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Proverbs 9: The Wise and the Foolish Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 May 2007

Wisdom can be an interesting topic these days.  The world seems to look at the Church and call believers fools for wasting their time on a 2,000 year old book.  Of course, the very book they scorn calls their unbelief and rejection of God foolish, even as we saw in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (see 1:18-31).  Yet, oddly enough, there are times when ‘wisdom’ is more general and believers and unbelievers even agree on what is ‘wise.’  For example, the book of Proverbs states clearly that hard work is profitable.   Although many devise ways to avoid it, many who do not agree with the authority of the word will agree with the statement that hard work is normally rewarded, or that it at least is better than laziness.  So, then, is all the fuss about wisdom and foolishness just semantics, or struggles over words?  Or is there indeed a difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom that comes down from above, as James calls it (see James 3:13-18)?  I mean is the book of Proverbs no more than the collected wisdom of the Jewish society at the time of its writing?  Or is there something that sets it apart from just wisdom based on experience?

Since I believe that the Word of God is the Word of God, I can say without hesitation that I believe firmly that the wisdom offered in the book of Proverbs (and the rest of the Bible) is indeed more than just collected wisdom from experience and vastly different from what could be called ‘the wisdom of the world.’  What makes the difference?  Simple, God makes the difference.  This is His book, His wisdom, His word, His revelation.  I am sure that others may agree with certain statements or ideas in the book of Proverbs, but they will only be wise when they recognize it in relation to its Author.  After all, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (as we will consider more in a moment).

Approaching the book of Proverbs can be difficult for preaching.  Needless to say, there are chapters in the book where every verse could be a sermon in itself (see particularly ch. 10-31).  Thus, I know that I cannot cover this book thoroughly in five sermons.  Rather, I simply want to consider some of the major themes in the book and see how these themes are addressed and how they relate our lives as believers.  We will begin today with the theme of the wise and the foolish. 

Yet, before we begin, let me make a couple of introductory thoughts on interpreting the book.  I think the book can be divided into two major sections.  First, chapters 1-9 are introductory discourses on the importance of pursuing wisdom.  These discourses include a call to listen, a particular lesson, and the consequences of listening or not listening.  We will see this in our time together this morning as we consider the wise and the foolish.  Second, chapters 10-31 are filled with what we call ‘proverbs,’ or pithy sayings that instruct us for living wisely in the world.  I want to say more about interpreting these ‘proverbs,’ but since we will be looking at the first nine chapters primarily this morning, I will save that discussion for next week. 1

The discourses found in the first 9 chapters make a clear distinction between the wise and the foolish.  Looking primarily at 1-4 and 8-9, we want to identify what the book teaches us about these two groups.  It can be summarized in three statements:

First, the wise will fear the Lord, while the fool does not.

If you are at all familiar with the book of Proverbs, then it should not surprise you that we are beginning with the fear of the Lord.  In fact, this is precisely how the book begins.  Look at 1:1-7.  In verse 7 we see that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.  As we mentioned earlier, this is the great divide between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the Word.  Our wisdom is not primarily deduced from years of experience.  No our wisdom is not experiential as much as it is relational.  It begins with the fear of Yahweh.  We do not ‘figure it out’ as much as we simply receive it from above.  Look at 2:1-8.  It is the Lord who gives wisdom not men who figure it out.  As believers in God, we freely admit that we owe all our wisdom and knowledge to the grace of the Creator who is the great revealer of truth.  We do not lean on our own wisdom, but we trust in the Lord.  Look at 3:7.  Not only this, but we recognize that the most valuable knowledge of all is knowledge of God Himself.  Listen again how the writer states it in 9:10.  True insight, true knowledge, true wisdom is knowing and fearing the Lord.  This theme runs throughout the book (see 14:26-27, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23).

Yet, the fool has no fear of the Lord.  He does not look to the Lord for wisdom or insight.  Look at 1:29-31.  The author personifies wisdom as a female here, also in chapter 8, and she rebukes the fool for not listening to her.  In verse 29 we see that the fool did not choose the fear of the Lord.  No, the fool has hated knowledge and rejected wisdom by choosing not to fear the Lord.

