Wisdom: Solomon’s, God’s, and ours

Wisdom mural

Wisdom. Mural at the Library of Congress by Robert Lewis Reid

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” That’s the caption to a mural called “Wisdom” in the Thomas Jefferson Buliding of the Library of Congress.

Wisdom differs from intelligence or knowledge. The ordinary dictionary distinction is that wisdom involves sound judgment and the ability to apply learning and knowledge to the conduct of your affairs.

In the Bible, there are four different words translated wisdom. They refer to having skill, being prudent, being upright, and having understanding.

Solomon, known above all for his wisdom, ultimately failed.

Solomon’s wisdom

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Detail from Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesco (ca. 1460)

Proverbs 8 is entirely about wisdom. Where in English the word wisdom appears over and over, it takes the last three of those Hebrew words to express just the right nuances.

In writing this chapter, Solomon wants us to understand that he is talking about the wisdom of God, which existed before the first bit of matter came into being.  Among the attributes of God, we say he is omniscient—that is, he knows everything there is to know—and that he is wise. Those two attributes are intimately connected.

I’ll get to God’s wisdom in a while, but first we need to consider Solomon’s. He famously sought wisdom for ruling his people, but not for living his life. So he married 300 women, mostly pagans. He slept with 700 more.

After a while, when he went to his harem, how many women were there that he couldn’t quite remember? So to keep them happy, he built pagan temples for them to worship in.

Solomon had made serious moral compromises that undermined the integrity of his kingdom. God personally called him on the carpet and he refused to repent. No way would God allow Israel to remain as powerful and influential as it had been under Solomon.

But God had also promised David that his dynasty would never fail. He intended for Jesus to come from a royal line, so God couldn’t just depose Solomon and start over. So he took advantage of another of Solomon’s lapses into foolishness, his apparent failure to offer his son and successor Rehoboam any training.

God intended to divide Solomon’s kingdom in two. So he made certain that Rehoboam would reject sound advice and take poor advice and incite a rebellion against him. Solomon had actually sowed the seeds of the destruction that came centuries later to both kingdoms.

God’s wisdom

Nan rejoicingProverbs 8 proclaims that God created, or possessed wisdom from the beginning—in fact before the beginning of the earth. Humans acquire wisdom little by little over time if they ever acquire it at all. God had it all at once before he began creation.

Christians believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God in three persons. They didn’t go about creating the world with some lady named Wisdom helping them out. And wisdom in this chapter is not another name for any of the persons of the trinity. Wisdom is a divine attribute that a poetic mind chose to personify as a woman.

She says she was with God before he established the earth and with every step of creation. She says that she was his constant delight and that she always rejoiced before him.

Understand this: Wisdom is fun. Wisdom is joyful. Wisdom doesn’t just hang out with boring old fuddy duddies. She is nothing like that poor turtle in Over the Hedge who is constantly trying to explain things.

Everything God created made wisdom happy and delighted—specifically the human race.

Human wisdom

Worship serviceCan we be any wiser than Solomon? Why not?

Wisdom in Proverbs 8 goes on to ask us humans to pay attention and learn from her. Just as wisdom herself is happy and joyful, so are wise people. But just as God possessed all wisdom before he began creation, we do not.

Because of our innate sin, we have to learn it a little at a time. If we want to be wise, we need to pay attention to instruction in wisdom. And it might come from the most unexpected places. We need to watch for wisdom. We need to wait for wisdom.

This chapter ends with three possible outcomes. Some will find wisdom. In finding wisdom, they will also find life and favor from the Lord. Some will miss finding wisdom and injure themselves. Some will hate wisdom, which amounts to hating life; they love death.

Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional. I can find myself being remarkably foolish well into my 60s, but I think I’m wiser than I was in my 40s. I know I’m wiser than I was in my 20s and before.

I hope you can say the same. If not, there’s still time to grow in wisdom as long as your body continues to breathe.

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