Last week I heard a briefing from an expert on what is called a mass casualty event, or a CBRNE event…chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, explosive …one that devastates a city or large population…long term impact on the nation.
The speaker who is not a conspiracy theorist but a government expert said…it’s probably not “if” but “when” this happens.
Okay…I know…great way to ruin what was up till now…a pretty good Sunday morning…70 degrees in Wichita, Feb 2…and you start with this.
Stay with me…The point of the talk was to encourage preparation for response rather than complacency leading to lack of preparedness.
The problem is that warnings that go and on without any actual event sets us up for complacency.
Military bases use terrorism threat levels with corresponding protective measures…Normal, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta
Alpha…small chance…fewer protective measures
Delta…most extreme threat level…most extreme protective measures.
After 911 we stayed at elevated threat levels so long you can guess what happened…they lost their ability to warn.
People become immune to warnings when nothing happens (or so they think) and they then become susceptible to the danger and disaster.
This year we are in the book of Proverbs and corresponding Scriptures…it is a book that has lots of warnings.
Lots of opportunity as well…but warnings…we must not become immune to them.
Chapter 1, first 7 verses, gives us a review of the month of January…introduction to the book
Proverbs chapter 1:1-7
1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The Purpose statement of the book is clear: To know wisdom.
“Hokma” is the word that is most often used and translated as wisdom…there are other words, but that’s the primary one.
Wisdom in scripture is a large concept that is practical, ethical, and theological…no one is wise unless they grasp these three things together.
Before we look at these big three aspects of wisdom…
Notice that we are given fair warning…this is not going to be a walk in the wisdom park…wisdom requires full effort and attention.
- 6: To understand a proverb, a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles…
So why make it so complex…why use indirect language in proverbs?
Why not just a list of rules…does and don’ts?
You get a new swing set for the kids…and the instructions are complex but they aren’t riddles.
“Be wise and guess which part comes next, if you are foolish and choose wrong, tragedy will come like a storm.”
“Make sure section A is properly installed next or injury may occur.”
So why is wisdom given in indirect language?
Here’s a couple of possible reasons:
- Imagine if this were a book on “rules for every situation”…how could it be?
-“When someone says this and the situation is thus…then you must say and do that…unless this is also true in which case…”
This would be super complex, super confusing…super unhelpful…how could you possibly speak to the specifics of every eventuality.
They are general statements of how life works that make you wise and require growing wisdom to apply them appropriately.
The whole point is not just to parrot what wise people say and do…a set of rules…but to become wise…this means we must apply them to ourselves(practice)…we must apply ourselves to them…effort.
- Which brings the next point…they are indirect so we must think deeply about them…how might this apply to my situation, or if not to me…some situation that others are dealing with?
They often have some element of ambiguity to them…not to confuse us but to challenge us to think, to dig…wisdom is not like gold laying on the ground…it must be mined through hard work.
You have to want to be wise and work to be wise…wisdom is not salvation…salvation is all grace…wisdom is grace and effort.
Read casually…get casual wisdom…think about it, read it again next month, the next…tall to small group and friends about them…try it out.
So…let’s dig into the three levels of wisdom…practical, ethical, and theological
Practical level: (wisdom is skill).
-1:3 “Instruction in Wise dealing”
Wise dealing means skillful living…
This skillful living includes…
-Making the simple “prudent” (prudence is situational awareness)
-Making the wise, wiser (we are never done growing in wisdom as skill)
We must never reach the place where we believe we are finished growing…too old, to set in our ways to change.
This is unwise and untrue.
To keep growing we must remain deliberate in the pursuit of wisdom.
Psychologist Anders Ericsson has spent his career studying how people become experts…he is the expert on experts…athletes, chess, pianists, scrabble, radiologists…you name it.
What he has found is that it takes lots of practice over many years to become an expert (no surprise) and that the rate of growth slows over time (also makes sense)…but it’s not just time but intentionality that makes the real difference.
You may have heard of the 10,000-hour rule…said to be how long it generally takes to master something.
What Ericsson found is not that world class experts just log more hours of practice but they practice differently than the rest of us.
They do what he calls “deliberate practice”
So, another researcher asked Dr. Ericsson to help her figure out(as a way of understanding his findings) why she wasn’t getting faster in running spite of much training.
She had run an hour a day several days a week for decades…yet she was not a second faster…thousands of hours…no improvement.
He asked her a few questions:
- Do you have a specific goal for your training? (she didn’t, general not specific)
2. He asked what she thought about while running. (not much, so not mindful in her training)
- He asked if she keep track of her runs in a systematic way (nope, no accountability)
- He asked if she had a coach (no, no outside help)
“Ah” He said, “I think I understand. You aren’t improving because you’re not doing deliberate practice.”
