Revelation or Experimentation

1 My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.

Proverbs 5:1, 2

This morning in Sunday School we had a lesson talking about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Genesis chapter two God told Adam about this tree. God’s instruction was that Adam should not eat the fruit from that tree. If you’ve read Genesis three you know that Adam disobeyed God’s command.

One of the points in the lesson this morning was that we can learn the difference between good and evil in one of two ways. We can accept God’s revelation of what is right and wrong, or we can trust in our own experimentation. Revelation or experimentation.

Solomon is teaching the reader this same concept Here in Proverbs five. There are people who would lead you down the wrong path in life. Our world is full of temptation to go against what God has revealed in His Word.

“I have hated instruction”

The end of experimentation brings shame and guilt. It causes the person in Proverbs five to say:

12 … How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; 13 And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!

There is no need for us to end up in that place. Even if we’ve fought against godly teaching in the past, it does not mean that we can’t turn to living wisely today.

Solomon’s Example

Solomon uses the example of a young man who is tempted to live in an immoral way with, what he calls, a strange woman. In the book of Proverbs we see the phrase “strange woman” eight times. Solomon uses this to mean anyone who is not your wife. This may not start out as an intentional illicit affair. But Solomon is warning the reader to be wise in their choices.

I think this is just one example he could have chosen. Maybe your temptation is not exactly an inappropriate relationship with someone else. Maybe it is something with your thought life, or some sort of substance abuse. Allow God’s Word, and the teaching of godly people in your life to reveal what is right and wrong. Don’t be like the foolish young man in this chapter who thought he had to experience sin to be able to understand whether it was appropriate for him or not.

Pay attention to the warnings in the book of Proverbs. Many times we can avoid heartache in our life if we are willing to head the warnings in God’s Word and the teachings of the godly people He has brought to us.

Learn by revelation, not experimentation.

Wisdom Is The Principal Thing

5Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

Proverbs 4:5-7

Dr. Jim Stoutenborough was a friend who was 50 years older than. When we met, I was in my 20s and I quickly saw a man who was everything that I was not: organized, well dressed, fastidious. I knew him mostly as a song leader. However, I think what influenced his care for details more than anything else was he was also a pilot.

I stood in the doorway of his office one day as he gave me one of his many words of wisdom. I can’t say that we “hung out,” but I always enjoyed any conversation I had with him. For some reason this one conversation has stuck with me 25 years later.

He quoted Proverbs 4:7 to me and said that should be one of my primary goals in life. Get wisdom. Get understanding. The world makes much more sense when you pursue wisdom as your top priority.

Wisdom and Understanding

Sometimes it is hard to define the difference between some words that seem like synonyms. Wisdom and understanding are similar, but not exactly the same.

Understanding is knowledge with meaning. Just knowing something does not necessarily mean you understand the reason behind it. That is facts without application.

An example is knowing what the accelerator and brake in a care are for. But, until you learn to drive, the facts of what accelerators and brakes do doesn’t really mean much to you. When you get experience behind the driver’s seat, you start to understand their importance and how those devices work.

The other word that interests us is the word wisdom. That word can also be interpreted as skill. Knowing is made of facts. Understanding is built with experience. But wisdom is when that knowledge and understanding become skill.

To continue the driving analogy let’s see where applied knowledge and understanding help to build skill. Think of a race car driver. They would have a more intimate knowledge and intuitive understanding of what a brake and accelerator are capable of. They have built skill that comes with applying everything that came before.

Solomon here in the book of Proverbs is telling us to not only learn, but seek to understand. Then, as you apply that understanding more and more to gain skill, you will begin to make wise choices without having to think too deeply about them.

Get wisdom. Get understanding. Go beyond just learning facts, learn how to use them. This can be applied in any area of life. But Solomon is encouraging us to tenaciously pursue wisdom (skill) in matters of our applying God’s Word and how we interact with people.

Do Good to Your Neighbor

27 Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. 28 Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. 29 Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.

Proverbs 3:27-29

I believe I have the spiritual gift of helps. But a couple of years ago I was feeling frustrated with knowing I had been stretching myself too thin; which is something easy for me to fall into.

When we are allowing the Holy Spirit to control us (being filled with the Spirit) then our spiritual gifts and personality tendencies will be used to God’s glory. But in times when we are not spiritually disciplined then the things we normally love to do in service to God can become points of frustration. That mindset of frustration is where I was when I read these verses from Proverbs 3 a couple of years ago.

