wisdom with you at all times. Keep it on you like a necklace. Think about Froto in Lord of the Rings. He had the one hope for all life in the world. He had the ring that had to be destroyed and he had to put it in the safest possible place. Where was that? Around his neck. If you’re traveling abroad and want to keep your most important documents safe, you buy this thing to keep it around your neck and under your shirt. Around your neck is where you keep things you want safe and accessible at every moment. That is the mindset we are to have with wisdom.
Then, verse 23 says you will walk on your way securely and your foot will not stumble. This is what is called a merism. That’s when you put two or three words together and together and together they take on a new meaning. Phrases like ‘I searched far and wide’ or ‘He swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.’ Put those words together and they take on a new meaning. The same thing is going on here. To walk securely and not stumble is a merism meaning you will be secure, you will be taken care of in every possible situation. You will never be alone. You will never be unprotected. Lady Wisdom will lead you close to the Lord’s presence, but you have take those steps. You have to commit yourself to her.
And this is the reason the last few verses make sense. Verse 24 mIf you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, nyour sleep will be sweet. Lying down asleep is the most vulnerable position there is. For the first decade or so of our marriage, my wife was fine staying at home during the day, but not at night. Not when she’s sleeping. That’s when the bad guys get you. Kids, do you worry about monsters during the day? Or is it primarily at night? That’s when they come out of the closet and out from under the bed because it’s dark while you sleep and no one is on guard. That’s when you are most vulnerable. Parents are going to kill me for that one.
Remember, the primary audience for this book are royal boys who would likely rule one day. A ruler always has a target on him and he is most vulnerable when he is asleep. There are Egyptian teachings to young rulers that they should guard themselves especially when they sleep. They slept with weapons. They had their most trusted people guarding the outside of their bedroom door and sometimes even the inside.
But, not the Israelite rulers who followed Lady Wisdom into the presence of God. They had someone guarding them that allowed them to not be afraid, to be secure in their sleep and wake up fresh. Do you want to feel safe? Lady Wisdom will show you the way. But, it’s not just worldly safety that allows you to sleep well. Proverbs four says refreshing sleep is withheld from the addict. Ecclesiastes 5 (again, same author) says refreshing sleep is withheld from the rich. I take that to mean those who live for riches. Lady Wisdom will show you the way to refreshing sleep.
My dad is one of the most moral and ethical men I know. No one knows him better than my mom and I remember years ago talking with her about some men in Orlando who seem to have it all. A house on the lake, a condo at New Smyrna, a summer home in North Carolina. And she said, “Yeah, but your dad sleeps well at night.” That statement sums up what this Proverb is calling us to. Lady Wisdom leads us to security in every possible way.
And, in verse 25, we see the ultimate way Lady Wisdom allows us to sleep well. We will not be afraid of the terror or the ruin of the wicked when it comes. This isn’t talking about the consequences of daily unwise decisions, this is talking about abandoning Lady Wisdom who ultimately leads us to Jesus and the terror that will come at the end of time for those people. And Paul tells us that at some level, conscious or unconscious, every person knows that day is coming 18 For kthe wrath of God lis revealed from heaven against all ungodliness andunrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what canbe mknown about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For hisinvisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, nhave been clearlyperceived, ever since the creation of the world,7 in the things that have been made. - Romans 1:18-20
But, the Bible tells us that we get to choose how we are judged on that day. We can be judged on our own merits or we can be judged on the merits of Jesus. Revelation tells us that at the end of time, all of humanity will be gathered and the Book of Life will be opened. All who have declared that they want to be judged on the merits of Jesus are written in the book of life and welcomed into the love and mercy of God because Jesus earned that. But, for everyone else, their books are opened. They have decided they want to be judged by the merits of their lives, that is what is in each person’s book. That doesn’t go well for any of them and they are cast into the Lake of Fire.
This is not a fun, warm, fuzzy thing to talk about, but it is a real day that looms over us all and we know it whether we admit it or not. But the Proverb tells us that those who have trusted in Jesus, we will not fear that day, we will sleep at night, knowing the truth of verse 26: 26 for the LORD will be your confidence and will qkeep your foot from being caught.
There is no way for us to save ourselves, but God can. What better confidence can we have than God at our side. God keeping us safe. God bringing us home. That is where Lady Wisdom wants to lead us and that is why we should desire her. She will bless us both in this life and for eternity. That is why we should not just know what is wise, but embrace wisdom in every area of our lives. She will give us confidence that no matter what is transpiring around us...no matter how confusing, no matter how scary...we will have this mysterious and supernatural confidence that we will be ok. We will have a peace that surpasses natural understanding, because we will have Jesus himself.