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Proverbs 8:12-21 by Robert Dean
What do you fear most? Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Losing your job? Cancer? The death of a loved one, or even your own death? Proverbs tells us one thing we should really be fearing. Listen to this lesson to understand the true meaning of the "fear of the Lord" and the many blessings and benefits that follow. Discover how being oriented to the authority of God is the glue that holds everything together. See the importance of governments having leaders who fear the Lord.
Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:57 mins 28 secs

Why We Should Believe in Wisdom's Claims. Proverbs 8:12-21


Chapter 8:1-11 focuses on the fact that the wisdom of God as given in His Word is available to all. The issue is not a lack of availability but it is volition. Wherever it may be God has an unspoken non-verbal witness in His general revelation that is backed by His special revelation within the Word of God.


The question that comes up in the mind of some is: Why do we really need to value wisdom? Why is wisdom so significant? Why should we yield to the offer of lady wisdom, as wisdom is personified in these chapters, and not the offer of the adulterous, unfaithful woman—the contrast between chapters 7 & 8. So in this next section to be looked at is why we should believe in wisdom's claims. Why should we make wisdom this overriding priority in life, something that is more important than anything else that we do in life? It is because it pertains to our relationship with God.


In verses 12-21 we get another look at more of the attributes, the values, the blessings that come from wisdom. And the point in all of this is that even though the illustrations relate to the highest levels of leadership in a nation, how much more it should apply to every citizen in the nation. To the degree that a nation is populated by people who exhibit wisdom from the Word of God it will experience tremendous prosperity. That is not to say that God's blessing is restricted to prosperity but that is one of the side effects, the unintended consequence that comes—expansion, growth, blessing that comes as a result of living on the basis of wisdom. And that wisdom applies to anybody, whether it is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ or not. In many ways, as we will see, wisdom is related to those spiritual laws and economic or social laws that God has built into the framework of creation. So that to the degree that anyone lives consistent to those absolutes that God built into society we are going to experience blessing, because we are living in the realm of reality. But when we reject God, reject those absolutes, and try to redefine life on our own terms (a type of arrogance) we get further and further away from the way things really are and we are trying to work out our lives on the basis of falsehood, and eventually that leads to a collapse. It leads to self-destruction.


The offer that the writer of Proverbs has is to align yourself with wisdom and you will be blessed. But we know that ultimately blessing comes in a much greater form. As the Scripture teaches God recognizes the basic problem that everyone has: the problem of sin. The problem of sin means that we are all born spiritually dead. Our understanding, as Paul says in Ephesians, is darkened so that we don't understand reality as it is and we don't want to understand reality as it is. We "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1); we don't want to know reality as it is, we want to reshape it on our own. That is the mark of the fool. The fool says in his heart there is no God, and the point of that is not claiming that the one who is an atheist is a fool nut that when we live on the basis of values predicated on the absence of ultimate accountability and the reality of the creator God, then we are living foolishly. And what we learn from Proverbs is that the path of the fool is the path of death. The only solution for life, as we have seen again and again in these Proverbs, is that the direction of life is the direction of living on the basis of wisdom.


What is wisdom? Wisdom is not knowledge. And knowledge, in fact, is not simply the awareness of information. We live in an era of information overload and people have confused the knowledge of facts and the awareness of facts with knowledge. Just knowing information and knowing facts is not what the Bible refers to as knowledge. Knowledge is something that is able to take the raw data of facts and information and then do something with it. Wisdom takes knowledge to an even greater level, and wisdom in the Scripture is the idea of taking your knowledge base and being able to produce something of aesthetic beauty with what you know. It is a skill, and it comes from practice. So with knowledge we can apply the Word of God but with the continuous practice of applying the Word of God we become skillful at it, and we produce something in our spiritual life something that is of beauty, something that truly brings glory to God.


