August 15, 2021, The House That Wisdom Built, Proverbs 9:1-6 – Carroll Boswell, guest speaker
The subject for today is wisdom so we will read a lot from Proverbs. The book of Proverbs urges people to seek out three special things: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Proverbs urges us to pursue these things as of first importance. For example, Proverbs 2:1-5, 9-12a “My son [or daughter], if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding, yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God…… 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, discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, ” or again
Proverbs 16:16 “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” We all spend a lot of time and energy getting gold; wisdom is better. And one of the perks of getting wisdom is that you also get the knowledge of God and an understanding of justice in the bargain.
Proverbs 9:1 started out, “Wisdom has built her house.” What does the house that Wisdom built look like? The first floor is knowledge. Knowledge is just information, the facts. Knowledge is the kind of thing you get in school, or from books, or from google. Perhaps you remember memorizing the times tables or the capitals of all the states as a child. Some knowledge, like the times tables, comes in handy in your daily life. Some knowledge is “useless” knowledge. Did you know the Minoan civilization was destroyed by a tsunami roughly around the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt? Not the kind of thing you’ll ever use, probably. Knowledge is knowledge; God doesn’t make distinctions like we do.
The second floor of Wisdom’s house is understanding. Understanding is what you have when you study something deeply for a long time, accumulate a lot of knowledge about it, and begin to see patterns and connections that you couldn’t have seen otherwise. The mark of a person with understanding is creativity with what they know, they can use it to discover new knowledge and understanding. Understanding makes knowledge come alive and grow. For example, a good doctor is one who has gone beyond all the book knowledge from medical school and understand what is going on with your problems. A person who works hard for a long time may get such a deep understanding that we call him or her an expert. Only hard work and experience and hard thinking can get you understanding.
The third floor of Wisdom’s house is Wisdom herself. Wisdom is the savvy to know what you ought to do to best use your knowledge and understanding in real life. Unlike knowledge, you can’t get wisdom from a book or from google. Unlike understanding, you can’t get wisdom from experience or from trying really really hard. Wisdom is a gift from God and He gives it to those with whom He is pleased, to those who ask Him. Proverbs portrays Wisdom as a woman, and Christian tradition links wisdom with God Himself. Some parts of the Christian tradition identify Wisdom with Jesus, but it seems more natural to think Proverbs 8 and 9 are talking about the Holy Spirit, whom we call our guide, who teaches us all things.
Wisdom is best explained by comparing her to her opposite, the woman Folly. The last few verses of Proverbs 9 describe Folly with a poem parallel to the one describing wisdom that we read. Let’s compare the two.
Wisdom built her own house; Folly just sits at the front door of her house. Wisdom prepared a feast, baked bread and made wine and set the table for her guests. Folly has nothing to offer hers. She has no wine and no bread. She can’t brag of how tasty her food is, only of how much fun it is to steal water; they have to eat their bread in secret. Wisdom invites people to come to her. Folly is loud and brash and seduces people to come to her. Wisdom invites people to leave their simple ways and live. Folly seduces and never lets on that all the guests who stay with her are dead. If you remember the old rock song by the Eagles, “Hotel California”, that song has the perfect description of the house that Folly built.
Wisdom has built her house
she has hewn her seven pillars
She has slaughtered her beasts
she has mixed her wine
she has also set her table
she has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed
Leave your simple ways and live
and walk in the way of insight
The woman Folly is loud
she is seductive and knows nothing
She sits at the door of her house
She takes a seat on the highest places of the town
calling to those who pass by
who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here”
And to him who lacks sense she says
Stolen water is sweet
and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
But he does not know that the dead are there
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
That should be enough for us to recognize the different voices of Wisdom and Folly, but if it is not enough, James 3:17 adds this: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” If the voice in your head doesn’t fit this description, don’t listen to it.
There is another trait that true Wisdom always has. Wisdom listens to others who are wise, to others who have understanding and knowledge. Wisdom values a rebuke from a man of understanding because that is a way to get more wisdom. Proverbs 12:15 says “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 15:12 says “A scoffer does not like to be reproved. He will not go to the wise.” A fool won’t listen to the wise and the wise know better than to listen to a fool. Wisdom listens to experts. Wisdom knows that to get good counsel you must go to a person of understanding. If your car is broken you go to Bob’s; you don’t go to a waitress at the Hometown. If you have a health problem you go to the wisest doctor you know, and not to me. God has blessed experts with understanding because they have worked hard to get it and He honors their effort. Practical application: wise people listen to Dr. Fauci, who has spent all his life pursuing knowledge and understanding of how epidemics work; foolish people might go to a football coach for his advice on epidemics.
Pursuing wisdom is literally a matter of life and death. If you choose to listen to Folly you may not get a second chance. Consider Proverbs 1:24-32 “Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignore all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer, they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away and the complacency of fools destroys them.” Think about this passage when you look at how we are treating the problem of global warming.
You must work hard to get knowledge.
Wisdom is the most important thing to get, but also the easiest. Knowledge and understanding require a lot of work but wisdom only requires desire. The first step to getting wisdom is to know you need it. Proverbs 4:7 says: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom! ” The second step is to ask for it. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him.”
One other thing you should know about wisdom. When God gives you wisdom, you will be the last to know. It is just like God making you humble: as soon as you think “I’m pretty humble now” then you will be proud of how humble you are and the whole thing is ruined. As soon as you think “I am pretty wise now” then you become a fool. Isaiah 5:21 says, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight.” The reason is, if you think you are wise, you will stop looking for it. It is the nature of wisdom to want more wisdom. Wisdom is worse than chocolate for those who have tasted it. You will never have enough.
But here’s the catch. Wisdom may not look like what you imagine. When you ask for wisdom you will be asking God to give you Himself, to give you His wisdom. Isaiah 55:8,9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” When you ask God for wisdom you are asking God to help you think like He thinks; you are asking for something as high as the heavens and heaven isn’t like what you think it is.
It turns out, Wisdom’s house has a fourth floor and it is called The Foolishness of God.
God’s wisdom may look a lot like foolishness, but remember that God’s voice never sounds like Folly’s voice. I Corinthians 1:21-25 says “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God, through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” The Greeks seek wisdom, and that is a good thing as far as it goes. But it does not go very far. Through God’s wisdom the world can’t know God through human wisdom. Only as a gift from God can we know God.
And that is what we practice at the end of every Sunday morning worship service when we celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus is the bread and the wine that Wisdom has prepared for you and invited you to. Jesus. Remember what they mean. They are signs and seals of the foolishness of God. We preach Christ crucified and only those who have been given wisdom like God’s wisdom can see it for what it is. It is folly that is wiser than all the wisdom you can find in the world.