DAY 1 – Proverbs 8
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What part of the Bible has to do with wisdom? In one sense, the correct answer is all of it. However, when thinking specifically about wisdom literature, most people think first about the book of Proverbs. However,, Job and Ecclesiastes are also wisdom books. Any many would include Song of Songs and Psalms among the wisdom literature of the Bible. We'll look at several of these books as well as a few passages from the New Testament this week.
The first 9 chapters of Proverbs are actually poems about wisdom, while the remaining chapters contain actual proverbs of wisdom about every area of life. One of the most important themes that runs through these first 9 chapters is that wisdom is woven throughout the very fabric of the universe. Wisdom is described as if it were a blueprint that God used to design the world. The universe does not just have physical laws that govern it, for wisdom has a moral component to it that rewards justice and integrity. There is a moral order to the universe with cause and effect. To ignore or be ignorant of this is to live against the grain.
Proverbs 8:22–31 is a wonderful poem in which God first acquires wisdom and then uses wisdom to construct the world, rejoicing as the work progresses and taking particular joy in the creation of humanity. The chapter ends with these profound words, "For one who finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord. But one who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death."
The first 9 chapters leave us with a choice. Will we trust the wisdom of God? Or will we seek to acquire what we think is wisdom? The warning is clear. When we seek wisdom on our own, we be wise in our own eyes, but according to true wisdom, we are fools.
The idea that wisdom is built into the fabric of all creation compelled many of the biblical authors to meditate on the creation itself. The marvel of creation produced trust and faith in God and His wisdom. If He could build such a marvelous world in which all the creatures within it were cared for, the surely we can trust Him to care for us and help us to build such beauty within our own communities.
REFLECT / PRAY
- This week's spiritual practice is to get out in nature without any distractions.Take some time to observe. Use your senses to enjoy the world. What does creation say about God? Do you see a trustworthy master craftsman behind the world you observe?
- What might one step you could take today to seek acquire wisdom from God?
DAY 2 – Colossians 2:1–15; 1 Corinthians 1:18–31
The true knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ – in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge – Colossians 2:3
Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God – 1 Corinthians 1:30
Three attributes of God that are closely linked in the Old Testament are God's Word, God's Spirit and God's Wisdom. And all three are associated with God becoming visible. We often associate the Word of God with the written text of the Bible. However, the very first mention of the Word of God is in Genesis 15 "the word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision." In this case, the Word of the Lord was visual. Abraham saw the word of the Lord.
The Spirit of God is often associated with God's visible work. Although the Spirit Himself is unseen, His work is very visible. It is the Spirit of God who hovered over the empty void and brings order and life to the cosmos. The Spirt and the Word of God are closely associated. When we speak words we do so by sending our breath out. The Hebrew word for Spirit is "breath." When God speaks, His Word is formed by sending forth His Spirit. We see this very clearly in the Genesis 1 creation account. When the Spirit of God comes upon people in the Bible it is to empower them in visible ways.
Wisdom in the Bible is associated with practical know how. It is the ability to create something, build something, make something that is both beautiful and in accordance with God's will and purpose. In a moral sense, wisdom is the ability to live life well in accordance with the will and purposes of God. And Wisdom is associated with God's Word and Spirit. The first two people in the Bible filled with the Spirit displayed wisdom.
The first was Joseph, who was given the ability to administer within a federal government to save a nation from the effects of famine and to preserve the family of Abraham. The second was Bezalel, the artisan and craftsman, who was empowered to build the tabernacle according to the pattern God gave Moses.
The New Testament writers see all of this in Jesus. Just as God's Word, Spirit and Wisdom make visible God's attributes, His will, His purpose, and His Presence, Jesus does so perfectly. He is the very embodiment of God. He is the Word made visible. He is the Wisdom of God, He is the temple of God's Spirit. He makes known the will of God and He is making visible the purposes of God.