I highlighted those verses in my Bible and I have been convicted each time I have read those verses since then. Certainly these verses aren’t saying that I have to be the hero in every situation (though that is my tendency to want to do). But they are saying that we should help when we can and when it would be God’s will for us to do so.

Do I have the ability to help the person in need? Should I be the one to help them? Would it be more helpful to them if I got someone else involved?

Current World Situation

As we are currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the world, I think this is a good time to evaluate whether we are doing what we can for our neighbors. There can be valid differences of opinions on what that means from a governmental standpoint. But individually we must show love to those around us.

The best definition of love I’ve heard comes from Romans 13:8, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”

Love is the fulfilling of the law. Or, put more clearly, love is doing what is right.

This is where we have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in knowing how to help those around us. Sometimes that may mean going to someone’s house to fix some plumbing for them. Sometimes that may mean staying away from their house so as to not put them at risk for a greater problem. How will you know the difference? I believe these two well-known verses from earlier in the chapter speak clearly to that.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Proverbs 3:5, 6

Allow God to lead you in helping others. Whether you have the spiritual gift of helps or not, we are all responsible for being a good neighbor. Be a good citizen to those around you at all times.

Proverbs 2:1-9: If … Then

1 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.

Proverbs 2:1-9

I remember back in the 1980s when I first started playing with computers we had to write into memory any program that we wanted to run. I would play with friends’ computers that would hook directly into a TV as a monitor, but there was no storage for programs. (Later we bought a Commodore 64 with a cassette tape drive. Ahh, the good old days.)

When writing BASIC programs I learned about If-Then statements. The concept is still used in programming today. But we also see this idea in many other areas of life. In Proverbs chapter two there is a list of If-Then promises.

If …

Solomon says to his son—which can be interpreted as anyone who will listen—that there is a result to paying attention to his words. In this case, he is making an argument for heeding wisdom. Wisdom is often personified in Proverbs as it is here.

… you will receive my words

As we saw from chapter one, this is the idea of seizing the information given. Not just casually watching from the sidelines, but jumping in and actually trying to learn.

We need to become students of God’s Word and the wisdom He imparts. Don’t just allow Bible teaching to come to you, go out and find it. I’ve heard it said of language learning, “no one can teach you a language. You have to learn it.” I think that can be applied to learning God’s Word too. There are plenty of teachers, but until you are ready to receive (grab hold of) wisdom from God, then you won’t reap the benefits God’s wisdom offers.

… and hide my commandments

What do pirates do with their treasure? They bury it and hide it. At least that is what we’ve been led to believe. That is exactly the idea of this word hide. It is to esteem something valuable enough to store it up and hoard it.

I understand this is Solomon speaking here, but I think the example is that we should value God’s commandments enough to hide them and place great value on them.

How do we hide God’s commandments? Spend time in His Word and learn what He has already said. Sometimes people are looking for a “clear word from God.” If you haven’t been paying attention to what God has already clearly said in His Word, then it will be very difficult for you to know whether it is Him leading you or your own fleshly desires.

Verse two is a continuation of that thought of leaning in and paying attention.

… you will cry after knowledge and understanding

Understanding and knowledge are various aspects of the wisdom that is being taught here. Get the attention of knowledge (discernment) and understanding (practiced wisdom, skill). Cry after it. Lift up your voice in search of it. Again, don’t just allow it to causally pass by, but lay hold of it as a treasure.

… you seek wisdom as if it were silver and a treasure

You have been given an invitation to obtain a great treasure. Many people will throw the invitation away thinking that it doesn’t apply to them. Or, they will think that it is too good to be true. What we are told to do in Proverbs is to seek out, request—even demand—this treasure of wisdom.

Do you desire wisdom enough to look for and cry after it?

All of this speaks to the fact that wisdom (knowledge and understanding) can be had by those who seek it. This book exists so that you can gain this wisdom. The book assumes that you can learn. You don’t have to know everything to embark on the pursuit of wisdom. It is something that you can gain skill at by practicing.

Then …

Whenever I read the word if I immediately start looking for the then that goes with it. Here is the beautiful then.

… you will understand the fear of the Lord

This word understand is to perceive, discern, have insight. All things that can be improved with practice. And, we are told that we can discern—understand—the fear of the Lord because of seeking wisdom like a precious treasure.

