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On this Memorial Day weekend, we as a nation, and as God’s people, should listen to the voice of Wisdom as she calls out to us.

Wisdom Calls Out
Proverbs 8:1-4, 12-31

1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates leading into the city,
at the entrances, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.

12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have understanding and power.

15 By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern,
and all nobles who rule on earth.

17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 bestowing wealth on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.

22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
— Proverbs 8:1-4, 12-31

Wisdom Wants To Be Heard

The Bible is composed of 66 books, in two main divisions of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Although the Bible tells a continuous and connected story, it does so by using several kinds of literary genres.  The first five books of the Bible are books of the Law, also called the Pentateuch, and sometimes called the Torah.

The Bible also contains books of history about judges and kings, and books of the lives of the prophets who continually called God’s people back to obedience to God.  But sandwiched right in the middle, both literally and symbolically, are what are called the books of Wisdom.  These books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

These books are called wisdom literature because they are often written in verse, rather than in prose form; and because rather than telling stories (except for Job), they offer short insights, cautions, instruction, warnings, and encouragement to the people of God.  Some of these texts such as Psalms, were used as hymns and sung in times of worship.  Others were passed down orally until they were recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Debbie and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the country music show, The Grand Ole Opry.  The Grand Ole Opry was originally housed in what is now called the Ryman Auditorium, but the building was first built to be used as a church for an extended evangelistic crusade led by Evangelist Sam Jones.  Jones led Nashville riverboat captain Thomas Green Ryman to faith in Christ, and Ryman decided to build a tabernacle to house Sam Jones’ revival services.  Well, 125 years or so later, the Ryman Auditorium is now called The Mother Church of Country Music.

I’m telling you that story to say that when we come to Proverbs 8, we are coming to the Mother Chapter of Wisdom Literature.  Proverbs 8, more than any other single chapter from any of the Wisdom books, describes for God’s people the plea, the place, the purpose, and the possibility of wisdom.

The Plea of Wisdom

But most importantly, wisdom wants to be heard today, just as she needed to be heard about 2800 years ago when these words were first written down.

We remember on this Memorial Day weekend, the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives for this nation.  But on this Memorial Day weekend, we find ourselves as a nation in desperate need of someone, or something, who can show us the way.

For almost two decades, we thought the way for our nation lay in economic prosperity and in amassing personal goods and wealth.  We have learned the hard lessons of international, and interconnected finance that those who appear to be financial wizards one day, can be exposed as just as powerless and fraudulent as the original wizard, the Wizard of Oz.  When the curtain was pulled back on the financial sleight of hand that passed for economic markets in the United States, we all realized that Wall Street wasn’t wise, but merely greedy.

Our hope has been misplaced in other areas as well.  While international scientists warn us of the facts and consequences of man-made climate change, we continue on the path of consumption we have enjoyed for more than a century.  Our consumption of fuel prompts megacorporations like British Petroleum to search further, drill deeper, and take more risks in order to deliver fuel to power our cars, trucks, airplanes, trains, homes, businesses, and recreational pursuits.  This morning the wisdom of drilling the deepest Gulf of Mexico well in history, called Deep Horizon, is beginning to look questionable as the uncapped well continues to pour from the earth millions of gallons of crude oil, which fouls our beaches and oceans in a devastating manner.

I could go on with example after example of the difficulties we face as a nation today.  We continue to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and this past week lost our 1,000th soldier killed in Afghanistan.  Our casualties in Iraq surpassed 4,700 a few weeks ago.  Nations, communities, and individuals can hear and heed the call of wisdom.

Proverbs 8 presents Wisdom as a person. The Greek word for wisdom is “sophia.”  And while that word has also been used as a name for girls, “Sophia” in Wisdom literature is presented as a person with the traits of a human being.

In verses 1 through 4 of Proverbs 8, Wisdom is pictured as calling out to human beings.  Wisdom positions herself in the highways and byways of life — “the heights along the way, where paths meet” so she can call out to those on a journey.  Wisdom also takes her place at the city gates, the entry point into the vast urban centers of both our lives and Old Testament life.  In other words, Wisdom puts herself wherever people are, and positions herself in such as way as to make herself obvious and accessible.  “Wisdom calls out” says the writer of Proverbs, and that is her plea.

The Place of Wisdom

Before we go any further in our discussion about wisdom, I want you to realize that Wisdom isn’t an option in life.  Wisdom isn’t a take-her-or-leave-her companion.  Wisdom is God’s gift to us, and to help us understand that the writer of Proverbs has Wisdom speak about her place in God’s creation.  Listen to verses 22-26:

22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.

Wisdom is the first of God’s works.  In other words, before God created anything else necessary for bringing everything else into existence, God created Wisdom.  But Wisdom is also a characteristic of God, and so we might understand this passage to mean that God “brought forth Wisdom” from within himself to be made available to creation.

Wisdom goes on to describe herself as “appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.”  And to make the point that Wisdom was present before the world was created, she says, “When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were not springs abounding with water, before the mountain were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world.”

In other words, Wisdom was here before God made anything else.  The place of Wisdom is important, the priority of Wisdom is God’s doing, and we stand in need of that Wisdom if we are to be the people God has called us to be.

The Definition of Wisdom

But let’s back up for a moment.  We’ve said Wisdom was brought forth by God before anything else.  We’ve said Wisdom calls out to us, and confronts in our everyday lives, commanding our attention.  But we never talked about what “Wisdom” actually is.

