Wisdom in Opposition to Evil


Introduction: Solomon’s wisdom is spoken of in 1 Kings 4:29-34. Though he could have left a book of insightful observations about nature (some of which become prompts for wise sayings in this book, e.g. 6:6-8), we have a focus on living with the law of God in the mind and the fear of God in the heart. A brief synopsis of Proverbs shows that there are arrangements of a variety of types of instruction. One, chapters 1-9 contrast wisdom and folly. The discourses on wisdom show its benefits in practical matters of life and for an increasingly profound knowledge of God and his ways. Two, chapters 10 -22:16 gives over 350 proverbs, a majority in the form of amazing array of couplets that contrast wise action with wicked and foolish action. Three, 22:17-24:34 continues the distribution of “words of the wise” into a variety of situations many of which are in the poetic form of quatrains. Four, chapters 25-29 has proverbs of Solomon that were kept by scribes of Hezekiah (25:1). This section returns to the couplet form for the most part. Five, chapters 30 and 31 give wise instruction to a diversity of characters about a variety of situations.


I. The Place of Wisdom Literature in Scripture

A. Proverbs are carefully constructed to show the multifaceted application and pervasive truthfulness of divine law. “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandments will be rewarded” (13:13). Proverbs mines the revealed moral law of God for its principles of wise conduct and then reflects on the many ways in which human actions reflect the deleterious effects of disobedience and the edifying effects of obedience.

  1. The many references to the fear of God as fundamental to all wisdom, knowledge, and success summarizes the first table of the Law. See 14:26, 27.
  2. Parental authority is highlighted at the beginning of the instruction (verse 8; 6:20). As the fifth commandment, it represents the first aspect of divine authority to which a child is to be subject. The fifth commandment, therefore, completes the first table of the commandments as the means by which God’s law, and consequent wise and right conduct, is pressed on the conscience of the child (2:1).
  3. There are various proverbs that warn against murder (1:11, 16), adultery (chapter 5; 6:32), theft (1:13-15; 11:1), lying and false witness (4:24; 8:6-9, 13; – “The perverse mouth I hate.” 12:19, 22; – “The truthful lips shall be established forever”; 21:28); covetousness (23:4, 5).
  4. Righteousness results in reward and life while wickedness results in judgment and death (11:5 – 8).

B. To learn to distill holy purposes from common experiences (15:1, 2; 16:8, 26).

C. Reflective instruction is a valid form of divine revelation as both a supplement to and interpreter of historical events [See Paul’s reflections on redemption in Romans 6: 15-23)]

D. We are dependent on divine revelation for meaningful knowledge (1:23 – “I will make my word known to you;” 3:5, 6 – “lean not to your own understanding”; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

E. All issues, from the daily and mundane familial and neighborly interactions to perplexities of deep and mysterious tragedy, wisdom involves a profound submission to divine instruction; We learn to see God’s hand in the extremities of life as well as the normal (Job throughout; Ecc 5:18-20; 6:7-9; 7:1-5).

F. We must assume the existence of a God who decrees, creates, sustains, reveals, redeems, and judges to make any progress in discerning moral and intellectual coherence and meaning in this world (3:19, 20; 16:1, 4, 33; 21:30, 31). Apart from the pursuit of righteousness, everything is destructive; apart from the fear of God everything is vanity.

G. A heart uninstructed by divine revelation manifests itself in foolish talk (10:19, 31-32; James 1: 19, 26; 3:1-12).

H. Knowledge that does not result in moral improvement and holy discernment is not wisdom (3:7; 4:20-23; cf. James 3:13-18

I. Wisdom expresses itself particularly in sexual purity while foolishness expresses itself in sexual perversions of many sorts 2:10-22; ch. 5; 6:20-35; ch. 7; 9:13-18; 2 Samuel 11, 13; Romans 1:24ff

J. Wisdom is intrinsic to God’s being as an active expression of His attributes (Chapter 8). Fundamental to God’s purpose in creation is the establishment of a sphere for the manifestation of the multifaceted expressions of his wisdom (3:19; 8:22-31).

K. Wisdom culminates in the person and work of Christ (1 Cor 1:30; 2:6-8’ Colossians 2:2, 3).


II. Wisdom yields only to an earnest desire for obtaining it (1:1-6).

A. One who is wise increases in learning (5; cf. 4:5-7; 9:9-12). If a person has developed a habit of subduing knowledge to wisdom, he will earnestly seek all advancements in knowledge, for in so doing he will also expand the grip of godliness in his life. He will learn to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

B. His gathering of knowledge is in pursuit of good purposes

  1. He will seek instruction as it comes in various literary forms (2, 6). Scripture employs many literary forms and styles of instruction, for the revelation of God calls for every means of communicating truth—warning, instruction, admonition, example, beauty, contemplation, investigation, historical narrative, parable, vivid symbols etc.
  2. He will seek it for increase of integrity of heart (3).
  3. He will seek it that he might instruct others (4).

