In search of Wisdom

W.F. Bellais II

 

In the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is this verse, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one bungler destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Now that is something to think about.

Wisdom is a major theme of the Hebrew Bible (that is the portion of the Bible Christians think of as the Old Testament). Biblical scholars may not agree with me, but I believe the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible is far more important than the prophetic Scriptures.

The Wisdom Literature in the Hebrew Bible can lead to understanding the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence should lead to wisdom and vice versa, but too often intelligence is the goal and substituted for wisdom. The goal to be intelligent is a good one, and often a lofty enterprise, but the ultimate goal must be the acquisition of a sense of wisdom. First, a wise person is intelligent; that is, know many facts and solve abstract problems. However, the reverse may not be true. In my experience I have worked with a number of people who were infinitely more intelligent than me; for example, solving mathematical problems in an instant while I was still counting on my fingers. Nonetheless I can recall some of these very intelligent and talented people failing to demonstrate wisdom. Their failures were seen in the misuse of people or misunderstanding of the cultural currents. Worse yet was the total lack of interest in the cultural diversity in which they worked or served.

The question remains, what is wisdom? Maybe we can find an answer to that question again in the Hebrew Bible. The Wisdom Literature includes the Book of Proverbs, probably the Book of Job, a number of Psalms, and the Book of Ecclesiastes. In these writings Wisdom is defined as reaching out to find the mind of God. In the apocryphal books, in many Christian Bibles, there are two that are clearly wisdom literature; they are The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (or the Book of Jesus ben Sirach).

Here are a few of the thoughts from the Psalms I think are valuable, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip” (37:30-31). Another is, “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (51:6). Then there is this, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding…”(111:10).

In The Book Proverbs knowledge is the key to wisdom. The verse is, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Further, the book of Proverbs supplies a long list of thoughts on wisdom, but we must be careful when applying the adages that come from its pages. For example, “On the lips of one who has understanding wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense” (10:13). I think the best advice to come from the Book of Proverbs is, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight (Proverbs 4:7).

In chapter 9 of Proverbs is a truly remarkable section on wisdom. It begins, “Wisdom has built her a house…” I have written a poem based on the section of the book and I thought I would share with you.

 

Wisdom has Built Her a House

A commentary on Proverbs 9:1-6

 To King Solomon, mentioned

     in the Bible,

 Wisdom was his love.

He was true to her and he fought,

struggled, and strove

To let her be his guide, but alas

it came to naught.

“How is that,” You say. 

“Wasn’t Solomon the wisest

of the ancient kings?”

Yes, with wisdom he would often lay

     to soak in her beauty and her charm

In a futile hope to be like her and fly on her   

            wings of ecstasy.

How could he have gone wrong?

He knew that wisdom had built

     her house of seven pillars

             and she then called everyone: 

The thieves, the merchants,

          and the millers

          to come to drink her wine and

feast among the seven pillars.

 She called the simple and the stupid

     to her party. But, alas,

     they were not to his liking,                 

     the king did not wish to be amid

Those with whom he did not mingle,

He thought he was so very clever, and his

     cleverness made him tingle.

Yes, Solomon was clever, but he

             was neither wise nor intelligent.

             he kept three hundred women

In his palace; some were wives,

      many were concubines

      there only for his pleasure.

Others were there to be a palatial ornament.

All together they were so much wiser

     than he could ever be.

Numbers alone were not what counted.

He faltered because he failed to account

     for the fact that

In their number they became a giant WE

     and that Wisdom is, after all, a she.

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