The second lecture of Proverbs 1-9, which we call “Proverbs 2,” is a mindbender. One task of the Proverbs is to join concepts that we otherwise wouldn’t consider together. And in this lecture we have a classic example of that.
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
The first two sections of Proverbs have been dramatic; they arrest our attention. But now the father wants to explain to his son what the day in, day out pursuit after wisdom is like. What should the son do, what should we do in order to become wise? What does the life that genuinely pursues wisdom look like?
And so the father gives a series of conditions for finding wisdom. If these things are in place…then…
The son is to receive the words of the father. What words are those? The words that the father says in these lectures of Proverbs 1-9. These words of Solomon. Which are ultimately the words of God, as v. 6 makes clear. The words of the father are ultimately the words from the mouth of the LORD. Important point, that.
So get before this wisdom. Hear the words of proverbs. You’re doing this now by reading this post – well done.
Treasuring up the commandments adds two other pieces to this. To treasure means to assign a high value. To discern that the value of these words is higher than that of other words, other noises.
The words of the father/Solomon/God aren’t the only words which the son will hear. At least sometimes – other words might appear more interesting, more relevant; they might seem more accessible. Yet still the father calls the son to be devoted to these words. To make sure that the words of Twitter or career or worry or… aren’t drowning out his words.
These words which include commandments. Which means, these words aren’t just data that the son is supposed to hear. Commandments are to move us to action, to change. So treasuring up the commandments is not just valuing these words above other words, but also prioritizing the action to comply with them.
If the doctor says that you need to start to exercise, or else… Of course being around him to hear those words is important. It’s also important that when he says them in your hearing you’re not thinking about those charts on the wall. His words should be heard above your daydreaming. But then hearing his words correctly, really taking him seriously, involves your starting to exercise. And that might involve adjusting your schedule so that you are able to exercise. Treasuring involves letting the words impose on your thinking and planning and doing.
In regards to the words of the father: Receive….treasure… and (v.2) making your ear attentive and inclining your heart. Make it easy to focus on these words, to remain focused on these words. Arrange things so that your thoughts constantly return to these words.
Making your ear attentive includes the idea of being alert when the proverbs are in front of you.
Getting enough sleep. High sugar consumption diminishes attention, so that’d also be a consideration. Perhaps you discover that your reading habits on the computer erode your ability to read with sustained attention, so you decide to buy paper books.
Maybe you discover that watching a lot of TV results in the bible seeming boring.
Or maybe you need an on ramp before reading the bible to get the mind in gear, so you read an article or a book chapter first. But you want to make sure that it’s not on the internet, lest you get sucked into the rabbit hole by hyperlinks etc. Point is: ATTENTION.
Maybe you read the words of the father/Solomon/God with pen in hand, notating strange or dense or especially pertinent expressions. But you get the idea: making your ear attentive is the opposite of passively happening to be hearing something.
Making your ear attentive is positioning yourself to hear, which might require changes to schedule, diet. It will involve being thoughtful. You’ll need to work on this. You’ll need to ignore or at least turn down the fashionable thinking of the day. Attending doesn’t just happen.
But it’s one thing to hear, to really listen so that you hear…. How will you recall what you heard? Do you remember those old pinball machines? You pull back the lever and – ping – the ball heads up and away, but then because of the slant the ball always ends up returning to the same place, only to be shot up again.
What have you put in place so that the proverb you heard keeps returning to your consciousness? What an important consideration this is. How to remember. How to remember to remember
Brothers and sisters, every single time the wisdom of the proverb returns to your thinking it effects some good. The rabbis have an important principle of education: One who repeats his lessons a hundred times is not like the one who repeats it a hundred and one times. Every exposure to the Word of God changes you a little more.
So how will you incline your thinking to bring the proverb to you again? Straight memory is good. Writing it down on your notes app or reminder app or on a 3×5 card. Putting notes on your mirror. Some trigger so when you come into your room, into your house, into the bathroom. When you idly look down at your hands.
