13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew.
21 My son, do not lose sight of these—
keep sound wisdom and discretion,
22 and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
23 Then you will walk on your way securely,
and your foot will not stumble.
24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
26 for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught. – Proverbs 3:13-26 ESV
Wisdom brings blessing. It’s more profitable than silver or gold. Its long-term value is greater than that of precious jewels. Wisdom is incomparable, offering those who avail themselves of it the blessings of a long life, riches, and honor. The path of wisdom leads to a life filled with pleasantness and peace. It is a tree whose fruit provides a long and prosperous life.
Those are some rather bold claims and they seem to contradict the words that Solomon wrote in the opening chapter of his book of Ecclesiastes.
I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.
I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.
The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 NLT
Well, which is it? Is wisdom the key to long life and happiness or a pathway to futility and sorrow? Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Not only that, he was blessed with great wealth, power, and prestige. He had it all. And yet, at some point in his life, he seems to have struggled with an overwhelming sense of despondency and despair.
So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king?). I thought, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.
So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:12-17 NLT
It seems that Solomon had turned the pursuit of wisdom into an academic endeavor. Rather than growing in his knowledge of God, he simply filled his mind with facts, figures, data, and details. He was obsessed with knowing and the pursuit of knowledge. But information alone does not make one wise. The possession of an encyclopedic intelligence will not necessarily result in wise decision-making. Some of the most intelligent people in the world can make foolish decisions.
Somewhere along the way, Solomon lost the point of his life-long pursuit of wisdom. He took his eyes off of God and made it all about himself. Wisdom became a means to a self-centered and constantly elusive end.
I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT
His sad conclusion was, “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for” (Ecclesiastes 7:27-27 NLT).
So, what should we conclude? Which version of Solomon’s counsel should we listen to? The key is found in verses 19-20 of Proverbs 3. Here, Solomon provides the often overlooked ingredient to man’s pursuit of wisdom and knowledge: God.
By wisdom the Lord founded the earth;
by understanding he created the heavens.
By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth,
and the dew settles beneath the night sky. – Proverbs 3:19-20 NLT
Wisdom and knowledge can only be found in and received from God. They are not isolated and independent commodities to be sought for like hidden treasure. Without a relationship with God, wisdom is meaningless and virtually useless. As Solomon discovered later in life, wisdom alone was not enough. A head full of knowledge without a heart for God was not only unhelpful, but it produces a life of futility and fruitlessness.
It is important to recall that, upon his ascension to the throne of Israel, Solomon had asked God for wisdom. God had given Solomon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever his heart desires. “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5 NLT). And Solomon had responded, “Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9 NLT).
And God was pleased to fulfill Solomon’s request.
“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” – 1 Kings 3:11-14 NLT
Notice the conditional nature of God’s statement. He agreed to give Solomon wisdom and threw in riches and fame for good measure. But it was all tied to Solomon’s obedience. God was giving Solomon the power to know right from wrong. In other words, he would have the mind of God, the ability to discern what God deemed holy, righteous, and good. But to know what is right does not guarantee that one will do what is right. To know the will of God does not always result in obedience to the will of God. Remember how Solomon opened up his book of Proverbs.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… – Proverbs 1:7 ESV
This brings to mind the fall, that fateful occasion when Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and chose the wisdom of God over a relationship with God. He had placed them in the garden and provided them with the fruit from a variety of trees from which to eat, including the tree of life. But God had declared one tree to be off-limits: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had told them, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16-17 NLT).
But one day, while the first couple strolled in the garden together, they were confronted by the serpent, who tempted Eve to eat some of the forbidden fruit. When she recited God’s warning that to do so would result in death, the serpent refuted God’s word.
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:4-7 NLT
Their eyes were opened. Much to Eve’s surprise, she didn’t die, but instead, she became enlightened. She became autonomous, with the ability to determine good and evil for herself. She had discovered the intoxicating, yet toxic power to become the master of her own fate. She shared some of the tantalizing and tasty fruit with her husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Satan had successfully marketed the fruit as a replacement for God. It was the fruit that would make one wise, and Eve “wanted the wisdom it would give her” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). She got what she wanted: Wisdom apart from God. And, in a sense, Solomon ended up feasting on the same dangerous and deadly fruit. His lifelong pursuit of wisdom became a godless endeavor designed to satisfy his ceaseless longing for more.
Yet Solomon was able to tell his son, “do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck” (Proverbs 3:21-22 ESV). He promises that they will provide security and a lack of fear. But notice how Solomon qualifies his promise.
…for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught. – Proverbs 3:26 ESV
Wisdom and discretion were not to be the goal. They were simply the outcome. Solomon wanted his son to pursue the Lord. He wanted God to be his son’s greatest desire. If he would put God first, the rest would come as an added and welcome benefit. But Eve had made the possession of wisdom of more value than her personal relationship with the God of wisdom. Knowing what God knows was more important to her than simply knowing God. Becoming her own god with the power to decide what she deemed right and wrong led her to disobey and deny God. She became wise and, at the same time, discovered that she was a fool.
At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:7 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.