Biblical Wisdom

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

       According to verses 2-6 we see a five-fold purpose for Proverbs: 1) “to know wisdom and instruction,” 2) “to discern the sayings of understanding,” 3) “to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity,” 4) “to give prudence to the naïve,” and 5) “to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

     The Hebrew word hokmah (translated “wisdom” in verse 2) appears forty-five times in the book of Proverbs and is the common theme of the book.  In a general sense, wisdom is the knowledge necessary to perform a task successfully.  Overall, the book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings which provide the necessary instruction for making good choices in life.  The book of Proverbs belongs to that group of biblical literature classified as wisdom writings; and the didactic nature of Proverbs made it useful for parents who wanted to instruct their children, as well as teachers who wanted to instruct their students.  A proverb is a concise and pithy statement that summarizes an experience or compares two things; thus capturing a principle that benefits one throughout his life.  Often it is teaching by analogy. 

       In verse 7 Solomon tells his readers that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; [whereas] fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  In this antithetical parallelism, Solomon contrasts the healthy humble minded person who fears the LORD with the arrogant person who shuns Him. The attitude of the heart determines how a person responds to God’s revelation. The person who fears God respects His authority and responds properly to His word. The fool is the one who is devoid of God’s word, or rejects it after hearing it.

       The Bible contrasts divine wisdom which comes from God, and worldly wisdom which ultimately comes from Satan (James 3:15-17).  Divine wisdom is the knowledge necessary to perform a task in conformity to His standards and values.  Examples of divine wisdom include:

  1. Artistic wisdom: The ability to create works of art (e.g. the artisans who created the garments for Levitical priests as well as the articles of worship in the Jewish Temple, Ex. 28:3; 31:2-5; 1 Ki. 7:14).
  2. Academic wisdom: The ability to learn about God’s world (e.g. zoology, biology, botany, etc.) and write books (e.g. Solomon’s proverbs and songs, 1 Ki. 4:29-34).
  3. Judicial wisdom: The ability to decide legal matters for God’s people (e.g. Judges, Solomon, etc. 1 Ki. 16:28).
  4. Military wisdom: The ability to defeat God’s enemies (e.g. Joshua, David; Prov. 20:18; 21:22; 24:6).
  5. Governing wisdom: The ability to leads God’s people into His will (e.g. Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Church Elders, etc.).
  6. Serving wisdom: The ability to meet the needs of others (e.g. Deacons, Acts 6:3).
  7. Teaching wisdom: The ability to communicate clearly God’s Word to others (e.g. Moses, Paul, etc., Col. 1:9).
  8. Spiritual wisdom: The ability to live God’s will in accordance with His Word.

       Worldly wisdom is the knowledge required to live in Satan’s fallen world, has the appearance of real wisdom, but is actually deceptive and seeks to ensnare people in Satan’s schemes (Ex. 7:11; Col. 2:23; Jas. 3:14-15).  Those who are called wise in a worldly sense are actually fools by God’s estimation.  The majority of people in this world operate according to worldly wisdom and live their lives outside of God’s will.

       Examples of worldly wise men include the magicians of Pharaoh’s court who were demonically enabled to replicate some of the miracles performed by Moses (Ex. 7:11), and Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors who claimed to be able to interpret dreams and have spiritual insight into his future (Dan. 2:12-18).  The apostle Paul spoke out against worldly judgments which have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:23); and James admonished his readers to be on guard against “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” which is a wisdom that “does not come down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam. 3:14-15).  In the end, worldly wisdom is always Satan-serving; whereas divine wisdom is always God-serving. 

       We do well to know that it is possible to lose wisdom and become a fool.  We know that even Lucifer was once wise, for the prophet Ezekiel tells us that he had “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).  Ezekiel goes on to say that Lucifer’s “heart was lifted up” because of his beauty and his wisdom became corrupted by reason of his splendor (Ezek. 28:17).  From within himself Satan’s wisdom was turned to foolishness.  Through Isaiah the prophet, God gives us a glimpse into Satan’s mind, and tells us what he was thinking in his heart.  At the time of his foolishness Satan declared:

“I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa. 14:13-14)

       Lucifer’s pride caused his fall.  He created his kingdom of darkness when he sinned, and through temptation he brought down to death the first humans when he convinced them to turn from God and follow his advice (Gen. 3:1-8).  Now all men are born into this world of darkness, into Satan’s kingdom, born in Adam, born in sin.  The minds of all men are darkened by the sin nature and have a propensity toward foolishness.  Even after regeneration, men’s minds are not suddenly wise, but still dark from all the world’s philosophies.  Two things must happen before a saved person can have God’s wisdom: 1) he must learn to fear the Lord, and 2) he must discipline his mind to seek truth.  The fear of the Lord and seeking truth go together like two sides of a coin.

       The fear of the Lord is to acknowledge Him as Lord and His right to rule over our lives and to respond with obedience.  Solomon declares that we are to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13).  The fear of the Lord is that healthy reverence the believer has for God, knowing that He is the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and that as His creature we do well to submit to Him. 

       To seek truth means we apply our minds to know God’s word, and once we know it, to apply His truth to every area of our lives.  Jesus declared “the man who hears my words and does them shall be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24).  Here, Jesus tells us the wise man is the one who hears His words and does them.  There is order here, for one cannot live what he does not know, and knowledge of God’s word must precede application to life. 