I wasn’t a good kid in high school. Got in a lot of trouble and gave my parents a lot of grief. My parents had good reason not to trust me. But toward the end of high school, the Word began to take hold of me. I would go on walks with my dog and be gone for a long time. I vividly remember when I’d return my dad would give me a look over – what trouble is he getting up to now? But what I was doing was getting off the beaten path with my dog and taking out my bible and mulling it over.
When I was in seminary I worked at a builders supply: a lot of lugging lumber, delivering supplies – and I’d walk around with a 3×5 card with Hebrews on it, memorizing as much of it as I could.
Martin Luther talked about how many insights from the Word he got while sitting on the toilet.
Point being: Train yourself in the practice of filling your in-between moments with the Word.
So the summary of vv. 1,2 – we need to up our attention game.
And take more and more initiative. That’s the blunt meaning of v. 3 – Call out for insight. When we take the words of the father/Solomon/God seriously, we inevitably come to barriers. We don’t understand them. We understand but fail to see the importance. We know they’re important but find it difficult to adjust our lives to them.
And so we’re to call out…raise your voice. This of course includes prayer. For example: Proverbs 21:25: The desire of the sluggard kills him/ for his hands refuse to labor. Never assume that the presence of laziness implies the absence of ambition. People can have lots of goals and ideas and desires… and yet can’t get themselves started or can’t sustain the effort, can’t keep their focus or can’t finish what they started. Actually, can’t is probably not the right word. His hands refuse to labor. Not can’t, wont. But then, perhaps can’t is the right word: The lazy man wants something but a part of him refuses to comply.
And the lazy man sees in himself this lack of gumption, and so he calls out to God for insight. God, what are the thoughts that will move me? God, speak to the hidden springs of my actions and call them to life.
But prayer to God doesn’t cover the whole range of meaning of call out…raise your voice. Do you remember being in school, and there were the students who hardly paid attention in class, slept even. But there were the one or two students who would raise their hands a lot. Now perhaps some of that was just for attention.
But what about that rare student who would regularly raise his hand in order to get clarity about something? And then he would visit the professor during office hours? And then he would do the recommended further reading? All of these are examples of call out….raise your voice.
Go after the understanding of the words of the father/ Solomon/ God. Make a list and ask your pastor what they mean. Buy a commentary. Take a class. Read the proverb in another version. Form a club for the purpose of discussing how to close the knowing-doing gap.
And then the last phrase of the condition if you seek it like silver/ and search for it as for hidden treasures. This last condition is intended to do away with one big thing that cripples the pursuit after wisdom: being fake.
You’re not supposed to simply go through the motions of getting before the words, valuing them, really listening, arranging to recall, going out of your way and the extra mile to get them. You’re not trying to please your mama or be impressive to the church. You do all these things because there’s a kind of hunger inside of you. And it’s not the type of hunger that has to do with spirituality or anything so lofty: it’s something a bit more crass. A kind of greediness for that which will make your life better, fuller, longer, more peaceful and pleasant; for what will expand your possibilities; for what will remove problems; for what will render you attractive and honorable.
Go after wisdom not for any dainty or goody-two shoes reasons, but for gain. Go after wisdom as if wisdom really will enrich and advance you. Don’t fake it.
VV 1-2: Up your attention game. VV. 3-4: You, go after this. But now things get complicated.
The pursuit for wisdom by interacting with the words of the father/ Solomon God. Do this right and then…v. 5 is a little jolt: And then…you will understand the fear of the LORD/ and find the knowledge of God.
Go after wisdom and you will attain or arrive at…the fear of the LORD/ the knowledge of God.
Let’s try to understand this just a little more than we might this moment: Look across the page of your bible to 1:7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The emotion of taking God seriously is the foundation upon which one builds a framework of wisdom. Putting that negatively: if you’re a diligent, well-spoken, disciplined person who doesn’t take God seriously, by themselves these good traits can’t carry the load of lasting fruitfulness and fulfilling the human calling. Good character without the foundation of fearing God… and things eventually topple.