As you meditate on the wisdom of God, look to Jesus as the embodiment of it. Jesus often spoke of Himself in the same way that wisdom speaks of herself. Just as Wisdom says "for one who finds me finds life" (Proverbs 8:35) so Jesus says "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) and " I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
Everything you read about wisdom in the Bible becomes a reality when God's wisdom put on a physical body. You are now the temple of God, the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul frequently prayed that God would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17) so that "so that the multifaceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 3:10).
REFLECT / PRAY
- Many of Jesus' teachings are difficult to put into practice in a world with values so different from those of the kingdom of God. Is there a particular teaching from Jesus that you find difficult or confusing?
- What steps could you take today to trust Jesus in these areas?
DAY 3 – Proverbs 1
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Proverbs 1:7; Psalm 111:10
Proverbs 1 is a summary of what is to follow in the rest of Proverbs. It introduces many key words and concepts and it makes clear there is a reward for those who acquire wisdom and a severe warning to those who ignore her. One of the most important ideas introduced in this beginning chapter is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Job quotes this in one of his discourses (Job 28:28) and the psalmist wrote a poem about it in Psalm 111.
What is the fear of the Lord? In the Bible, the fear of the Lord has many layers to it, but the main idea is that we have a proper view of our place in the universe and our place before God. I am not the author of the universe, God is. I am not even the author of my own existence, my life is a gift from God. My life is but a mist, God is eternal. And very importantly, I am not the author of what is good and not good in this world. One of the central questions in the biblical story is who gets to draw the line between right and wrong. If you think about it, almost all human conflicts are conflicts over different ideas of what is good. In the biblical story, only God has the wisdom to draw this line and humans become wise by learning these boundaries from Him.
Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? Because we are incapable of drawing the line between right and wrong. And even when we do occasionally get that line correct, we are incapable of holding it. We easily deceive ourselves. We are bent, even skilled at twisting good towards our own self interest. We justify and rationalize and will eventually make evil things good. It will happen. And we will convince ourselves we are noble and wise. As Paul says in Romans 1:22, "although they claimed to be wise, they became fools."
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing your limits and your easy corruptibility combined with a trust in an all-loving, all-wise Creator positions our hearts to learn wisdom from God, the One capable and worthy of drawing the boundary lines between good and bad.
As followers of Jesus, we look to Him as the ultimate embodiment of God's wisdom in a human life. Jesus' life and teachings bring the wisdom of God to fulfillment. Even Jesus, who actually is equal with God did not consider it something to be grasped. His guiding principle was to do the will of God by surrendering His life for others so that they could truly live. For Jesus, the wisdom of God looks like loving God and loving your neighbor.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Reflect on Proverbs 1:3 which says that wise behavior looks like righteousness, justice and integrity. These are all relational terms. Ultimately, wise behavior is about how we treat people. Is there a specific decision you are weighing that may impact others? How might the wisdom of God as seen in Jesus impact your decision?
- Reflect on Proverbs 1:5, which says that acquiring wisdom requires you to be a good listener. For God will often speak His wisdom to you through another person. Take a moment to think about your listening skills. Have you developed an open heart and a listening ear to discern the wisdom of God through others? Or are you more likely to stubbornly hold onto the notion that your own voice is the more trustworthy one?
DAY 4 – James 1:1–8, James 3:13–18
I asked Mama how she's able
To go one day to another
She took up the family Bible
Looked at me, and then she said:
"I am suffering under the weight of eternal glory
I find my place in the Good Lord's story
I keep His promises by my bed
Take the hand of the Loving Savior
Guides my way while I still stay here
You can find the same way yourself, dear
If you just let yourself be led"
– The Hillbilly Thomists (Weight of Eternal Glory)
James starts his letter with "count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" because endurance results in a life that lacks nothing. What??!! When we endure various trials with faith the result is a life that lacks nothing? Where did James get such an idea? From the wisdom literature of the Bible! This is why his very next statement is "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." James reads the wisdom literature and comes to the conclusion that if you lack joy when going through trials then your problem is that you lack wisdom. How does the wisdom literature say this?