So, we can and must continue to grow in wisdom…but to do so…we cannot become people who merely put in time…we must be deliberate, intentional…if we don’t “mean to grow” in wisdom…we will not…it won’t just happen to us.
It’s why we have devotionals, groups, sermons, Proverbs journals…chance to do deliberate practice.
Sometimes people will say after making some bad choice “I didn’t mean to”
-But often it’s because they didn’t mean “not too”…they had become a person who “went with the flow”
I can assure you the flow always goes towards folly…folly runs downhill…wisdom walks deliberately up hill.
Ethical level: (wisdom is character)
– 1:3Instruction in righteousness, justice, and equity
-Wisdom and obedience require certain types of behavior towards God and other people…
-Proverbs outlines much of what this ethical life looks like in practice.
To claim wisdom and yet to treat others in ways that are unkind, unjust, and unfair is to be deceived…not wisdom.
Wisdom shows up in the way others are treated.
Theological level: (wisdom is Fearing God)
-1:7 Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
*Why fear, why not “love of God is the beginning of wisdom?
The Hebrew word translated “fear” can be used of everything on a scale from mild anxiety to sheer horror…it’s very flexible word.
The closest word we use that reads like the word “fear” here is probably Awe (Longman)…but even that doesn’t quite get it.
Let’s define the word, “fear” using paragraphs not just another word…even a really good word like “awe”
Fear of the Lord is to know you exist solely at the discretion of the God who created literally everything…molecules, galaxies, the universe…if there is a multi-verse (highly doubtful)…then that too…all that is not God…God has made.
Fear of the Lord is to begin to grasp that you cannot remotely grasp him…if you saw him in his full glory you would dissolve into particles…if he allowed you to glimpse him and remain alive your breath would flee and your knees would knock…awesome is far too weak a word to describe him.
Fear of the Lord is that when he speaks, we can’t help but pay attention…we listen. When he tells us, something is so…we cannot doubt it…of course it is. Fear of the Lord makes human pride look silly, or evil or both…and obedience look good.
Fear of the Lord leads to obedience…of course we will do what he wants…if we appropriately fear him…if we see just barely…who he is…we will do as he asks of us.
So, you might say… “I don’t really fear the Lord” using that definition.
No one does perfectly…but wisdom moves this way…wisdom is a path we walk.
This is the beginning of stepping on that path…not just a beginning as in “start and leave behind”
But beginning and ongoing…it is how we get on the path, and how we walk the path of wisdom.
As we grow in this perspective on God…we grow in our desire, capacity, commitment to obey him.
Obeying him…doing what the one who made everything, says we should do…is by default…wise.
Christy and I tithe (10% of our income to the church)…we always have.
Why…for one it’s because we are afraid of what might happen if we don’t.
“Really, you give out of fear?”
Yes of course.
Malachi warns against “robbing God”…without lots of OT theological explanation…I’ll simply say in principle it still applies to me…I’m afraid of this.
But here’s the fuller story…I’m not just afraid of anger God by robbing him.
I’m also afraid of missing out on the blessings of obeying him…watching him provide, seeing what giving does to our hearts.
I fear missing him…because to live missing out on God’s presence and provision…well that kind of life is terrifying to me…it seems empty…I don’t want it.
I don’t normally suffer from FOMO(fear of missing out)…I am okay missing out on parties, events.
But when it comes to experiencing God…I do have FOMO…that is part of what fear of the Lore means.
So, I am afraid of the dangers of not giving as well as afraid of missing the blessings of giving.
Do we give out of fear or love…obedience or relationship…yes.
Do we give because we want to give or have to give…yes.
Fear of the Lord…doesn’t mean the absence of love…both are present in the maturing believer’s life…love and awe, awe and love.
Both fear and love lead to increasing desire for his glory revealed in our obedience…again this is a path…not a destination at least in this life.
Abraham is the great example not just of faith but of fear of the Lord…fear that is revealed in obedience.
Listen to what the angel of the Lord said to Abraham after he passed the ultimate test of his faith and was prepared to offer his son as a sacrifice…
“Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son…I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky…all nations of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.” Gen. 22
In scripture Abraham is applauded for his faith…revealed in his obedience…that demonstrates his fear of God.
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…because it leads to the wisdom of obedience.
To understand God as he is would of course lead to increasing desire and propensity to do what he wants done…that is obedience.
Fear, love, obedience, life, blessing…it is all mingled together in this good path.
So Proverbs(wisdom in the Bible) is not just pithy statements…does and don’ts void of theology…it is all theology…it’s all about life with God.