In the ancient world, wisdom originally meant someone who was an extraordinarily skilled craftsman.  Someone who handled the tools of his trade with superior insight and excellence, producing a product that was unsurpassed.

Gradually, the concept of Wisdom became a philosophical concept and was abstracted into some unachievable ideal combining knowledge and skill.

But for the nation of Israel, Wisdom took on a different meaning.  Wisdom became the personification of the call of God.  When the writer of Proverbs says, “Wisdom calls out”  he is making a theological statement about how God pursues us for his purposes.  Wisdom was the God-given gift of receiving life from God, understanding the ways of God among his creation, and then living in light of that understanding.

In other words, Wisdom is the key to successful living.  Wisdom is knowledge, coupled with discernment, and applied with prudence to achieve the purposes of God in this world.  Wisdom is an Old Testament term for God’s will understood by us.

The Purpose of Wisdom

The purpose of Wisdom is found in verses 12-16:

12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have understanding and power.

15 By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern,
and all nobles who rule on earth.

The purpose of Wisdom is to bring us into a right relationship with God.  In the Old Testament, that was called “the fear of the Lord.” But in our day, the word fear has taken on a negative connotation.  We fear things and people who can harm us.  We fear for our safety, our security, and our survival.  But that is not what it means to “fear God.”  To fear God is simply to have an understanding of who God is.

It’s like fearing electricity.  While we use electricity to light our homes, power our appliances, and make our lives easier, we also “fear” — or respect — the power of electricity.  So, we know it’s a really bad idea to use the hairdryer while we’re in the shower.  Or to stick our fingers in a light socket.  Our fear of electricity does not mean we tremble when we turn on a light switch, but it does mean we know better than to use electricity carelessly or without knowing the rules.

Wisdom gives us a “fear” of God that reminds us not to regard God casually or carelessly.  As a matter of fact, God gave Moses one commandment among the Ten Commandments with that very idea — “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  We have reduced that to some sort of admonition not to curse using God’s name, but that misses the seriousness and importance of this commandment.

In the Old Testament period, it was common to invoke the name of your deity to do your service, or to seal your word with an oath.  God warned the nation of Israel not to invoke his name lightly or vainly.  In other words, they were to “fear” misusing God’s name.

The purpose of Wisdom is to bring us in proper relationship with God, and then with each other.

15 By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern,
and all nobles who rule on earth.

Even kings, rulers, princes, and nobles can exercise Wisdom by making just laws, governing well, and ruling under God’s authority.  Our nation could use an encounter with Wisdom, and we should pray for our leaders to have and exercise wisdom in all they do.  Paul writes to young Timothy and says,

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. — 1 Timothy 2:1-4

We are to pray for those who lead us, that they may rule wisely, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  The purpose of wisdom is to bring us closer to God and to each other.

The Possibility of Wisdom

And finally, there is the possibility of Wisdom.  Here is what Proverbs says —

17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 bestowing wealth on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.

Now, don’t confuse these words for the Prosperity Gospel, which is no gospel at all.  The Bible often uses language of prosperity — riches, honor, wealth, gold, silver — as images of those things which are to be valued in our spiritual lives, just as our society values money and material wealth.

But just to be sure there is no confusion about the kind of wealth Wisdom brings, Proverbs 8:19 says, “My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver.”

In other words, you might not get materially rich if you listen to Wisdom, but you will be rich in righteousness, justice, and have a treasury full of that which really matters.  Jesus said the same thing when he said, “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth, rust, and thieves can ruin them, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven which are not affected by moth, rust, and thieves.”

Wisdom calls out to us.  Many believe that Jesus was a “wisdom teacher” showing his disciples and those who would listen a new and better way to live life.  He said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  That abundance is not necessarily material, but rather spiritual.  Wisdom knows the difference.

The Path of Wisdom

All of this sounds great, but how do you get wisdom?  And then once you get it, how do you act on it?  Well, the Bible assumes that if you get Wisdom, you’re going to act on it.  As a matter of fact, Wisdom is seen as action, not just a concept in the Old Testament.  And so, in order to show us what wisdom looked like, and to put flesh-and-bones on Wisdom for our benefit, God sent Jesus.  Jesus came not only to teach people the way of wisdom, but to show them what Wisdom personified looked like.

Jesus wisdom led him to discern who was sincere and who was not.  Who “had ears to hear” and who was spiritually deaf to his message.  Many have tried to find paths to Wisdom.  In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, the Desert Fathers fled to the solitude of the wilderness seeking to escape from the unwise corruption that set in by the end of the second century of the Church.  We continue to learn from them today.

By the Middle Ages, there were those who retreated from the world to live a life of “ora et labora” — prayer and work — in the monastic orders that sprang up.

By the 13th and 14th centuries, in the Germanic states, men like Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, and others sought a mystical encounter with God and paved the way for the Hutterites, the Waldensians, and eventually the Anabaptists of Menno Simmons.  There have always been people who have sought to step out of the normal course of religious life, to seek God and to live wisely.

Our nation needs such a community today.  A community committed to a new way of life, a way of wisdom.  That path of Wisdom, that way of life, is found in following Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father except by me.”

To live a life of wisdom, to be in right relationship to God and man, is to be a follower of Jesus who personified God’s wisdom for the world He created.