So the foundation for wisdom is fearing God. On that foundation of taking God seriously we lay the joists and frame the studs of wisdom. Eventually all that building up of wisdom takes shape into…fearing God! Fearing God is both the foundation and the end product of wisdom.
We need to take God seriously to begin building a wise life. A wise life results in taking Him even more seriously. And to add the second phrase of v. 5: A wise life results in finding the knowledge of God.
When you start with taking God seriously, and because you fear him you listen carefully… very carefully to his words: about sexual fidelity, diligence, hearing both sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion, staying humble, going after slow money, not slandering, treating those without power fairly, not being totally dependent on others, applying the rod of correction to your young child’s rear end, not wasting time, etc etc – one major result of this attention to God’s word is that you naturally will grow to take God more seriously… because you’ve experienced that He really is the Creator and listening to Him really is the way forward and following His instructions in His world works. Your respect for him grows. Disregarding him will seem more foolish, scarier.
And after pursuing wisdom you will come into the knowledge of God. That’s not a small thing, is it? Some would say that’s the greatest thing. That life at its core is knowing God and the Son whom He sent. So when we hear of how to know God something primal in us should start to tremble.
When you start with taking God seriously, and because you fear him you struggle to understand what he is saying and struggling to know how to adjust your life to what he is saying, listen carefully to him, very carefully to his words: about not stirring up arguments, about accepting rebuke, about not saying whatever crosses your mind but considering how to give a good response, about loving knowledge, about not showing off, about not piling on when someone’s struggling, about cultivating a gentle tongue and eschewing rash words, about adapting a schedule that makes sense and of which you don’t need to be ashamed… one major result of this listening and applying is that you will become more and more aware of the goodness of God, the plan of God, the insight of God, the power of God, the beauty of God, the rhythms of his creation, the joy of God. Yes, you will be conscious of, experience God himself.
From the base of fearing God, through pursuing wisdom vigorously, voraciously – you come into the knowledge of God, which I can’t think of anything higher than this. Proverbs can take you high enough!
But v. 6 takes us further into the thicket. From the base of fearing God, by vigorously pursuing wisdom we learn to really fear God and grow to know him…for (or because) the LORD gives wisdom/ from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. We come to know God by means of wisdom because God is the sole dispenser of wisdom. If we have acquired wisdom it can only be because we’ve received it out of his hands.
If by means of the words of proverbs we have trained ourselves into diligence; if we have worked hard for self-control; if we have avoided the snare of adultery; if we have worked hard at removing dishonesty and flattery from us – if we have come into wisdom… all has been of God.
Go after wisdom and you have to deal with God. Gain wisdom and you always brush up to God, because only God has wisdom.
Which means, that even though the son is being urged to give chase to wisdom with all that he has, to take the initiative in the pursuit – it will be God who actually bestows wisdom.
Do you see the paradox on display: God alone gives wisdom, the choice to hand it over is completely His – – – go after wisdom!
When we are pursuing wisdom by means of the words of the father/ Solomon/ God . . . God is being gracious to us, at work in us, enabling our efforts toward and arrival at the goal. God is in all!
Brothers and sisters, let proverbs be your chief source of self-improvement and hurl yourselves into getting better by mean of the proverbs. God is behind and around and over these words and our worthy responses to them. Proverbs – and all the habits of thought and appetite they launch us toward – is not only a way of improving ourselves but of experiencing God. There isn’t another self-improvement scheme that compares to it. Because God is here.
And also, and certainly: don’t look down on proverbs. Yes, proverbs is talking about gain, pointing the pathway to wealth, inviting to pleasure, to efficiency, to beauty… There’s a tendency among good people to respond to these proverbial invitations and expectations with suspicion. This is prosperity gospel stuff. Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, told us to expect pain.
There’s several ways to responding to this pious impulse. I want to assure you: Listening to the Proverbs is a way of approaching toward and meeting up with God. And in fact, the words of Proverbs are themselves breathed out of the mouth of God, and the proper hearing and response to them are even suffused with the grace and enabling of God. Hallelujah!