The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;The Promises of Wisdom
This third discourse consists of an exhortation to follow after Wisdom. The position of seniority is still retained, the voice of the father predominates throughout the whole of the animated and noble counsel. The general tone of the exhortation is that of profound and painful experience.
"My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee" (Proverbs 2:1).
The tone of entreaty of this verse is very remarkable. The father is by no means sure that the son will listen to him as he comes before the child in an attitude of supplication and appeal. The child can say No to the father, and the creature can repel the approaches of the Creator. As the father in this verse pleads with the son, so the Father of mankind pleads with his rebellious creatures. Not only may it be said, Like as a father pitieth his children; it may be added, Like as a father pleadeth with his children, or suffereth for his children, or is deeply interested in all that concerns his children, so the Lord, etc.
"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" (Proverbs 2:2-3).
Man must listen to Wisdom if he would be wise; his attitude must be one of attention; he must turn his ear towards the heavens, and listen for every whisper that may proceed from the skies; and whilst his ear is listening his heart must be applied with unbroken attention to understanding. Everything depends upon our spirit as to the results of our study in the school of Wisdom. Few men really listen, or incline their ear unto Wisdom; they think they are listening, whilst they are only hearing imperfectly; they do not store every little word in their hearts; they do not combine the word with the tone in which it is spoken. They leap to conclusions without anxiously and carefully passing through the whole process of exposition and exhortation. Not only is there to be listening to, there is to be crying after knowledge, and a lifting up of the voice for understanding. These terms may be regarded as equivalent to an exercise in prayer. If we personate knowledge and individualise understanding, then the attitude of the seeker is that of a suppliant; he prays to the genius of knowledge, he wishes the spirit of understanding; he begs them to be gracious to him, and to withhold nothing from him that can enrich his mind or edify his character. All this may be considered as subjective—that is to say, to have relation to the state of the mind and feeling with regard to the value of wisdom and understanding. But there must be more than a correct state of mind; there must be activity or energy of the intensest quality. The proof of this is in—
"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" (Proverbs 2:4-5).
Hear how the process develops: "incline thine ear," "apply thine heart," "criest after knowledge," "liftest up thy voice;" now comes the exercise of energy. The student is to seek for wisdom as for silver, and to search for her as for hidden treasures. Seeking for wisdom as for silver is an allusion to mining, which was understood long before the time of Solomon. The remains of copper-mines have been discovered in the peninsula of Sinai, and the remains of gold-mines have been found in one part of the desert of Egypt. It is interesting to notice that inscriptions have been found upon the rocks near the copper-mines which point to a period of something like four thousand years before Christ. Wisdom does not lie on the surface. Wisdom is to be dug for; no rock is to permanently interrupt the pursuit of the seeker. Deserts must be braved, rocks must be exploded, mountains must be tunnelled, deep waters must be searched, in order to find the object on which the mind has fixed its eager attention. The allusion to searching for wisdom as for hid treasures points to a custom in Eastern countries. In consequence of the great insecurity of life and property the habit was to hide treasure in the earth. Frequently the owner might die without pointing out to any one the place where he had concealed his treasures. Consequently, the habit of seeking for such hidden things grew up in the East, and became a source of great profit to those who were successful in its cultivation. It would seem as if God had purposely hidden both wisdom and understanding in order that the energy of man might be developed in searching for them. When it is said that the Lord God cursed the ground for man's sake, it has been pointed out that the Lord meant through the discipline of labour and waiting to train man's faculties to their greatest perfection. There is pleasure in all reasonable exertion. The huntsman finds that the mere gratification of pursuing the prey is greater in many instances than its capture. To plough the land, and sow the seed, and reap the harvest, is a process which creates an appetite for the products of the earth, and turns mere eating itself into a healthful pleasure. So with wisdom and understanding; they are not found, as we have said, on the surface of the earth, to be taken up by any one who cares to stoop for them. Wisdom is hidden in ancient books; in the experience of the whole world; in all difficult places; and is to be sought for with perseverance and zeal, the very act of searching being accompanied by a blessing. When the apostle says, we have not, because we ask not, or because we ask amiss, he employs a form of words which may also be used in reference to the pursuit of wisdom. With regard to wisdom it may be said, if ye have not, it is because ye ask not, or seek not, or because ye ask or seek amiss. The living certainty is that wisdom is in existence, and wisdom is to be found, and understanding is awaiting the approach of those who are in pursuit of her prizes. On this side of the question there is no manner of uncertainty, the uncertainty is in our steadfastness of will and purpose; it is the human will that yields, it is not wisdom or understanding that has withdrawn from the field of inquiry. The promise is that the man who seeks for wisdom as for silver, and searches for understanding as for hid treasures, he shall understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. This is a profoundly religious promise. Man everywhere finds more than he is immediately seeking for, when his purpose is good and honest. In seeking for wisdom we may find the Lord,; and in inquiring diligently for understanding we may come suddenly upon the knowledge of God. This indeed is the supreme wisdom. "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." The history of the world is the proof of the truth of this statement. It is not meant that complete intellectual knowledge of God can be attained, but such knowledge may be acquired as to divest the mind of all uncertainty as to his existence, and create in the heart a blessed hunger for a deeper and truer realisation of his presence and ministry in the whole life.
"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" (Proverbs 2:6-8).