       Jesus, as our role-model, spent His entire life learning and living by His Father’s teaching.  Luke tells us that Jesus, as a child, “continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom” (Luke 2:40).  Messiah, speaking in Isaiah 50:4 states, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.”  Jesus woke each morning to give His ear to the Father’s instruction.  Mark tells us in his Gospel, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35).  It is healthy to fear the Lord and seek His instruction for every area of our life.

     God’s greatest expression of wisdom is the cross of Christ.  To those who hold to worldly wisdom, “the word of the cross is foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18).  To those who are saved, the cross of Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).  Divine wisdom always leads one to God through the cross of Christ.  Any so-called wisdom that does not lead one ultimately to the cross of Christ is pseudo-wisdom.  God has rejected the world’s wisdom, and the world has rejected His. 

       One knows he has found wisdom when he has found the Lord; for true wisdom exists only in relation to Him.  One knows he is growing in wisdom when he fears the Lord, respecting His authority and doing the things that are pleasing in His sight.  The believer is benefited  and God is honored, when His word is understood and obeyed on a regular basis. 

       The wise believer knows his place in God’s creation; that he is the creature, and God is the Creator, and there is submission one to the Other.  The fool is the one who blurs the creator/creature distinction, and sets his will against the will of God.  The fool is devoid of God’s wisdom, and his words and actions reveal his darkened heart.  On the other hand, the wise man learns God’s word that he may live His will, and this too is revealed through his words and actions. 

       Lastly, the wise believer seeks to incorporate God’s word into every area of his life, and does not compartmentalize, leaving some areas to self.  Wisdom gives order and purpose to life, and affords one the knowledge necessary to make good choices.  The wise believer is able to understand the world around him, and knows why things are the way they are, and why people behave the way they do.   Wisdom gives one hope for the future, because Christ is coming back, and He will reign in righteousness and truth (Rev. 20:1-6). 

Below are forty Scriptural truths regarding biblical wisdom:

  1. The Lord possesses and operates by His wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19; Jer. 10:12).
  2. Wisdom comes from the Lord (1 Kings 3:12; Prov. 2:6; Dan. 2:21; Jas. 1:5).
  3. God’s wisdom is found in Scripture (Ps. 19:7; 119:98; Jer. 8:9; 2 Tim. 3:15).
  4. Jesus, while in hypostatic union, had to learn wisdom day by day (Lu. 2:40, 52; Isa. 50:4).
  5. Wisdom is better than riches (Prov. 8:11; 16:16).
  6. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10).
  7. Wisdom resides first in what we think, then in what we say and do (Ps. 51:6; Col. 4:5).
  8. The humble receive wisdom (Prov. 11:2).
  9. Wisdom can be communicated by speech or writing (1 Ki. 11:41; Prov. 15:7; 1 Cor. 2:6-8, 13).
  10. The one who loves his soul seeks wisdom (Prov. 19:8; 24:14).
  11. Wisdom is pleasant to the soul (Prov. 2:10).
  12. Wisdom is better than strength (Eccl. 9:14-16).
  13. A wise man accepts reproof and instruction (Prov. 9:8-9; 10:8).
  14. The wise man has persuasive speech (Prov. 16:23).
  15. The wise man boasts of the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24).
  16. The wise man accepts Jesus as his savior (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
  17. Christ is the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:24).
  18. The wise man walks in righteousness (Hos. 14:9).
  19. The wise man hears and acts on the words of Christ (Matt. 7:24).
  20. The wise man engages in good deeds done in gentleness (Jas. 3:13).
  21. The wise man controls his temper (Prov. 29:11).
  22. The wise person avoids intoxication (Prov. 20:1).
  23. Military victory comes by wise guidance (Prov. 20:18; 21:22; 24:6).
  24. Wise men hang-out together (Prov. 13:20; 15:31).
  25. The wise decide judicial matters (Ezra 7:25; 1 Cor. 6:1-7).
  26. The woman of excellence speaks wisdom (Prov. 31:26).
  27. The wise parent disciplines his child (Prov. 29:15).
  28. A wise child is better than a foolish ruler (Eccl. 4:13).
  29. The wise child accepts his parents discipline (Prov. 13:1).
  30. A wise son makes his father and mother happy (Prov. 23:15, 24; 27:11; 29:3).
  31. Wisdom helps a man understand his culture (Eccl. 1:13).
  32. Wisdom helps the believer discern the future (Deut. 32:29).
  33. One does not have to be old to be wise (Dan. 1:4; Matt. 11:25).
  34. Wisdom leads one away from evil (Prov. 3:7; 14:16).
  35. The wise man learns from nature and others (Prov. 6:5; 24:30-34).
  36. An accepted bribe blinds the eyes of the wise (Deut. 16:19).
  37. The wisdom of the world is foolishness (1 Cor. 3:19).
  38. The fool is the one who rejects and despises wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 23:9).
  39. The rod of suffering belongs to the one who lacks wisdom (Prov. 10:13; 14:3).
  40. There is a worldly/demonic wisdom (Ex. 7:11; Col. 2:23; Jas. 3:14-15).

 Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

About Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Steven is a Christian educator. His webpages communicate evangelical Christian doctrines and topics. Steven earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2006 and pursued doctoral work in Expository Preaching and Systematic Theology. His articles are theological, devotional, and promote a biblical worldview. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than three hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven worked in jail ministry for over twelve years, taught in Bible churches, and currently leads a Bible study each week at his home in Arlington, Texas.
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