The wisdom literature is ingenious in the way it explores the early Genesis story of the two trees of testing. We often think that God's instructions are killjoys. This idea was behind the original temptation. But it was a lie! God was not trying to limit Adam an Eve's joy by instructing them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, He was trying to preserve their joy. God had promised to give the wisdom that leads to life. Instead, Adam and Eve believed the lie that God was withholding and so they reached for wisdom on their own terms and the result was not life, but death.
In the story of Abraham and Sarah, God promised a son who would eventually become a family tree too numerous to count. But they were too old and unable to have children. Eventually, they did what was right in their own eyes and abused a maidservant to produce a child for Abraham. The result was much pain and suffering. After God fulfilled His promise and gave them a son, Isaac, He then put the two trees of testing before Abraham again. He would instruct Abraham to sacrifice his promised son. This time, Abraham saw the Lord's motives as trustworthy and his detour with death lead to life as he trusted in the resurrection power of God.
We often face the two trees of testing in life, particular when life is difficult and we face various trials. We can let our trials produce fear and anger, reaching for wisdom on our own terms, doing what is right in our own eyes. Or we can trust that God is with us and will lead us through the trials into a kind of life that transcends our circumstances and produces a joy within us that is not dependent on what is happening, but is fully immersed in the One who is with us. This is wisdom. It is wisdom to trust in the Lord in all things. If you lack joy because life is hard at the moment, then you lack wisdom. Ask God, for He gives generously.
James continues in chapter 3 to compare the wisdom that comes from above (God) to the wisdom from this realm (which comes from ourselves or worse, from demonic powers). You can tell which wisdom you possess by the fruit in your life. The wisdom from above produces peace, love, gentleness, and good fruit in your relationships. The wisdom that comes from this realm produces bitterness, jealousy, arrogance, falsehoods, division and every other evil thing we experience.
In the original story, Eve "took" from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad and "gave" it to her husband and the fruit it produced was bad. Sarah "took" her maidservant and "gave" it to her husband and the result was bad fruit. Jesus "took" the bread of the passover meal and "gave" it to His disciples, telling them it represented Him "taking" up the cross and "giving" Himself to us, leading to life and the reversal of death.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Reflect on wisdom's claim that her fruit is better than pure gold (Proverbs 8:19). Peter says that your faith is more precious than refined gold (1 Peter 1:7). What is the connection?
- Do you lack joy in this season? What decision are you making that might be based on the wisdom of this realm rather than the wisdom that comes from above?
DAY 5 – Song of Songs 8
Although most people probably do not think of the Song of Songs as wisdom literature, it is! Song of Songs (sometimes called the Song of Solomon) is a fascinating book. It is a collection of love poems arranged as a dialogue between two lovers. Although there has been much debate about its meaning, most people recognize it has several layers of interpretation. At one level, it is semi-erotic love poetry celebrating the love between a man and a woman. Many also see it as an analogy of the divine-human relationship, or as an analogy of how Jesus pursues us to restore us back into a loving, intimate relationship with God. Proverbs says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Song of Songs says that love is the ultimate aim of wisdom.
One of the aspects of Song of Songs that makes some people uncomfortable is its semi-erotic overtones. There is no getting around the allusions to the passion of sexual desire in these poems. Why would the Bible include such literature? Because the Bible wants us to think wisely about all aspects of life and to live wisely as God designed it. Human love and sexual desire is a big aspect of life and an area we lack wisdom in.
Love is mysterious. It has great potential – for good or for harm. This is also true of sexual desire. It can be beautiful or it can be dangerous. This is poetically described in the conclusion of Song of Songs, "for love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flames are flames of fire." Love is compared to a fire, which we know has the potential for good or for harm. When in the fireplace, it warms the home. When in the living room it burns the house down.
