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Wisdom

Wisdom Wanes

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The current world that we live in seems to value intelligence, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it values education.The difference can be as narrow or as wide as the individual is capable of maintaining.Intelligence might be safely considered to be the sum total of your acquired knowledge and skills (actually I borrowed that definition from my iPad’s built-in dictionary just now, but it will work just fine).Sometimes that matters, but in a lot of cases - especially cases like the starting of a new job - education is a little more important, because we most likely have a tangible representation of just how much we have been taught: a diploma or a degree.

But while such faculties are indeed valuable to a person, and by extension to the organization that employs such a person, there is another quality that is far more valuable, and yet far more difficult to quantify: wisdom.  Once again, my dictionary defines the concept of wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”  So a person can have education, but fail to carry over all of that knowledge into what we might define as intelligence, and a person with intelligence can lack the wisdom to know how to use the knowledge and skills he or she has developed.

The complete picture of man’s knowledge, skill, and experience is like a big funnel with education at the top, intelligence and experience somewhere in the middle, and then wisdom forming the bottleneck at the bottom.  And if you’ve ever worked with other people, no doubt you have experienced a tragic lack of wisdom in someone who was supposed to have a lot of education - a person who seemed very intelligent - and yet who made bad decision after bad decision.  That is indicative of a great lack of wisdom.  Chances are, you are familiar with several people just like this.  And the problem won’t get better in the short term.

True wisdom is excluded from almost all educational establishments in the developed world today, because - as the Bible tells us - “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10),” and yet most of the elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities in the western world today begin with the assumption that there is no God; and if there were, He wouldn’t deserve to be feared.  So they go on trying to instill so-called knowledge in their students - the ‘knowledge’ that says that the universe created itself when an infinitesimal part of it decided to blow up, and all of the intellectual bankruptcy that goes along with that idea - with no hope of ever being able to pass on real wisdom to their graduates.  Real wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord.

We are told that Solomon, son of David, King of Israel, was the wisest man to ever live - except for Jesus the Son of God, of course.  And Solomon obtained his wisdom not through universities, or online courses, or Wikipedia, but directly from God - the only source of real wisdom - and he obtained it through a most curious means: he asked for it.

“Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

And God was pleased with Solomon’s request, because he did not ask for great riches or victory over his enemies, or long life, and therefore God gave him the wisdom that he had requested, as well as all of the other things too!

Solomon’s wisdom was so great, in fact, that the Queen of Sheba came all the way to Jerusalem - with an absolutely obscene amount of money - just to hear some of this famed wisdom for herself:

“Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions. There was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (2 Chronicles 9:1-4)

It’s hard to imagine such a situation arising today.  We all seem to be so prideful about our own accomplishments and intelligence that we would almost never seek out those whom God has gifted with the ability to make wise judgments.  And yet we also live in a time when so many Christians wish that God would just give them the answers to tough decisions that they need to make.  Questions about which job to take, which person to marry, or which house to buy can bring many to a stumbling halt.  I’ve seen people open the Bible to a random page, hoping to glean some direction for a particularly difficult decision that they need to make, and there are whole study courses designed to teach Christians how to listen for the voice of God in helping make hard choices.

What we need is not some mystical experience where God whispers the right answer into our ears, but instead we need wisdom!  We need to be able to make the decisions ourselves, using our own God-given faculties, applying our own knowledge, experience, and good judgment.  But how do we get it?

We get wisdom the exact same way that Solomon did: by asking for it.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

We should not be trying to live out our days without regularly asking God for wisdom.  We already know from the story of Solomon that He likes it when His people ask for this, and this passage in the book of James tells us plainly that He gives generously to all without reproach if we but ask.

Ask for wisdom to make the hard decisions that come up in your life.  Ask for wisdom to understand the deep things revealed to us in the Scriptures.  Ask for wisdom about how to share the Gospel with your family, neighbors, and coworkers.  Ask for wisdom about how to exercise your spiritual gifts within the context of the local church where God has placed you.  We need all of this, and He has said that He will give it.

