The Wisdom of God is Life to the Soul


I. Verses 13-18 -The Infinitely Excellent Benefits of Wisdom and Understanding

A. The person who engages and embraces true wisdom and understanding is a happy person (verse 13). This happiness is not that exhilaration that comes with brief and transient events that satisfy a merely temporal interest. Sometimes “blessedness” is appropriate as a translation, for that word emphasizes that the sense of satisfaction has been bestowed by a benefactor. Happy, nevertheless, serves adequately to describe that the mind and heart are settled in a positive manner. We sense through the implantation of truth that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).

B. That which constitutes this happiness is the soul-discovery of wisdom and understanding. When these twin attributes begin to give formation to the mind and consistently inform one’s spiritual outlook and conviction, then the true sense of eternal happiness begins to redefine all the elements of temporal existence. The possessor of wisdom and understanding sees all things through the perspective of divine purpose.

C. Wisdom and understanding constitute a joyful prospect of eternity. Solomon knew well every possibility of happiness that could come from material opulence and the possession of the most coveted treasures of earth (verses 14, 15).

  1. He speaks in terms of “profit” and “gain” as he compares silver and gold to wisdom and understanding.
  • Silver and gold are among the most beautiful ornamentations available on earth and at the same time represent a standard of economic stability transferable between the economies of different nations. As far as both beauty and economic gain is concerned, one cannot surpass the possession of silver and gold for worldly standing.
  • The gain and profit of these precious metals are measured only in terms of present power and well-being. When the possessor of silver and gold dies, the fitting question is, “Then whose shall these things be?”
  • No price is too high for the kind of wisdom and understanding mentioned here. If “Merchandise” (KJV) is a valid emphasis in the word, and it is, then the idea is that no price is too high to obtain this. Proverbs 23:23 says: “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.”
  • Wisdom and understanding, however, transcend this world and the possession of them is a greater and more continually expansive than any material gain along with its consequent power. Wisdom and understanding will never depart from the soul, it cannot be destroyed, and will become the seed-bed for joy, blessedness, and knowledge in eternity.
  • It is peculiarly the gift of God and is granted to the one who has faith, is not double-minded, thoroughly convinced that the knowledge of God is the greatest of all treasures, to be surrendered for no earthly advantage: “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. . . . Let not that man think he shall receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-7).
  1. Nor do rubies or other precious gems, even with all their rich beauty and enchanting shapes, serve to satisfy the soul with the assurance of well-being that comes through a true understanding of life here and life hereafter. Their enchantment, moreover, leaves their gazers with a sense of beauty and form beyond the seen. Such experiences of temporal loveliness create yearning and restriction, not fulfillment and satisfaction.

D. The life that is life indeed resides in the inexhaustible value of wisdom and understanding (Verses 16-18). Psalm 19:10 speaks of the judgments of the Lord expressing his righteousness as contained in the revealed truth of his word as “more to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold.” The pleasure in them takes on a sensory satisfaction also for such judgments are “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” The power of divine truth alters the heart when the Spirit grants an empirical verification of it to the soul. The pleasure of Scripture itself and especially the contemplation of all the excellencies of the gospel give more sensible pleasure than the taste or sight of all the pleasures earth can give.

  1. Measured temporally, wisdom and understanding normally sustain a long life with sufficiency in public esteem and material possessions (verse 16) These things are consistent with human flourishing by God’s design. God’s decree may determine otherwise in some cases, but this world was designed to respond to obedient and righteous stewardship (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:3-9).
  2. In addition, by wisdom and understanding, life is pleasant and relationships are peaceful. This is the natural tendency of wisdom and understanding. In a fallen world, the rejection of wisdom and understanding often interrupts their natural tendency, because now we have an unnatural response to God’s righteousness. We must, therefore, look beyond this world for the full fruition of having gained these elements of the eternal perspective.
  3. Those who have tasted the true goodness of wisdom and understanding will hold them fast. They will “take hold of her [wisdom]” for they know that if eternal happiness and eternal life eventually come, they are the fruit of such wisdom. They will learn that Jesus Christ in his substitutionary death and his resurrection has been made to us “wisdom from God—that is, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). In this way, wisdom is a “tree of life to those who take hold of her.”