So wisdom is something that goes beyond simple knowledge. Wisdom only comes as a result of a person's faithful, consistent walk by the Holy Spirit and as a result of continuous, regular application. The result of living a life of wisdom, then, is something that you can't put on a flow chart. A flow chart is going to describe certain measurable, quantifiable cause and effect relationships. But what happens as you take in the Word of God is that the Word of God shapes your thinking, values and decisions, is that through the years of growth something develops within our soul that gives us the ability to make wise decisions. We also as a result of the accumulation of good decisions and better decisions find ourselves not so much in the traps we create for ourselves from sinful decisions where we have better options in life. With better options and better choices we then make wiser decisions. There are a lot of byproducts to a life of consistent application of God's Word, byproducts that you don't chart in a direct cause-effect manner. And as a result at the end of a person's life, a person who has dedicated himself to the study of God's Word and to using it, they have created a life of beauty and a life of value.


This is not necessarily someone who is out there in front of people. It is not necessarily the pastor, not necessarily the obvious leaders in a local church, not necessarily the successful leaders in business, in government, or in the military. It may be somebody who is just an unseen but powerful force of spiritual maturity living out their life in relative obscurity—which is probably true for the vast majority of mature believers in the church age.


The first part of this chapter's emphasis was on the offer of wisdom. Wisdom is available to one and all. Then in vv. 12-21 we see the emphasis on the characteristics and qualities of wisdom. Proverbs 8:12 NASB "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, And I find knowledge {and} discretion." We can get a sense of what is being said here from a translation but there is a little bit more to it than what appears on the surface.


The 'I' is the personification of wisdom. This is just a literary device used by the writer in order to capture somebody's attention. Rather than sitting down and writing a sort of dry legal treatise on wisdom you take the character of wisdom and personify it as a person. It is not a person, not someone separate from God; it is a personification of one of the attributes of God's omniscience. God knows everything, and that is not a sort of raw academic knowledge, it is a knowledge of all of the intricacies, all of the details and relationships of every piece of minute data governing all of the universe in such a way that when God created everything it was a work of incredible, awesome beauty. So wisdom really relates to that area of thought that is aesthetics. Whenever God creates anything it is not only functional, it is beautiful.


Some other verses give us the same connections.  For example, Proverbs 4:5-8 NASB "Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. [6] Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you." Wisdom has an aspect that keeps us. When we are walking in wisdom we are not going to make stupid, foolish decisions that end up bringing self-destruction, calamity or misery in our lives. Wisdom is living well on the basis of your application of the Word. 

Proverbs 4:7 NASB "The beginning of wisdom {is:} Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. [8] Prize her, and she will exalt you; She will honor you if you embrace her." These are the side effects of wisdom: honor, respect and value because of the Word of God in your life.


In Proverbs 8:12 we read that what is associated with wisdom is prudence. But the word used there, "I dwell with prudence," is the Hebrew word shakahn. We know it in a different form of the word. When we refer to the physical glory of God we refer to it as the Shekinah. Shekinah is from the word meaning to dwell or to tabernacle, to live, to abide, to have intimate fellowship with someone. And so have this closeness: two sides of the same coin between wisdom and prudence. The word for "prudence" is the word orma, which is related etymologically to a different form that we find in Genesis chapter three talking about the serpent as the craftiness creature in the garden. So it has a broad spectrum of meaning—shrewd, cunning, and it can have a negative sense of somebody who is full of guile or is crafty in a negative sense, or someone who is prudent. The idea of being prudent is the idea of someone who has sharp powers of judgment, is astute, clever, ingenious. They can look at a situation and come up with alternative ways of handling one than just what appears on the surface. They are clever at the way they approach problems in life and they don't just take the path that is the most superficial. That is the idea here. Wisdom is entwined with prudence. 

But it is not just ingenuity in and of itself, it is an ingenuity that comes from the Word of God. Of course, in this church age we have God the Holy Spirit who helps, enables, prompts and leads us in the application of God's Word. "I find out." It is not just finding out. That has the idea of discovery, but the nuance that we have here in the Hebrew is the idea of obtaining in close association with knowledge and discretion. There is a synonymous parallelism here that wisdom dwells with prudence. There has to be another verb that is a synonym for "dwell" because prudence is parallel to knowledge and discretion. The word here that means find out or discover is really the idea of owning or finding or making something part of what you are. So wisdom has as part of its components knowledge and discretion. It is a discretionary knowledge, as it were; it is not just two separate things. It is a kind of knowledge; it has discretion in its use and application.


