Formations 08.18.2019: A Constant Search for Wisdom

Proverbs 2:1-11

Over the summer, my daughters and I have been sorting through the junk stockpiled in our unfinished basement and searching for the treasures. One of those treasures is a huge plastic bin filled with my high school memorabilia: handwritten notes from friends, journal entries, graded papers, photos. But the biggest treasure in the bin is a paperback youth Bible that I used throughout my high school education. In a time of turmoil caused by struggling to grow up, trying to help friends in difficult situations, and navigating love and loss, my church youth group was a golden lifeline for me. I took this Bible with me to every meeting, and the pages are filled with underlines, highlights, and copious notes in the margins.

In my small town, my youth group friends were the same as my high school friends, drama club friends, and tennis team friends. We were together all the time because, honestly, there was nothing else to do. Our youth group became a hangout, a source of junk food, a form of group therapy, and, at its best moments, a place where we learned how to see God working in our lives.

My well-worn Bible from those days has notes like “Be Jesus to him” written next to the story of the prodigal son. I’m sure I was referring to a particular friend of mine whose home life was especially difficult and who had little experience of a father’s love. There are heavy underlines beneath Psalm 91:4, reminding me that the anxiety I live with today has been with me since I was a young teen. All of John 17 is starred and underlined, and I wrote, “What a prayer!” I remember trying so hard to maintain a healthy prayer life, even when I felt like my words went nowhere.

I’ve had a few other Bibles over the years, but none of them bear marks like this one. My desperate, dedicated search for God’s wisdom as a teenager is evident on nearly every single page. As I became an adult and got married, had children, and started my career, I stopped making those notes in my Bible. Over the past nearly two decades of my work as an editor, I have read hundreds of Scripture passages and millions of words written by people trying to interpret those passages for Bible study groups. Sometimes it’s easy to depend on others to give us God’s wisdom. Sometimes it’s easy to think we know all there is to know about the Bible, especially if we’ve been in church for years.

These words from Proverbs 2 offer good counsel to those who, like me, may get complacent when it comes to Scripture: “treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (vv. 1-2). These are present-tense, active verbs: treasure, making, inclining. They imply action that takes place now, each day. And what is the reward of a constant search for wisdom? “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you” (vv. 9-11).

My prayer is to be like my high school self again—reading the Bible often enough and humbly enough that I am open to hearing God speak to me in every situation.

Discussion

• If you have been attending church and/or Bible study since you were a child, how have your habits changed? Do you read the Bible more or less? Pray more or less? Seek God’s wisdom more or less?
• What contributes to the “fatigue” we may feel about practices related to our faith—praying, reading Scripture, attending church services, and others?
• Why is it important to keep seeking God’s wisdom at every stage of life?
• How can we maintain humility about how much we know or don’t know when it comes to the things of God?
• What are some practical actions we can take to keep seeking God’s wisdom?

Reference Shelf

The Condition, 2:1-4

The section opens with the common address to “my child,” establishing a parental voice as instructor. Following the preceding wisdom poem in chapter 1, however, readers may also hear the residual voice of Woman Wisdom calling to the simple and the foolish who in a childlike way stubbornly resist her calls (1:22-23). Interestingly, when readers reach Proverbs 31:1-31, they encounter the final poem in the book, which is about a remarkable and valorous woman strongly identifying with Woman Wisdom. Readers may then retrospectively decide that the parental voice of instruction is as much a mother’s voice as it is a father’s. The call in Proverbs 2 in any event is for the child to receive instructive words.

As Woman Wisdom, the challenge to “treasure up my commandments” heightens the significance by alluding to the Mosaic commandments ([with a word that occurs] some thirty times in the Deuteronomistic History; it occurs also in Prov 3:1; 4:4; 6:20; 7:1; 10:8). The piling up of references to wisdom in vv. 2-4 reminds readers of the introduction to the entire collection, where all of the synonyms for wisdom were first set out (see 1:1-7). Here again readers encounter “wisdom,” “understanding,” and “insight,” the key features of the sages’ concept of intellection and cognition.

The accompanying verbs are noteworthy. The student is to “be attentive” and “incline the heart,” instructions frequently encountered in the admonitions of the prophets (e.g., Hos 5:1; Isa 10:30; Mic 1:2; Jer 18:19). Further, the instructions to “cry out” and “lift one’s voice” describe activities frequently used for supplication before deity in times of trouble (e.g., Pss 18:4; 50:15; 86:5-6; Hos 7:11). In Proverbs 2:3 this language conveys both an attitude of supplication and urgency as the student considers what must be done in order to obtain wisdom.

The Results of the Search, 2:5-11

Diligent seeking for wisdom conditionally leads to two results: first, a knowledge of God (vv. 5-8); second, an understanding of an ethical lifestyle befitting such knowledge of God (vv. 9-11). Both of these results are clearly introduced by two “then” clauses. The Hebrew word “then” stands at the beginning of, thus introducing, each section.

The sage is confident that the end result is “understanding the fear of the Lord” and “finding the knowledge of God” (v. 5). It may be that the main purpose of the sage is simply to assert that the true source of wisdom is the Lord, countering any notion of one’s finding wisdom on one’s own. Readers do not read too far in the wisdom tradition, however, before encountering harsh polemic against the notion that one can really find the knowledge of God. Job 28, a poem written during the same historical (post-exilic) time frame, certainly acknowledges that wisdom is with God, but also affirms wisdom’s ultimate hiddenness from humans (28:20-22). The student’s final decision must be made while also weighing the still less enthusiastic realism of Qoheleth, the sage behind the book of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth is certain that one cannot ultimately know the mind of God (Eccl 3:11; 8:16-17).

Not only does finding wisdom provide security and protection for the righteous and upright (vv. 7-8), but it leads to an understanding of the morals and ethics of righteousness (vv. 9-11). Verse 8 alludes to the motif of the two paths mentioned both in the wisdom poem and in the opening instruction (1:8-19). This image provides transition into the second result clause. The second result clause provides a helpful transition from the promise of finding wisdom with its accompanying lifestyle to the assertion of deliverance and protection from those who do not have it, especially the perverse man and the foreign woman.

Milton P. Horne, Proverbs–Ecclesiastes, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2003) 44–46.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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