So, what is the fear of the Lord? This certainly deserves being fleshed out in more detail, but Hebrews 12:28, 29 gives us an example of why to fear God. It is because He is a consuming fire. Fire can be beautiful, perform work, and be generally helpful. Without fire we would not have the technology and society we have today. But fire is also something that can incite terror.

Fearing God has an element of terror, but also healthy respect. It is not just one or the other. But both. And, so much more.

While explaining the fear of God may be difficult to do in a few words, spending your life searching for wisdom will help you understand the concept of the fear of the Lord.

… and you will find the knowledge of God

This word find in Hebrew is very much like our English word today. It can mean to casually stumble onto something. Or, it can mean to discover something that you have been searching for diligently. And I think both can apply here.

When you diligently seek for wisdom as a hid treasure, you will uncover more and more understanding about God and His ways. This may be in a very deliberate area where you were seeking insight. Or, it could be that you were looking for one thing and God brought some other truth across your path.

Someone who rejects God will find it very difficult to to have an understanding of God and His Word. They are not seeking God and His wisdom, therefore they won’t even know what they have found when they stumble upon a truth lying in plain sight.

I trust God will grant you understanding and knowledge of Him as you study and obey His Word.

The Purpose of the Book of Proverbs

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Proverbs 1:2-6

Proverbs chapter one starts out by telling us what the purpose of the book is. Let’s look at these opening phrases quickly with the understanding that they could each warrant a more in-depth look later.

To know wisdom and instruction

You are invited to come to the book of Proverbs without having infinite knowledge, understanding and wisdom. One of the purposes of the book is so that you can learn these things. Take time to study the book over and over. Like many skills in life, you learn even more when you practice what you learn and then come back to read the source material over and over.

To perceive the words of understanding

The book of Proverbs will help the reader have discernment. That is, to judge well and correctly. The book is full of topics which the writer, Solomon, is teaching us to perceive and understand: finances, human emotions and personalities, casual and intimate relationships, how to parent our children and how to be a good child.

To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice …

Having a good teacher does not mean that every student is going to learn in the same way. Some students may not pay attention or have no interest in the topic being taught. I’m sure we’ve all met young people who struggle in some areas of school but excel in other subjects. Solomon is teaching us that we should become students of wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.

That word receive in verse three is a generic word meaning to get, obtain, fetch. But it can also mean to seize by force. Throughout the book you will see this word used telling the reader that learning the truths of the book doesn’t happen casually. You must work to obtain this information.

Another way this particular word is translated is marry. I love the idea of obtaining this instruction and holding onto it for a lifetime.

To give subtilty to the simple

A naive person does not have to remain that way their whole life. One of the purposes of the book of Proverbs is to help people grow in wisdom. Approach this wonderful book with some humility and a willingness to learn. Proverbs doesn’t want to beat you up with your ignorance, it wants to help you to grow in wisdom and in knowing how to deal with the world.

Maybe you no longer consider yourself a young person. It is not too late for you to learn God’s wisdom as taught in His Book. Start now and ask God to help you learn through the book of Proverbs. Its purpose is to teach, not to beat you over the head for your ignorance. Though it does seem to step on my toes quite a often when I realize that I have done many of the foolish things that it is trying to steer us away from.

To give knowledge and discretion to the young man

When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When is the next best time to plant a tree? Right now.

There is no better time to start learning the principles of Proverbs than as a young person. But if you have missed that opportunity, start now. Don’t put off learning the wisdom of God’s Word because you are no longer young.

Don’t believe the lie that says “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That is not true with dogs nor with humans. Sometimes people stop learning as they get older because they have chosen not to learn; not because they are incapable of it. It is true that it may take longer to learn new information, but it isn’t true that it is impossible. Be open to the fact that God’s Word has something to teach you. That is one of the purposes of Proverbs.

To understand a proverb …

The whole verse is: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Allow me to paraphrase.

To discern a proverb (teaching, parable, aphorism, similitude) and the puzzle within it (the meaning). To understand what those who are skilled in a subject are trying to teach; even the riddles and hidden meanings.

This book works on the assumption that you can learn how to be wise and discerning. Not everything will make complete sense the first time you read through, but it will become clearer and clearer with time. Allow God’s Word to permeate your thinking. And, as it concerns every day life and your interaction with other people, there is no better part of God’s Word to study than the book of Proverbs.