It is important for us to see here in the text that true wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.  It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that led to the Fall in the garden.  Adam and Eve in their pursuit of knowledge failed to begin with the fear of the Lord.  This is a mistake that the human race continues to make.  We study science apart from the Creator of the universe.  We study mathematics apart from the Creator of order.  We study philosophy apart from the Creator of the mind.  We study the arts without considering the very Giver of all things beautiful.  In all of this, we fail before we even begin.  Whether you are pursuing knowledge in science, math, philosophy, art, or whatever, you must begin with the fear of the Lord.  You must begin with a proper relationship with God, which comes only through faith in Christ, in order to arrive at true knowledge and true wisdom.  We do not need bigger brains as much as we need forgiveness and reconciliation to Yahweh.  All wisdom begins here.

Second, the wise will be righteous, while the fool will be wicked.

As I read through the book of Proverbs this week, I was amazed at how clearly the connection is between wisdom and righteousness and foolishness and wickedness.  For examples of the connection between foolishness and wickedness, consider 1:8-19.  Notice that the wise father instructs his son to avoid the enticement of sinners.  Look also at 4:10-19.  Again it is the wicked that behave foolishly and are to be avoided.  At the same time, the text also connects wisdom with righteousness.  We have seen that in the passage we just read from chapter 4.  In chapter 2, the fear of the Lord leads to righteousness (see 2:9ff).  Look at 8:13.  Again the fear of the Lord, or wisdom, is connected with righteousness.  Look at 8:20.  Lady Wisdom tells us that she walks in righteousness.  Thus, the wise will be righteous while the fool will be wicked.

We see this exemplified all the time in our lives.  People are deluded into thinking that being wicked is actually wiser than being righteous.  Teenagers break the law with no consideration of the lifelong consequences.  Granted, I know that many ‘succeed’ in their wicked actions, but many run head long into wickedness to only discover the foolishness of their actions when it is too late.  As Christians, we must not only acknowledge, but live the truth that it is always more wise to fear the Lord and walk in righteousness than it is to walk in sin.  If you want to walk in righteousness, then, as we said before, begin with the fear of the Lord.

Third, the wise will be blessed, while the fool will be destroyed.

The blessing of the wise and the cursing of the wicked is a repeated theme in the first nine chapters of Proverbs.  Look at 1:32-33, 2:20-21, 3:13-18, 33-35, and 8:32-36.  As we said at the beginning, these discourses provide us with the consequences of either listening and being wise or not listening and being foolish.  In these passages it is not hard to see that the wise are blessed while the foolish are cursed.  Now, you may be thinking at this point, ‘The wise are not are not always blessed in this life and neither are the foolish always cursed.’  Of course, this objection is true.  Yet, let me offer two thoughts. 

First, as we will consider more next week, these ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ are not meant to be universally true without exception.  In fact, we see in the book of Job that the righteous do not always prosper.  Yet, in a general sense the wise will be blessed on this earth and the foolish will be cursed.  Second, we must remember that the New Testament writers call us to look beyond just this life.  Although the afterlife is not as clear in the Old as it is in the New, we can affirm that the Bible teaches that justice will be done in the end.  In other words, the wise will be blessed and the foolish will be cursed on the final day.  The biblical writers often use this future blessing as a motivation for present obedience (we saw this clearly in the book of 1 Peter).  Thus, the book of Proverbs gives us the principle that the wise will be blessed and the foolish will be cursed.

Yet, how will this ultimately work out?  I mean is this just a call to be wiser so that we can get to heaven?  No, again this is why we must begin with the fear of the Lord.  True wisdom comes to those who have a right relationship with Yahweh.  What does this relationship look like in the New Testament?  The New Testament writers make it clear that because of our sin, we needed atonement and forgiveness.  We needed someone to take the wrath of God in our place.  Our lack of fear before God made the cross necessary. 

Thus, Proverbs (as all of the Old Testament) prepares us for the coming of Christ, our Savior, the One who made atonement by bearing the wrath of God at the cross.  To the world this plan is foolishness, but to the redeemed it is the very power of God.  Thus, building on what we have seen from the book of Proverbs, I think we can say it this way: the fool will trust in himself and behave wickedly, incurring the wrath of God, but the wise will trust in Christ and their righteousness will flow from their fear of Him, securing for themselves a future blessing that far outweighs any struggle in this life.  Proverbs 9 asks a question that we all must answer: will we dine with Lady Wisdom by trusting in Christ or will we dine with Lady Folly by trusting ourselves?  By God’s grace, may we choose wisely.  Amen.

1 This introductory material is taken primarily from Tremper Longman III, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms: Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 31ff.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 June 2007 )

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