Then we immediately go into a fundamental factor for the acquisition of any wisdom, and that is the fear of the Lord. This word "fear of the Lord" is another one of those words that has a range of meanings. That is one of the difficulties an interpreter faces in interpreting poetry. Words have a broad range of meaning than in more direct literature. In poetry often the words are chosen by the writer in order to pick up certain other shades of meaning that will also be brought to the mind of the writer, just because they fit within the context a little more because of rhythm and meter and things of that nature.


The word "fear" often comes to our mind in thinking of being afraid. But that is not the idea present in fear here. Another sense of fear is the idea of awe, the sense of respect. But it is not just simply awe and respect; there is also a sort of tinge of frightfulness surrounding that sense of fear. It is as when a mother says to a child, just wait until your father gets home. There is a sense of fear there. There is a recognition that he is the ultimate authority, his decision counts and that if I violate his rules then my life is in serious jeopardy. There is a recognition when we look at this sense of the fear of the Lord that it includes the idea of being oriented to the authority of God in our life. We are not living apart from that, and that idea runs through this particular section. Authority orientation to God is fundamental to leadership. Everybody can have a leadership role; it depends on one's environment. Maybe it is not a large role, but the way in which a person conducts himself, the way he does his job, the way he conducts his life, is a form of leadership. You can be an example to others; you can encourage others; you can be a leader in the home as a father, as mother, as a husband. You can have a leadership position just among your peers.


But you can't be a good leader unless you are one who can submit to authority. Those who can't submit to authority are arrogant and prideful, and that always leads to destruction. So the starting point of being able to function well is wisdom is to recognize the authority of God.


Proverbs 1:7 is the opening statement on the fear of the Lord as the foundation for assimilating the truth of Proverbs. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Notice the contrast, there is no middle way. You are either on the path of wisdom or the path of foolishness. The fool is arrogant, he thinks he knows it all.


Proverbs 9:10 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." In other words, knowledge of God is fundamental to everything else in life. But we live in a world today that has sort of relegated the knowledge of God, the study of theology, the study of the Bible to some sort of secondary aspect of our life. We can know everything that there is to know in life but if we don't know God then all of that is irrelevant. What matters first and foremost is our knowledge of God because that is going to give shape and meaning and value to everything else that we know.


Job 28:28 NASB "And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.'" There is an ethical aspect to wisdom because it makes choices. It chooses that which is righteous and just and it avoids and rejects that which is evil.


Psalm 19:9 NASB "The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether."


Psalm 34:11 NASB "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." It is something we learn, something that grows and develops over time.


Psalm 111:10 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do {His commandments;} His praise endures forever." There is an ethical dimension to wisdom in terms of obedience.  


  The fear of the Lord


1.  Defining it. The fear of the Lord is a profound respect and awe for God's person. We have to know Him. The only way we can know Him is to know His Word. That means we have to elevate the knowledge of His Word. That means not just coming to church and Bible class, it means reading the Bible, not being biblically illiterate. If we don't know the facts of the Bible then we can't ever get beyond that to really get to know God. The ultimate issue in knowing and studying the Bible is not to know and study the Bible. That is the path to knowing God. The goal is to know God and have an intimate relationship with God, but the only way we can do that is to know His Word because that is how He has revealed Himself to us. If we don't learn to know His Word so that we can think His Word and trust His Word all the time then we are never really going to get to know Him. We may know a few things about God but we won't develop much of a relationship with Him. So the fear of the Lord is a profound awe and respect for God's person, especially as righteous judge whose will and ways must be followed or face serious consequences. 

2.  This respect for the power and authority of God is a manifestation of humility and submission to God. Without humility we can't achieve anything of value in life.

3.  What we see here is a contrast of the fear of the Lord with arrogant rejection and disrespect for God's teaching and instruction.

4.  The fear of the Lord emphasizes the immediate necessity of knowing God's Word in contrast to an attitude that may range from something as benign as ignoring His Word—to busy to go to Bible class, etc.

5.  God's wisdom makes an ethical demand upon us. It is not just academic knowledge or abstract knowledge but there is a demand to do it right. There is a demand for righteousness and to avoid evil. We have to choose to obey Him and follow the paths of righteousness and depart from evil.