Human love often seems fleeting, as is the fulfillment of sexual desire. This is seen in these poems as the lovers look for one another and pursue each other, sometimes not finding one another, and never quite fulfilling their love. This leads us to consider that human love and human sexual desire actually point to a greater reality yet to be realized.
Sex is about more than just sex. It is about humanity's desire to know and be known. It is about our desire to be one with someone else. It is about love and unity. This greater reality can only be realized in Christ. And genuinely loving relationships that fulfill God's design can only be realized when each of us is restored to a loving relationship with God through Christ. The Song of Songs, in celebrating human love and passion is pointing us to a far greater love and passion that is only realized when we receive the love of God and return it to Him in Christ.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Use your imagination to think about what it might look like for the human desire to know and be known, to experience the highest form of love and unity, to be fully realized.
- This might give a little insight to Jesus' seemingly strange statement that in the age to come there will be no marriage (and by implication no sexual intimacy). Jesus seems to be hinting at something very profound – that the human desire for love and unity will so fully realized that the pointers to it (marriage and sex) will no longer be relevant.
- What might this mean for how we view relationships today?
DAY 6 – Job 42
We learn from Proverbs that wisdom is woven into the fabric of the universe. We live in a moral universe in which God rules with justice – rewarding the righteousness and punishing the wicked. And then Job comes along. God Himself declares that Job is righteous and blameless and honors God. Yet the satan strikes Job 3 times, destroying his wealth, killing all his children and inflicting his body with severe illness. Job has 3 friends who come to provide wisdom and counsel. After sitting silently with him for a week, they begin to speak. Their wisdom is simple. God is just, he runs the world according to justice. Therefore Job must have sinned to bring such calamity upon himself.
Job rejects his friends counsel. Their wisdom does not explain his situation. He is righteous and is suffering unjustly. Therefore, either God is not always just or He does not run the universe strictly on justice. After much back and forth with his friends, Job refuses to debate further and demands that God give an account and an explanation. At this point a 4th guy appears and adds an additional nuance. God is just and runs the universe with justice, but He also, at times, may bring suffering either as a warning not to sin or as a way to build better character in us
Job does not even acknowledge the last guy. It is at this point that God shows up. But rather than give an account of Himself or give Job an explanation, God dismantles Job's accusation. First, Job is is no position to make such an accusation. Job has a very small and limited perspective whereas God sees the entire picture and cares about every single detail. Second, the world is amazing and ordered, but also dangerous. The world is complex and it is not yet designed to prevent all suffering. God's wisdom is also complex, and at times, beyond our perfect understanding. The wise option is to trust in God's character and wisdom.
At this point, Job humbles himself, repents and apologizes for his attitude. And this is where the book gets really interesting. God is angry with Job's friends. He says that they have not spoken what is right about God and that Job has spoken what is right about God. What?? Was it not Job who was accusing God and Job's friends who were trying to defend God? Their simplistic ideas about god's justice did not match the complexity of the world. They presumed to understand too much and wrongly accused Job of sin when God had declared Job blameless. On the other hand, Job, who also spoke out of line, honestly brought his struggle and pain to God and just wanted to talk with God directly. The right response to pain and suffering is to pray to God, to talk directly and honestly with Him to process our emotions and come to a place of humility and trust.
Then God tells Job to pray for his friends so that God may have mercy on them and forgive them. After Job prays for his friends, God restores family and fortune back to him. This little detail is one of the keys to the message of Job's story. Job has suffered unfairly, but the righteous sufferer is someone that God elevates to a place of authority, someone who God listens to when they intercede for others. The apostle Peter picked up on this theme when he told persecuted christians that when we do what is right, yet suffer unjustly, we find favor with God (1 Peter 2:20). James uses Job as an example when he encourages us to endure suffering without judging others. For when we do so God will deal with us with compassion and mercy and bless us in the end.
God will not let pain or suffering have the final word against His people.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Reflect on the wisdom of Job. How does it change the way you view suffering?
- What is an area of suffering in your own life or within the world that you see? How might God be working to bring life in the situation?