II. Verse 19, 10 – These traits are manifestations of God’s own being. Such value both in this life and for eternity inheres in wisdom because it governed both creation and redemption.

A. Wisdom was central to God’s purpose and precision in creation of the earth. Both the physical coherence of the world and its spiritual purpose as a revelation of God’s eternal power and godhead (Romans 1:20) are expressions of his wisdom. Infinite intelligence has made all things in their internal complexity and their external relationships. By the rigorous application of intelligence and disciplined discernment, God’s image-bearers can unfold in increasing layers of knowledge the wisely-made world. In the physical realm, we learn that advance comes through following the rules.

B. “By understanding he established the heavens.” The relationship of all the bodies in the second heaven reflect the infinite understanding of God. His infinite, incomprehensible, inexhaustible holiness is expressed in the understanding that he manifests in the virtually infinite depths of the heavens and their innumerable hosts. Their precise but mysteriously unfathomable interactions demonstrate the depths of the ocean of understanding resident within the godhead overflowing into rivers and streams that reflect his greatness.

C. Note that both the powerful destructiveness of the “fountains of the deep” (Genesis 8:2; cf. 2 Peter 3:5, 6) that flooded the world in destruction as well as the gentle dew that refreshes the earth as it distills from the atmosphere come from the knowledge of God. Both extremes are demonstrations of his knowledge and his perfect control of all things in the accomplishment of his purpose.


III. Verses 21-26 – Keep God’s character ever before you. Do not be distracted by the façade of intellectual sophistication in the world or its apparent buoyant pleasures. Do not let the flash of the world distract your attention from the endless beauties of divine truth.

A. If we let our lives be governed by divine wisdom, knowledge, and understanding it will have two effects, one for eternity and the other for this life.

  1. It will be life to our soul. God’s manner of giving eternal life, his grace in restoring our soul, flows from his wisdom. There is no wisdom that transcends the mystery of the incarnation or the internal connections of imputation by which God’s righteousness is demonstrated.
  2. As “adornment to your neck,” wisdom gives balance, stability, and virtuous living to a person. His appearance in human society will be welcomed by those who seek peace and prosperity. This wise person will be a stabilizing force in human society. He or she will know what course to take in tense times. Wisdom will adorn their neck; their appearance will be welcomed when others fail to know how to respond.

B. Your daily life will be safe (23). You will avoid the pitfalls and dangers that shorten life or make it miserable. If the righteousness of the moral law of God and the true view of impartial justice control one’s relationships and his walk in the world, then he will not be in danger from those who are a “terror to evil” works. Paul said, “If you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain.” But if you do what is good “you shall have praise of the same” (Romans 13:3, 4).

C. The wise person’s sleep (24) will be undisturbed by an uneasy conscience or irrational fears. He will live with trust in the providence of God and see his life as governed by God’s purpose. Just as God has established the world and all its operations by his wisdom, so he orders our steps that we might live to his glory. That confidence along with a daily communion with God make for a soft pillow. “He gives his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

D. The plans of the wicked against the one who treasures wisdom will not find an opportunity for success.

  1. There may be moments intended to give fear and plans to destroy the one walking by divine wisdom, but the Lord will not allow his foot to be caught. Partitioned within the lovingkindness of God and intent on living to his glory, even during the “onslaught of the wicked,” the Lord will be his confidence.
  2. It does not seem so, for many have been the martyrs for the pure righteousness of the gospel, but they have seen a better city that awaited them and have had a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23).
  3. Not long before he was beheaded, Paul wrote, “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18). As Jim Elliott famously said, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”


IV. Verses 27-30 – “Hold Fast what is good, Abstain from every form of evil.”

A. The one who has embraced wisdom and understanding will discern that his engagement with the world and with his neighbor must be for good (27, 28). When physical needs are prominent and the means to meet them are at hand, then there should be no hesitation in responding. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit” (James 2:15, 16). For the eternal well-being of our neighbors in need, the message of the gospel should surely be seen as even an infinitely greater good to give.