The Apostle James advances the same doctrine in the words, "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." The idea of the sixth verse is that the Lord alone can give wisdom. He is not one of the fountains of wisdom occupying an equal position with a thousand other fountains; he is in very deed the one fountain of wisdom, and there is none other. Elsewhere we may find partial revelations, broken experiences, hints of meanings, temporary satisfactions, but until we have discovered the Lord, and set him always before us, we shall be working without a centre, and having no centre we shall have no certainty that the light in which we work will continue to illuminate us. True religion comes before true philosophy. The pious mind is essential to metaphysical genius. Not that but there may be cleverness enough without religion, and great ability without even the form of prayer, but if we believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and that the hearts of all men are in his hands, and that he is the fountain of wisdom and of true knowledge, then of necessity it must be that he who most deeply knows God most certainly knows all wisdom. Not indeed that the knowledge may be technical or pedantic, but it will have such a living sympathy with all things proportionate, beautiful, true, and musical, that by the power of the Spirit the man shall know when he is in the sanctuary of God, and when he is in paths forbidden to the children of light.
The seventh verse would appear to support this view, in so far as it suggests that righteousness of character is necessary to the enjoyment of the treasures of sound wisdom. By sound wisdom we are to understand furtherance or advancement: the meaning would seem to be that whoever has begun to acquire wisdom shall have more and more added to him as the reward of his labour,—"Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." The expression "layeth up" should be noted. They are truly rich who trust in God, for their reserves are infinite, and the riches of Christ are inexhaustible. The Apostle Paul speaks of "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven," and the Apostle Peter also speaks of an inheritance that is reserved for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have more than we have merely in the hand. We do not live from hand to mouth, in so far as we are the living children of the living God. "All things are yours." Not only has the Lord laid up wisdom for the righteous, and thus showed himself the complacent friend of such as are intent upon walking in the ways of understanding, he himself stands in a relation of energy to those who give themselves up to the pursuit of true knowledge. He is a buckler to them that walk uprightly, and he keepeth the paths of judgment—that is to say, he protects those who walk in them, and he preserveth the way of his saints, literally of "his ardent worshippers." This term was used of the tribe of Levi because of their zeal in God's service. The word saint implies dedication to God, and being set apart to the love and service of Christ. The doctrine of the text is that God is evermore on the side of those who are righteous, or upright, or holy. They represent him upon the earth, and as his chosen children they are dear to him, and on them the light first shines which is to fall downward upon the rest of the world, as the light of the morning first strikes the mountains and then passes down into the valleys and chases away all darkness.
"Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; whose ways are crooked and they froward in their paths: to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life. That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it" (Proverbs 2:9-22).
Wisdom enters into the heart, and thus keeps the whole life pure. Knowledge is not merely an acquisition, it becomes a real pleasure to the soul, and not until it has become such a pleasure are we really in possession of it. In the learning of a language there is a great difficulty, simply from lack of interest in the thoughts which that language represents. When a vocabulary has been acquired, and a man can use that vocabulary with a measure of ease, enjoyment begins to be realised—that is to say, the language becomes a distinct addition to our intellectual pleasures. So not only is there profitable discipline in the acquisition of knowledge, there is hallowed enjoyment in its possession and use. The text represents discretion and understanding as the keepers of the soul—its protectors and guides, saving the soul from the way of the evil man, and protecting it from the man who delights in froward things, literally in the misrepresentations and distortions of the truth. The father now turns to give a vivid description of those who are evil, that his son may know them even whilst they are afar off, and avoid the paths which they delight to tread. The bad man has his peculiar advantages as well as the good man. The father here speaks of those who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked. This is a shallow and uncertain gladness: it depends wholly upon circumstances; it describes but a momentary mood of the mind. On the other hand, the joy of the good man springs from his character and from his relation to God, and from his conscious companionship with truths infinite and doctrines eternal. The suffering patriarch was enabled to say, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food,"—he lived the mental life, he entered into the mystery of spiritual existence, and found that life was but a burden and a cloud, unless the soul were daily fed with the grace and truth of God.
Another triumph of wisdom, spiritually understood and honestly applied, is to save life from profligacy. The term "strange woman" would seem to refer to the evil example of Solomon, of which we read in 1 Kings xi. By marrying foreign women they had become common in Israel, and history shows that the corruption of their lives had tainted the life of the whole nation. Immorality and morality cannot be mingled with advantage to the latter. Many an attempt was made in ancient times to combine heathen practices with reverence for divine commandments, and in every instance the divine commandment was borne down by the heathen custom. A picture so awful as is given in the text is rather to be imagined than described. It does not deal with any local circumstance, or any mere antiquity, but with an evil that is present in every age, and more or less active in every mind. The evil woman has still forsaken the guide of her youth and forgotten the covenant of her God. She has broken her vows, and, being disloyal herself, she would seem to have entered into a compact to taint the loyalty of the world. All that the wisest man can do is to refer to the melancholy experience of the world, and to exhort the untaught and the unwary to accept the testimony of the ages. Things most beautiful in themselves may be turned to the deadliest uses. The passion of love may so be used as to upturn the very foundations of character and the corner-stones of society. That little can be done by mere warning events have abundantly testified, yet it is right that the Church in all its ministries, instructions, and practices should hold up the signal of caution and warning, that some at least of the young, being forewarned, may be forearmed.