The beginning of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom. In our previous blog post we examined (in two parts) Lesson # 1. Here we will examine Lesson # 2.
Proverbs 2:1-22 contains the father’s second lecture to his impressionable son in the form of a beautifully crafted poem. This entire passage is a single sentence consisting of 22 verses, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The poem can be divided neatly into two halves: Part 1 (Prov 2:1-11) and Part 2 (Prov 2:12-22). Every verse in Part 1 begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph). Every verse in part 2 begins with the 12th letter in the Hebrew alphabet (lamed). This second lecture is not just filled with a brilliant lesson in wisdom, it is also truly a work of art.
Commentator David Hubbard says, “No chapter in Proverbs is more tightly knit than this.” (a) To read this poem skillfully, one must recognize how the poem displays the Hebrew convention of synonymous parallelism, meaning each verse is a couplet, with the second half of the couplet repeating the theme of the first half only in different words. Let’s begin with verses 1-4:
My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
(Prov 2:1-4, NIV)
Here in this introduction we see the command to “accept” and “store up” (i.e. “treasure”) his father’s words. The phrase “apply your heart to” (v. 2) is the idea of turning toward someone and yielding. The heart will become a very important term in this section (see Prov 4:23), as it is the source or wellspring of life. Bruce Waltke states that in a sense, the son should seek to become like the “temple” of God, whose inner sanctuary housed the very words of God. (b)
In verses 3-4 we move from the more passive commands of “listen” and “turning the ear to” the teacher’s wisdom to the more aggressive commands of “call out for” and “look for” wisdom. Wisdom is more precious than silver (a metal which was rare in Palestine and therefore very valuable). Here the writer is urging God’s people to pursue an education in godly ethics. The father begins with conditions that need to be met (note the word “if” in verses 1-4) in order to experience the positive consequences of wisdom’s protection (note the word “then” in v. 5ff). If you engage your mind and listen and search for God’s wisdom, He will answer you and protect you. The benefits are worth the effort.
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.
(Prov 2:5-11, NIV)
Here we see introduced the “fear of the Lord” (v 5), a major theme in the book of Proverbs. It is important to note that this and understanding are the results of the son’s commitment to obey God’s commands, not the other way around. In other words, first, we must commit to obey, then we will understand. Our society teaches the opposite approach.
The contrast here is of two paths: the way of life (v 9) and the way of death (v 15). Waltke notes, “The way of life is straight, smooth, well lit, open, and public. The paths of death are crooked, rough, in deep gloom, and secretive.” (c)
The way of wisdom will bring protection from the consequences of associating with wicked men (v 12-15) or associating with the seduction of unchaste women (v 16-19). The two temptations being mentioned have not changed much 3,000 years later, easy money and easy sex.
Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.
(Prov 2:12-15, NIV)
These wicked men have their value system turned upside down. These men have “abandoned” the law of God and delight not in good, but in evil instead. They do not trust the LORD, but rather they despise him (14:2), and therefore trust their own devious plans. The Lord is disgusted with their conduct (see Prov 3:32). The writer continues:
Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
Surely her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
(Prov 2:16-19, NIV)
In this section we see the language of marriage. The “adulterous” or “wayward woman” is a literally called “strange” or a “foreignness.” Solomon is not referring to her ethnicity, rather she is a spiritual outsider as she has left, ignored or “forgotten” (meaning she deliberately fails to obey) her marriage vows. Wisdom will offer protection from the woes of infidelity, but more saliently, from the woes of leaving one’s covenant with God. Spiritually speaking, marriage is a dominant metaphor for Israel’s relationship with her God (see Ezekiel 16, Hosea 1, Eph 5 et al). As such, this warning could also refer more broadly to a kind of “spiritual adultery,” i.e. – taking on Canaanite pagan practices in the worship of foreign deities. God’s people are called to keep their vows of covenant faithfulness to God, or the consequences are fatal. We see this in the next section:
Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.
(Prov 2:20-22, NIV)
Here we see two contrasting outcomes between the fate of the wise and the end of the fool. One will remain on the good earth (a promise which will be expanded in the New Testament) but the other will be cut off and relinquished to the grave and the realm of the dead. Why? The wicked (the treacherous) have displayed unfaithfulness to their relationship with their creator, resulting in separation. The upright and blameless on the other hand, will be rewarded with life eternal.
What do we learn from this second lesson? We must understand that God’s wisdom is both essential and powerful. It is the key to protection and survival in this life and beyond. The stakes are very high. However, we must also realize that gaining wisdom will not occur automatically. We will not drift into it lazily. Instead, it will require a deliberate decision and involve an all-out effort on our parts. If you engage your mind and listen, if you search for God’s wisdom as treasure, He will answer you and deliver you from all kinds of dangers. Diligently seek wisdom and you will experience her protective benefits. Like this poem, your life will be filled with stunning beauty.
Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.
Next we will continue with Lesson # 3 (Proverbs 3:1-12)
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol 15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 60.
(b) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 219.
(c) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, 226.