A theologian who in my opinion should look for another line of work says this about Proverbs:
“Generally, I dislike the book of Proverbs with its lack of theological content, its long lists of platitudinous advice, its “do this” and “don’t do that.” Pick up your socks. Be nice to sales clerks. It doesn’t hurt to be nice (but) Proverbs is something like being trapped on a long road trip with your mother…”
Actually, the book is much more than platitudes and simply “be nice”…the book begins with the crucial point of life itself…fear of God(awe)… wisdom is in itself theological…it starts and ends with God being God and us living in line with the reality of who he is.
Every piece of advice in Proverbs…is based on 1:7…if we walk the good path or the bad path…it is “theological”…all of life’s choices have to do with the reality of God…believing him or rejecting him.
And all outcomes of our lives…are proving God true…outcomes of wisdom and outcomes of folly.
Let’s go on…what’s next is the first warning about walking off the path of wisdom…specifically by walking in the way of sinners (fools)…but before the warning…an invitation.
8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.
*The point here is not that every mother or father is wise or should always be listened to, even if are you are an adult…some parents are foolish and their advice is wicked.
*Clearly you should not follow ungodly advice…not matter who gives it.
The point, of course, is that God guides us through the wisdom of others.
*The point here is to listen to wise elders/parents…don’t be so foolish that your reject the wisdom of those who have walked the path longer than you have…don’t be wise in your own eyes.
*Because wisdom is like a crown, or jewelry…it looks good on you…wear it.
*Now the warning…fools want you to join them on their self-destructive path.
10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
*”This doesn’t sound like anyone I know personally…waiting to ambush and harm someone.”
*But it does describe many people in world…very accurately.
*And probably given certain circumstances…people we know
History has shown that “normal” people can do monstrous things.
I was recently at the Holocaust Museum in DC…I’ve been twice now, and once to the one in Israel.
It always moves me…staggers me in fact…I sat afterwards in the hall of remembrance and thought and prayed and reflected.
The suffering is more than you can mentally absorb…the evil done to people…but so also is the evil done by people.
Not all were monsters(that would be easier to absorb and explain)…some were…but many were just regular people who were swept along…incrementally caught up in the madness.
These verses warn us about the madness of the foolish path…a path, that like the path of wisdom is one of community…fools and the wise walk the path in groups…feeding off of one another…helping each other become more and more wise or more and more foolish.
Here a path of criminals is described…people intent on harming others.
But in principle it describes all self-serving, others-using people…those people you probably do know…they may not be criminal…but if they live to use others for their own gain, they are fools…don’t walk their path.
*Here’s what lies in store for these kinds of people…and why you certainly don’t want to join them.
17 For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
*They are going to destroy themselves…and they hurt others in the process…which makes their ultimate fate double-bad.
So, we see already how this book is going to unfold…blessings of wisdom, curses of folly…choose the good path.
The threat level regarding the foolish path is always “Delta”…because we can be destroyed by walking the foolish path.
You can walk the wise path for decades and take a quick stroll into folly and really mess up your life…that is super terrifying…it should be.
So, the challenge is to keep this perspective in front of us…as I said…when you see Delta long enough, and nothing has happened…it becomes normal…there is no real threat.
Until something devastating happens…because we walked the path of folly…now we are fully awake…but at what cost?
So, the beautiful lady wisdom cries out aloud in the street…shouting the threat level…this is no drill…this is real…Delta…be alert.
Because complacency regarding the ongoing threat of folly can be devastating.
20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
“Wow, that’s pretty grim…almost as bad as your opening illustration about mass destruction.”
It is designed to grab our attention…to keep us alert and realistic about folly and it’s devastating cost.
Folly is out there in streets…but wisdom is out there as well…calling to us to pay attention.
It says here that wisdom will “laugh at your disaster” when you suffer the fate of a fool…that’s not very ladylike.
Remember this is poetic language…it doesn’t mean that God delights in the suffering of people even if it is their own fault.
It means, in poetic terms that when the consequences of folly set in…it is often too late to apply wisdom and avoid the fallout.
Sometimes people who walked the path of folly for a long time will suddenly suffer consequences…at that point they will cry out to God to help…of course he will.
However, the consequences…the devastation in this life…may go on…in essence “Wisdom will mock you…because it’s too late in this situation to listen…you should have listened before.”
Now you must apply wisdom to living in a God-honoring way…in the consequences of your life now.
I realize this is hard to hear if you are suffering the consequences of some past bad choice…but hopefully you will understand that the warning needs to be given to those who are still “deciding” or who have stopped seeing the threat of the foolish path as a real danger in their lives.
Particularly if you are young…and still deciding what path makes sense to you.
