Turn to any portion of Proverbs and you will be confronted with a fork in the road: Will you take the pathway of wisdom or the pathway of folly? Though Proverbs addresses dozens of topics, its thirty-one chapters actually present every reader with only two routes through life: the wise way or the foolish way.
The Pathway of Wisdom
What is the biblical concept of wisdom? A wise person knows how God has made the world to work and skillfully shapes his life to go with (not against) the grain of God’s creation. Proverbs views wisdom as skill in relationships—living in right relationship with the realities of God’s good and orderly, but fallen and chaotic universe. This includes properly relating to God, other people, the created world, and one’s self.
Of course, thriving in these relationships doesn’t happen overnight. The pathway of wisdom is walked, not sprinted. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the process of learning God’s ways in his orderly world has a definite beginning, a desired ending, and many steps in between. Thankfully, God has described these stages for us. Proverbs 2:1–10, one of the most orderly and structured passages in the entire book, maps out this march toward wisdom.
1. Accept the Wisdom You Have (2:1–2)
According to Proverbs 2, the naive or untrained person must first willingly receive the wisdom of his instructors (parents, teachers, etc.). Notice how in these first two verses, he simply welcomes wisdom from others: “accept,” “store up,” “make your ear attentive,” “apply your heart toward understanding.”
This first phase implies active teaching by the mentor and active listening by the learner. If you are a parent, don’t forget that God has already provided your child with his first building block to be wise: you! This requires that you must be wise yourself—knowing and living in harmony with God’s created and moral order. And to then impart this wisdom to your child, you must talk, talk, talk, teach, teach, teach. The next generation takes their first steps on the road toward wisdom by accepting the wise instruction of others.
2. Seek the Wisdom You Lack (2:3–4)
According to Solomon, the next piece of wise instruction a child must accept is this: “Start seeking wisdom yourself.” Those who accept the wisdom of others should not become content to be spoon-fed by others. They must also start praying that God would give them the wisdom they don’t yet have. This kind of prayer plays a vital role in the treasure hunt for wisdom, whose value exceeds gold or silver (Proverbs 3:14).
As a parent, you should encourage your child to ask God for the skill needed to make wise choices. You can also provide a model of asking by praying with your child for the wisdom he or she needs. If someone lacks wisdom, he should expectantly ask God to meet that need (James 1:5). For he is the Source of true wisdom, and he generously gives wisdom to those who seek it.
3. Gain the Wisdom You Need (2:5–8)
The next two verses lay out the next step toward wisdom. What is sought and requested in Proverbs 2:3–4, is found in 2:5–6 and enjoyed in 2:7–8. When the Lord hears requests for wisdom, he answers by giving the elements required to get wisdom. He gives “the fear of the Lord,” which is the prerequisite for living wisely, and he also begins to give out some beginner’s skills in wise living (2:5–6).
A child living in the “fear of the Lord” begins to factor the reality of God into his own perceptions of life. His eyes start to open to a new reality of life: God himself. Alongside the fear of God, also comes some initial wisdom from God. And any who gain this wisdom will begin to benefit from this wisdom (2:7–8).
4. Internalize the Wisdom You Know (2:9–10)
Retracing the flow of thought begun in Proverbs 2:1, the first step away from folly requires simply accepting the wisdom of others (Proverbs 2:1–2). The next step starts one’s own personal quest to seek wisdom from God (2:3–4). The third step (2:5–8) gains the ingredients required for wisdom: the fear of the Lord and wise teaching from his mouth. And now the fourth step goes even further.
Proverbs 2:9 says that after you’ve received God’s wisdom, you will understand “every good track [or path].” The reason for such comprehensive and mature insight is that wisdom has now come to reside deep inside you, in your heart. And this internalized wisdom not only guides but also changes you, so that you actually enjoy God’s wise ways (2:10).
In the first three steps outlined in Proverbs 2:1–8, wisdom mainly exists outside the learner or child: in the wisdom of teachers, parents, or even God himself. But a child reaches the height of wisdom when the skill learned from others actually becomes her own. A wise person is not one who has merely mastered wisdom, but who has been mastered by it.
Wisdom, then, is not just gaining familiarity with a list of proverbs but internalizing a versatile approach to life. Situations will arise in life that Proverbs never addresses. In these cases, the book of Proverbs serves as a starter kit, teaching a worldview that can adapt skillfully to new and unfamiliar challenges. You begin learning Proverbs like reading a map, exploring each square foot of its 915 verses. Yet, as you internalize its wisdom, the map becomes a compass, enabling you to navigate any terrain you encounter.
Or to switch the metaphor, any orator may learn to speak by looking at the words on the teleprompter, but a skilled public speaker sees the words and looks through the teleprompter adapting to the audience before him. Similarly, our view of Proverbs changes as Proverbs changes us. The more you see the ways of God’s world in it, the more you may see his world through it.
This means that God intends that you not only learn the wisdom found in Proverbs, but also build on it by making your own observations. A friend of mine often expresses this truth with the helpful reminder: “Read your environment.” Wise people learn to live skillfully despite the ever-changing situations encountered. That’s why there is space in the “Reflections” sections throughout this journal where you can add your own words of wisdom.
Excerpted from Pass it On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation © 2017 by George Thomas Thornton II). Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.