6.  Evil is not only a synonym for sin but it also includes superficially good deeds. Much evil is wrapped in the cloak of humanitarian ideals. Like socialism: we just want everybody to have equality in everything. It sounds so good in the abstract but it is evil because it can never happen. It doesn't take into account that people are sinners and in total depravity.


Proverbs 8:13 NASB "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way [path] And the perverted mouth, I hate." The second line moves from the arrogance of evil to the perverse mouth: talking about it. We see people today talking about and promoting ideas based on twisted logic, and they reject the basic fundamentals of establishment truth that God has set forth—rejecting marriage, rejecting family, rejecting the concepts of sin, rejecting concepts of personal responsibility and accountability. This is part of the perverse mouth. The perverse mouth is something that twists the absolute. What it is doing is constructing arguments and rationales in order to defend an evil course of action. 


Proverbs 8:14 NASB "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine." So wisdom claims to be the source of counsel. The wisdom that comes from God's Word is a sense of counsel. Counsel is direct, i.e. it has a sense of purpose. Counsel has the idea of purpose, directing somebody in a course of action. The structure of the Hebrew there is really saying, "To me is counsel, I own counsel, I am counsel, I counsel in sound wisdom." This sound wisdom is the idea of that which brings about profit in life. Understanding is the idea of being able to make wise choices between competing options. "Power" [or, might] is the word gebura. It is a military word and so it has that idea of something that gives power and strength to a person's life. It has the idea of resourcefulness. So there is a claim here that it is directive, it gives purpose and significance to life, understanding, decision-making capability, as well as power.


That leads to its application. Notice both vv. 15 and 16 start with the instrumental preposition "By me." Proverbs 8:15 NASB "By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. [16] By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly." In other words, wisdom is supposed to be the basis for leadership in the government realm as well as in the personal realm. Just because the illustration here is from the rule of kings doesn't mean it doesn't apply to all other areas of rule and judgment. This is how we are to live; this is the basis of integrity and leadership. But when we have a culture, which happened many times in Israel, where they rejected the wisdom of God's Word the result was a collapse of government and it brought pain and misery in the life of the people. They lost prosperity, the value of life; their monetary system collapsed. It brought military defeat in many cases and eventually is resulted in the destruction of both the northern and the southern kingdoms through invasion, because they chose the path of foolishness.


Proverbs 8:17 NASB "I love those who love me …" There is a mutually beneficial relationship here. This is something we find in other examples of Scripture where God says, if you seek me I will provide for you. So we are to love or desire wisdom. In response wisdom will bring benefits to us. "… And those who diligently seek me will find me." That idea is making it a priority, seeking it with energy, seeking it with effort, making a sacrifice in order to gain wisdom. The byproduct is, [18] "Riches and honor are with me, Enduring wealth and righteousness…" This isn't limited to physical financial gain. This is the wealth of life. There are people who have little in life but have great capacity for life. They have much even though physically and materially they have little, because they have their relationship with God. They understand where they fit within God's plan. They have riches that are not measured empirically. "Enduring wealth and righteousness"—that which goes on into eternity. The rewards that are ours as growing mature believers who have victory in this life.


Proverbs 8:19 NASB "My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, And my yield {better} than choicest silver." The gold is refined gold, gold without the dross, the impurities. It is valuable gold. So the value of living a wise life cannot be measured, it is greater than any physical richness. The comparison here is that as much wealth as you can accumulate materially and physically, the value of wisdom is even more.


Then we see the ethical dimension brought in. Proverbs 8:20 NASB "I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice." This is a figurative way of saying that the way of wisdom is governed by righteousness. Righteousness conforms to the character of God, the standard of God. And it produces justice. Justice is the application of God's righteousness. And this leads to the result. The result for those who pursue wisdom is that wisdom will cause those who love me to inherit, to possess wealth. This is eternal wealth and value, pursuing that which has eternal value and reaps great reward in eternity. This is the result of spiritual maturity. [21] "To endow those who love me with wealth, That I may fill their treasuries."


That is the challenge that we have seen again and again through Proverbs. Are we going to listen to the cry of the fool, the attraction of the adulterous woman—by application the temptation to be unfaithful to God—or are we going to pursue the lady wisdom which only comes from God's Word, applying it in our life consistently over and over, where through God the Holy Spirit we develop skill in applying God's Word which reaps consequences in terms of our own spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.