So don’t let anything hold you back.  Go ahead and ask for God’s wisdom right now.  There’s no reason to wait.

A Very Wise Fool

As soon as we hear the name, King Solomon, it conjures to our mind's eye images of gold and peacocks and splendid ivory thrones bedecked with lions.  His kingdom was - simply put - the most beautiful and extravagant place that the world has ever seen.  He built palaces: for himself, for his wives, and, of course, for God.  We are told that he had so much gold that silver was nothing; it was about as common as dirt.  He ate with gold forks and spoons, drank from gold cups, and dwelt in such opulence that it took away the breath of even the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5). And Solomon received all of these gifts, as well as the most expansive kingdom that Israel has ever had, as a byproduct of one of Yahweh's blessings.  In 1 Kings chapter 3, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him to ask anything of Him and He will give it.  But instead of asking for long life or riches or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon simply asks for the wisdom to govern God's people.  God is so pleased by the humble request that He tells the young king that He will give him wisdom and all of the things that he didn't ask for besides!

But if we think that Solomon's physical blessings were astounding, we should take a look at the fruits of the blessing that he actually asked for.  King Solomon wrote most of the Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (or Solomon).  We are told that his wisdom was unmatched from that time onward.  People came from far and wide just to listen to his wise and discerning judgments.  There is no doubt that the man was exceedingly smart, and yet I've got a picture of a crying LEGO jester at the top of this article and the title says something about a fool, so obviously something went wrong.

Well, something did go wrong.  Later on in Solomon's life he began to do some really bad stuff - really foolish stuff.  His father David had committed adultery and killed one of his own 'mighty men' because of a pretty face, but Solomon would do worse.  We're told in 1 Kings 11:4-8 that Solomon eventually began to turn from Yahweh because of his many wives, which he loved, and he built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, and that he followed after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, another abomination of the Ammonites, as well.  The smartest man in the world was committing idolatry!  How could this be?

It began, as all sin does, with simple disobedience.  Solomon did not suddenly fall off the wagon one day and start building temples for idols.  He had been living in opposition to God's instructions for quite some time before that, and his eventual descent into idolatry was as a result of not being obedient from the outset to what God had commanded of His kings.

Listen for just a moment to what God had commanded through Moses concerning Israel's future kings way back in Deuteronomy (before the people of Israel ever even made it into the Promised Land):

When you come to the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say,'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you may indeed set a king over you whom Yahweh your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never return that way again.' And heshall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

These instructions, handed down by Yahweh Himself, read like a road map of Solomon's sins!  King Solomon actually violated every single command given here concerning Israel's kings.  He acquired many horses (1 Kings 10:26), he got them all from Egypt (v. 28), it would be an understatement to say that he had many wives (11:3), and he certainly had excessive silver and gold (10:14-22).

Now, even though we're not told one way or the other, I'm going to hazard a guess that Solomon probably didn't follow the latter half of those instructions either: the part that tells the kings to copy the Law and read it daily.  Perhaps if he would have done so, he would have seen earlier the huge problems that he was getting himself into.

So here we have a case where the smartest, wisest, and most likely richest man the world has ever known goes horribly astray because he wasn't reading his Bible every day.  Instead of being like him and relying on our own good sense to get us through each day, we ought to be like another king - one toward the end of Judah's history: Josiah.  King Josiah is the one that found the book of the Law hidden in the temple and simply read it.  And when he read God's Law, he did not just hear the words and then try to justify himself by coming up with reasons why he didn't need to follow those commands of God anymore, or by somehow convincing himself that he was in fact being obedient when he knew he wasn't.  He just tore his clothes, confessed his great sin, repented, begged forgiveness, and vowed to be obedient to what he had read for the rest of his days (2 Kings 22:11-23:25).  Let's read God's Word like that - every single day - and let it keep us from walking foolishly, no matter how wise we may be.