What is your greatest treasure? The central theme of this lesson is that the father presents a case to his son that Wisdom is the most important resource in all the world. It is more precious than jewels, it offers creative power, it provides divine protection and it gives one’s life divine purpose.
Background: The beginning of Proverbs (Prov Ch. 1-9) contains 10 Lessons of Wisdom. Typically, each lesson contains the words “My son.” Typically, this is in the beginning, but in this lesson this formal address comes in the middle (in v. 21). Lesson # 4 contains four related parts. Scholars believe these were likely four independent poems which were forged together into one unit, breaking down as follows:
- The Value of Wisdom to Humanity. (3:13-18)
- The Value of Wisdom to God. (3:19-20)
- The Value of Wisdom to the son. (3:21-26)
- Implications of Wisdom for being a good neighbor. (3:27-35)
The lesson begins with this word of “blessing.”
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
(Prov 3:13-18, NIV)
In this first section, the father makes the case that wisdom is supremely valuable and therefore should be irresistible. It is compared to the most precious minerals found in geology. (For a passage with similar imagery, see Job 28:1-11.) Each culture has its status symbols, for some it is clothing, for others it is nice vehicles, for some it is jewelry, we all value something, but the most exquisite badge of wealth for God’s people should be wisdom. A Jewish Talmudic saying puts it well:
“Lackest thou wisdom, what hast thou acquired? Hast thou acquired wisdom, what lackest thou?” (a)
In verse 18, the tree of life imagery is intriguing and profound and deserves further comment here. This is a theme which hearkens back to Genesis. The word translated “those” (in v 13, NIV) is literally the word “Adam” (this can be translated as a proper name or as more generally “humankind”). In the garden of Eden, “Adam” grasped for wisdom apart from God by grasping for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This self-focused rebellion of autonomy resulted in the fall, exile and the way to the tree of life was blocked by the cherubim. But here, we see that “Adam” (“humanity”) is given grace, a second chance to pursue and eat from the tree of life! How? We can do this by humbling ourselves and listening to the wisdom of God. OT scholar Bruce Waltke states, “Proverbs functions symbolically as the tree of life that was lost in Gen. 2:22-24.” (b)
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
Here in this second section we see that God Himself accomplished the great work of creation with wisdom as his primary tool. Wisdom had the power to split the heavens and set the earth on its foundations. Commentator David Hubbard restates the father’s argument as follows: “If Yahweh with wisdom as His tool could accomplish the wonders of the various phases of creation … think what wisdom will do, better, what Yahweh will do through wisdom in the lives of those who find it.” (c)
My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.
(Prov 3:21-26, NIV)
Do you prize wisdom? If so, the benefits will be many. Wisdom will guard, surround and protect the son all around. The imagery of the human body here denotes total protection (your eyes”, “neck”, “foot”, and “loins”). One of the most wonderful benefits is that a life lived in accordance with wisdom will provide sweet refreshing sleep. (see also Psalm 3:5). We have an expression, “I slept like a baby.” The child of God will have a clear conscience, a fulfilling workload and be so secure that he rests well without fear, worry or interruption. The son should prize wisdom as his treasure. This will ultimately impact the way he interacts with others, leading to the final section of this lesson:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.
Do not plot harm against your neighbor,
who lives trustfully near you.
Do not accuse anyone for no reason—
when they have done you no harm.
Do not envy the violent
or choose any of their ways.
For the Lord detests the perverse
but takes the upright into his confidence.
33 The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the home of the righteous.
34 He mocks proud mockers
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
35 The wise inherit honor,
but fools get only shame.
(Prov 3:27-25, NIV)
Here in this final section we have an admonition toward neighborly generosity. A life lived with wisdom has implications for loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Just as God in His wisdom loves the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable and oppressed, so also the son endowed with God’s wisdom will reflect this divine attribute also. This good work should not be put off indefinitely, it is urgent. To seek others over and above one’s self is the essence of true wisdom.
Here we learn that Wisdom is to be valued as supreme. It outweighs all wealth or any other earthly pursuit. The good life is not found through earthly goods or a life of self-seeking, but in the wisdom of loving God and men. Until we reach the tree of life in Revelation 2:7, we must hold fast to the life-giving wisdom on display in the book of Proverbs.
Ultimately, as Christians we read this passage and see that our supreme value is Christ, the ultimate personification of wisdom. Where we as sons fail, Jesus Christ is the greatest son and the greatest king, the one who even superseded Solomon in his wisdom (Matt 12:42). Could there ever be a wiser king? Could there be a greater treasure? Was there ever a greater act of neighborly love than the work of the cross of Christ? Following Jesus offers to us the tree of life. We must esteem Him as our highest treasure and seek to emulate our Lord in all we do. In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:3, NIV)
Wisdom is a Tree of Life.
Next we will look at Lesson # 5.
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) Cohen, Proverbs, p. 17. Quoted in Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 258.
(b) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 260.
(c) David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol 15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 76.