Who would have guessed that a series of books “…for Dummies” would sell millions of copies? When they first started coming out, which was before Google, people who wanted help on a particular subject purchased these self-education books. There are now over 2,100 separate titles and the series continues to offer advice for just about everyone. The titles range from Bird Watching, Cocktail Parties, Composting, Parenting (scary thought!), and even Sex for Dummies!
The same could be said of the book of Proverbs. It takes the ageless, priceless wisdom of God and makes it understandable and accessible to regular people like you and me. It doesn’t take a seminary education to comprehend its wisdom. Proverbs is the most down-to-earth book in the Bible and it has pertinent truths that relate to everyday life.
Proverbs tells us how life works. One thing they make clear is that, generally speaking, people who are godly, moral, hardworking, and wise will generally reap many rewards. How did the writers know this? They learned it from a lifetime of experience. They were fallible people like you and me who walked with God or pursued God’s wisdom, messed up, experienced some character building experiences, observed the successes and failures of others, and wrote down their discoveries in order to share them with others.
Above all else, Proverbs is practical.
A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but find nothing. (Proverbs 20:4)
Easy enough: you don’t plow, you don’t eat.
The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weight are his delight. (Proverbs 11:1)
The Lord hates cheating and loves honesty. What part of that one isn’t clear?
And how about this passage for proving that the ancient wisdom of Proverbs is in touch with the real world:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink.” (Proverbs 23:29-35
Proverbs is a fascinating and powerful book. Where else can we find writing that is poetic yet practical, humorous yet helpful, direct yet deep? Where else can we find the wisdom of God compressed into a few pithy phrases that please our ears, stretch our minds, and satisfy our souls?
What is wisdom? Wisdom is what is true and right combined with good judgment.
The first 9 chapters of Provers form an introduction to the remaining 22 chapters of the book and present the central message of Proverbs: pursue wisdom.
Wisdom is not something to do; it is a way of doing things. Whatever you do can be done with wisdom. Wisdom is invariably displayed in concrete, practical living. Wisdom is skill; to be wise is have skill in living.
Think about the people you know. Do you know any wise parents; mothers or fathers who exhibit sound judgment in how they conduct their lives and raise their children? Parents who know when to give advice and when to just listen; when to teach and when to let life’s consequences be their children’s teacher? Now try to put a value on those wise insights. How much are they worth? How valuable are they to the daughters and sons in the 21st century?
Consider the workplace. I can think of a number of people I know who have neither dazzling talent, stellar credentials nor charismatic personalities who have risen to places of strategic importance in the marketplace, government, academia, and the non-profit sector. These people have gained responsibility and respect because they have handled themselves wisely in the workplace over a long time. They have applied the wisdom from the book of Proverbs – wisdom about taking initiative and developing discipline, wisdom about speaking the truth in love, managing anger and doing good to others.
This is just as Proverbs says is should be be:
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)
People who work wisely and skillfully over the long haul will be esteemed highly by their peers and superiors. This is not a promise or a guarantee, but it is generally the way life works.
Unfortunately, such people are becoming more and more of a rarity. I was talking with a business owner who was telling me that she was having a difficult time keeping good sales people. She said, “The only problem is that so many of my sales people act weird.”
When I asked what she meant by “weird,” she replied, “I mean they do stupid things and get themselves into trouble. They don’t show up on time. They don’t call people waiting to hear from them. They don’t admit mistakes when they make them. They don’t cooperate with their co-workers. They just act weird and eventually I have to let them go.
The writers of Proverbs could have easily related to my business friend with “weird” employees. They too were shocked and disgusted by the number of people making unwise choices and ruining their lives. And they didn’t hold back on what they had to say about these people. The writers of Proverbs say that the opposite of wisdom is foolishness and the opposite of a wise person is a fool.
Today the word fool often means someone with low intelligence, but in biblical usage, fools may have high intelligence and a reputation for success. What makes them fools is that they ignore God’s wisdom, preferring to follow shifting dictates of the crowd or their own fallible opinions.
While fools consider themselves clever – people who know how to beat the system – their cleverness all too often leads to their ruin. Their penchant for distorting the truth, their lack of discernment and discipline, their unwillingness to exercise self-control and their apparent delight in throwing caution to the wind, put them on the path to disaster.
Repeatedly, the Bible warns that the path of a fool is a downward spiral, that folly begets more folly, and that the end is destruction. There are some really graphic Proverbs:
Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly. (Proverbs 17:12)
Then there is the habit-forming nature of foolishness:
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:1)
I wish the Bible didn’t use words like “fool” and “folly” because I don’t like to think of myself as a fool, but sometimes I am. The Lord knows I have certainly made my share of poor life (aka foolish) decisions. At some point we must look ourselves in the mirror and say, “You’ve gone far enough down a foolish path. You’ve damaged enough relationships, squandered enough time and energy, wasted enough money, said enough stupid words, shed enough unnecessary tears. You’ve proven to yourself that you don’t know how to make life work. You’ve revealed the folly of your ways.” It’s white-flag surrender time. It’s seek-the-wisdom-0f-God time. We need to enroll in the school of wisdom today.
Proverbs 1:7 tells us what class we need to start with in the school of wisdom: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
How do we begin the process of acquiring something that is worth more than gold? We start by obtaining the knowledge that is most central to the deepest human needs: the knowledge that there is a God who is powerful and personal and head-over-heels in love with each and every one of us. A God who has extended to us the hand of forgiveness and grace. A God who says, “Come on, take a hand, and I’ll help you make your life work.” That is where we start.
Some people are tempted to say, “Ok, you’re right. Enough folly. But I don’t need God. I’m on the self-improvement fast-track. I’ll just start by making better choices on my own.” Such people are usually destined to make nearly the same choices in the future as they made in the past. They need to put their hand in God’s hand in order to receive a new power to go a new way.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the book of Proverbs. Write down the proverbs that speak to your heart and post them everywhere. Read them, repeat them, memorize them, and follow them. Then see if God doesn’t honor your decision to choose wisdom. We are at the beginning of an adventure in growth. Enroll, with me, in the school of wisdom.
++ Next Sunday we’ll be looking at Making Life Work: Do Good. Who knows what will tickle my fancy for Tuesday and Thursday. You can receive this blog right to your email or reader by subscribing in the area to the right. Oh, and why not share what proverbs are speaking to you in the Comments section.++