B. To those whose motivation in life is the goodness and wisdom of God, how contrary to sense would be a plan devised for evil (29, 30). Yet, we are warned against it, because our fallen nature is prone to evil. Even in the redeemed, indwelling sin lies subtly beneath the surface of our resolutions for good and often suggests sinister things to us alien to God’s law. Devising an evil plan spoils the entire idea of neighborliness and the safety that is supposed to be an assumption of a neighborhood. In addition, this admonition assumes that commandments 6-10 reflect a way of living based on the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that God possesses intrinsically.


V. Verses 31-35 – We seek the good and abstain from the evil because God distinguishes between good and evil, loves the one and hates the other. Again, we are called to emulate the character of God in the above instructions. We should avoid any envy of those who apparently have worldly power when they use it for violence. They do not want the good for others but only superiority for themselves. Solomon shows then in four couplets reasons that envy of the wicked and avoiding his ways is a path of wisdom.

A. There is a radical distinction in the affections manifest by God toward the wicked and the upright.

  1. The wicked, power hungry, oppressors are an abomination to the Lord. If we want to be a friend to those who wield such worldly power and self-promotion we will have God as our enemy (James 4:4).
  2. The alternative [there is no neutrality in these relationships] is to have an intimate knowledge of God. God is intimate with the upright. They know his secrets for he has revealed them in his word, has opened their minds to receive the truth revealed by the Spirit of God. “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him, and he will make them know his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). Those upon whom the effectual work of the Holy Spirit comes in opening the mind and heart to the glory of Christ, will find in Scripture all the favors given to those who are brought into the eternal covenant of redemption through the covenant of grace.

B. There is a radical difference in the standing before God of the wicked and the righteous.

  1. The wicked are under a curse. The curse that came on the world and all of Adam’s seed remains on the wicked. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
  2. God blesses the dwelling of the righteous, or just. They are just when they believe in the perfect justice of God as demonstrated in the substitutionary and propitiatory death of Christ (Romans 3:22-26). They see the law as good and consent to its verdict of death against them. They see, however, that perfect justice has been done in a way that manifests the infinite wisdom of God and receive it with joy. Having approved of the goodness and rightness of God’s law as an expression of his wisdom in this way, they seek to make it the truth that guides their footsteps in the light of truth.

C. There is a radical difference in the regard God displays between the scornful and the humble (34).

  1. Those who are scoffers and scornful see themselves as superior to others and justify their condescending attitudes toward them. They fail to grasp the implications of their being both creatures and sinners. They exalt themselves above the rest of humanity by their false posture of ascendancy. They seem to feel that it is their right to be above others and thus look down on them with disdain. God shows them who truly is superior and truly is above all others. He will scoff at the scoffers with a righteous indignation. He is the one who “alone hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:16).
  2. Those who are humble or afflicted have been brought low by God. He brings them low in preparation for giving them grace. These are blessed of God in that he has made them “poor in spirit,”, has brought them to mourning for their sin, made them meek by subduing their proud spirits to himself, and caused them to “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” They are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:3-10).

D. There is a radical difference in the final state of the wise and the foolish.

  1. Those upon God has poured such abundant grace have become wise and “will inherit honor.” These are the ones that compose the kingdom of God and will inherit the earth; They will be filled with righteousness, obtain mercy, and will see God. They are by grace the “children of God” and all the riches of the kingdom of God are theirs (Matthew 5:3-10)
  2. Fools, those who resist and finally reject God’s wisdom, will forever be a display of dishonor. The adulation and position of power that they coveted now has turned on them and they have no esteem in the eye of God; he scoffs at them, and they feel the reality of his wrath. “They will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices.” (Proverbs 1:28-30).

The Wisdom of God is Life to the Soul

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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