C. These are important principles, for they challenge us to the task of systematic theology.

  1. The Proverbs and other wisdom literature contain a variety of propositions that are puzzling when nakedly stated and even apparently conflicting (e. g. 3:33 compared with the problem Job encountered with his three friends; 11:8 – “The righteous is delivered from trouble, and it comes to the wicked instead.” The crucifixion of Jesus (“Let Him deliver him!”) and the death of Paul (2 Timothy 4:18 – “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed”).
  2. We are under, however, the assumption of the absolute truth of Scripture, its non-contradictory nature, and, therefore, look toward a mature, perfected, synthesized expression. These examples are understood in terms of the redemptive purpose of God and the way in which he brings his elect finally to glory. This deliberate, determined, and thoughtful interaction with the different elements of revelatory material seems to be indicated in Proverbs 22:17-21. “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge,for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today, even to you.  Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?” (ESV)
  3. Even in the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, when the writer says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter,” (12:13) gives a statement that still is preparatory for its final fulfillment in the gospel. Though keeping the commandments constitutes the whole duty of man, and in the anticipation of judgment we recognize that even the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed, we still must affirm and see the perfect conformity of this to that: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him for the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).


III. True knowledge cannot be divorced from Fear of the Lord (Verse 7) cf. 3:5-7; 9:10; 10:27; cf Ecc. 12:13; first four commandments (You shall have no other gods before me; no graven images; revere his name and do not take it lightly to your lips; be faithful to worship him regularly in both time and manner.)

A. The Positive effect of Christian evidences requires a love of the truth. Neither the Jewish religious leaders nor the Romans soldiers accepted Jesus as Messiah, (at least not in the immediate context of the events themselves) though they had undeniable evidence of his being raised from the dead. See Jesus’ words in John 5:42-47, beginning “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.”

B. Christian Theology is foundational to proper fear of God “We can never worship God acceptably, unless we worship him regularly” [according to the rule of Scripture]; Thomas Watson. William Ames includes both in his definition of theology : “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” All truth should lead us to love and worship God, not merely expand our intellectual perceptions. Knowledge is vain if we do not learn to see the wisdom of God, the glory of God, and the delightful duty to love God

C. Condemnation comes particularly to those who do not receive a “love of the truth” 2 Thes 2:10-12. Before one can receive the gospel he must be changed from an enemy of truth to one who loves truth, whose heart is not captive to the father of lies. Only by “sanctification of the Spirit” can one be brought into a “belief in the truth.” The genuine heartfelt fear of God, therefore, is necessary for the reception of all wise counsel.


IV. Wisdom discerns the destructive end of evil. (Verses 8-19)

A. The value of parental discernment (8-10) – “Your father’s instruction and your mother’s teaching.” See also 4:1-4.

  1. Command built on 5th commandment of the decalogue and is a “type” of divine authority. This is tantamount to saying, “If you are not willing to receive the loving counsel of your parents, you show that the seeds of rebellion against God are already bearing fruit in your heart.”
  2. Wisdom constitutes the most beautiful adornment (9) cf.; 4:9; 1 Pet 3:1-4. External physical ornamentation may help accentuate physical beauty, but only godly wisdom will make a beautiful person.

B. A morphology of the enticement (11-14)

  1. Evil makes its appeal to power and sensation. The will to show superior power constitutes one of the most fiercely dominant drives in the human breast. The subduing of another person to our own will for our advantage resides in many forms, some of them subtle, but some of them obvious and ostentatious. The writer shows the truly brutal and extreme nature of this tendency by this specific form of expressing it (verses 11, 12).
  2. Again, the desire for wealth and worldly material security and dominance is another manifestation of human sin. The allurement of wealth will be seen as a consistent theme throughout Proverbs. The most destructive form of it is placed here in order to demonstrate the end result of not mortifying that sinful impulse and subduing it to the spiritual perception of true and eternal riches (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
  3. The tempter devises an illusion of convivial camaraderie – “Throw in your lot with us” – in order to create a sense of security and well-being, future prosperity by participating in the group marauding.

C. Avoid their way for the simple reason that it is evil (15, 16), a clear violation of commandments 6, 8, 10—Do not murder, do not steal, do not covet.

  1. All violations of God’s law are evil in and of themselves for they violate God’s own holiness and challenge his prerogative both in creation and in providence.
  2. Paul looks to this passage in his demonstration of the universal sinfulness of man (Romans 3:15) to show that this activity is not merely characteristic of the worst of mankind but arises from a sinfully flawed heart intrinsic to all persons. Strong warnings against its evil character are necessary, therefore, from an early age.

D. Also see that evil turns on its propagators and destroys them (17-19).

  1. A bird will avoid an obvious trap. An animal only with instincts of self-preservation will avoid a net set before its eyes and will fly from the one seeking to catch it.
  2. The rebellious spirit of a human, however, is self-destructive. By such evil activity, they bait their own net for their own capture and destruction. They set a trap into which they will fall and find that their fall is into the wrath of God. They have not learned to fear him and thus find that he will destroy them in hell. “But I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you fear him!” (Luke 12:5).
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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