Again…forgiveness is always available…God is not through with you and me…but we must pay attention to the threat of folly.
Notice Lady Wisdom addresses three kinds of folly…that of the simple, the fool and the scoffer
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Folly is a spectrum…different levels of foolishness.
- The Simple:
On the folly spectrum the simple are at the lower end…they are not innocent, biblically no one is…but they are not fully formed fools yet.
They are gullible, easily lead astray…they do not have SA
In a fallen world…this is a dangerous state to remain in.
Prov. 14:15 says “The simple believe everything but the prudent give thought to their ways.”
A young person may start by merely being “simple” but unless they (you) intentionally do what wisdom says will shape you into the wise person then you will be shaped into a fool.
Passivity regarding the pursuit of wisdom is deadly…you cannot wait for wisdom to come to you…you must run to it.
- The fool
The simple are easily led astray, the fool has taken willful steps onto the path of folly
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” 18:2
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” 12:15
The simple are not yet fully closed off to God…they are just open to folly…they stand at a crossroad.
You don’t stand there forever…if you don’t move walk wisdom’s path…the path will move under your feet…if you don’t choose wisdom, folly will choose you
The simpleton who did not heed wisdom has now moved down the spectrum and become the fool.
- The scoffer
This person is at the distant end of the folly spectrum.
The simple are easily swayed…but the scoffer…he is sure of himself, not easily swayed…he is fully convinced of the rightness of his ways…though they are opposed to God’s way.
The scoffer is now a full-fledged follower of Lady folly and seeks to win others over to his position.
The scoffer becomes a sort of folly evangelist.
“Scoffer is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with pride” 21:24
“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease” 22:10
The ultimate scoffer in scripture is the Devil.
Listen to the voice of Satan animating an animal as it interacts with Eve…listen to how he is the prototype of the foolish scoffer.
Remember Satan is a super intelligent being…though he is fool.
So these kinds of fools…can be very intelligent, wordly wise, and successful…for a time at least.
Gen 3:1. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“’Did God really say…come on.”
“You won’t die…God is such an exaggerator”
“Here’s what most people don’t know about God…he is afraid you will be like him, able to decide for yourself what is good and evil…he is an insecure beings…doesn’t like to share.”
“Now remember…I have experience with him…he actually threw me out, just because I had the nerve to question him…he is quite the dictator you know.”
It’s not hard to find the voice of the scoffer…they are writing books, producing movies, and probably live or work near you…don’t let it BE you.
Let’s finish chapter one
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
The simple are killed by turning away (onto the path of folly)
The complacency of fools destroys them…passivity is deadly…wisdom requires “deliberate practice”
To not actively choose wisdom is to passively choose folly.
Then we end with encouragement…Lady wisdom cuts us a break from all the warnings.
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Remember secure and at ease is not a promise that life will never be difficult.
It is the reality that walking with Jesus (lady wisdom is a personification of God) will put you on the path that is secure…there is no need to live in ongoing dread of disaster.
I watched Hannah and Noah and their family go through what anyone would call a personal “disaster”
I sat with them as Noah’s life moved toward an end at age 23 (not appropriate to call it an early end, it was a right on time end…but too soon for us).
Hannah became a widow after three years of marriage.
For me it was the picture of the balance of Scriptural wisdom…peace in the storm, because of trust in th Lord.
I asked… “How are you getting your minds around this”
“I am ready to go, afraid of suffering…don’t want to leave Hannah”…see the balance there?
“I am ready for him to be free”…with tears in her eyes.
There was real pain and real emotion…but no dread, no terror.
They were suffering and secure…their house, where a young man was dying and young wife was watching…was a place of peace…security.
If you were there, you can vouch for this.
Remember the conversation between Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job from last week?
There is balance…walking in wisdom does not mean you will not suffer.
It does mean you do not have to live in dread and you do not have to waste your life…you can live honoring God and loving others
Unless the Lord returns in our lifetime…Every one of us will die…every one of us will lose health, family, jobs, houses, possessions, all our money.
What many people live in terror of…will most certainly happen to them.
That which people often fear the most…IS going to happen to them…so threatcon DELTA…wake up, walk wisdom’s path.
To walk in the wisdom of the Gospel means we cannot lose what ultimately matters.
Jesus… “Don’t store up for yourselves treasure that moth, rust, and thieves can destroy…store up treasure that cannot be destroyed.”
The wise path in Proverbs is the path of the gospel…
We live in loving fear of God…where we cannot lose what matters most.
This wise path…empowers us to more fully engage, and enjoy the life God has for us now…we are learning to thrive in obedience…what God wants for, we would want for ourselves if we had enough wisdom to see it.
That is why we grow in wisdom.