2 To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding.
Let me share a personal story about squirrels.
If you love watching birds and have bird feeders in your yard, you know how difficult it can be to keep away seed-raiding squirrels. Squirrels not only feast on the birdseed, they can be destructive as they can chew a feeder or tip and spill uneaten seeds.
With today’s market you can doubtless buy one of a variety of feeders that feature modern space-age squirrel-proofing technology–at a premium price. For the backyard naturalist on a shoestring budget you will have to resort to your own ingenuity.
Several years ago, I did just that. After battling for some months against a pesky squirrel and going through several failed attempts to prevent him from accessing the sunflower seed bonanza, I found what I thought was a sure thing. A long line was strung from high on the wall of our house to a pole in the yard. I applied a liberal coat of petroleum jelly to the line and marveled at my work.
Sure, I needed a ladder to re-fill the feeder but I was certain that it was finally rodent-free and at a fraction of the cost of a fancy, store-bought contraption.
To my immense satisfaction the squirrel made a few half-hearted attempts to run along the line and then seemed to give up his quest.
Two mornings later, I stepped out onto my porch, coffee in hand, to admire the beauty of another squirrel-less day.
There, on top of the feeder, high above the yard, perched the squirrel.
At this moment I came completely unglued. Frustration and anger built up to Chernobyl-like levels and I started shouting and screaming at that piratical tree rat.
I must have done my best “Yosemite Sam” imitation for I did not cuss–but a lot of creative nonsense such as rackin’-frackin' rootin’-tootin’ must have come streaming forth.
When the dust settled, the squirrel had struck out for the other side of town but as my eyes came back into focus I saw a bent and terrified-looking figure on the street beyond. A sweet, elderly neighbor lady who had been innocently enjoying a morning stroll had been suddenly confronted by an agitated, coffee-slopping, crazed man in his pajamas, yelling angrily across his yard.
She did not see the squirrel, only me–jumping and shouting angry nonsense at her.
Before I could apologize she kicked her legs into high gear and left the area in fright, certain that her neighbor had murderous intent and may likely pursue her in his madness.
Of course, the squirrel returned the next day, wary but undeterred–with I imagine a smug grin on his little furry face
This embarrassing episode taught me two things:
- Always be fully dressed and very specific in your words when angrily shouting at wildlife in public places.
- Your perception of reality and of people can be extremely important in life.
The book of Proverbs addresses this perception as a part of understanding wisdom. When you study God’s word, you will grow in knowledge and wisdom in understanding His will for life. Through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit you will then begin to perceive reality in the light of Christ and understand the workings of the heart and of all of history.
Solomon speaks of this in the preamble as he sets the stage for further instruction:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,–Proverbs 1:2
Here in Proverbs the Hebrew word is לְ֝הָבִ֗ין (le-ha-bin) or “to discern” or “perceive.” To be wise is to grow in God’s word and as you do so you will come to new reality in Him.
How well do you know the hearts of others? How well do you know your own? To see into the motives of others and to discern their steps or true feelings of things is one of the great quests of your personal life. Your spouse, your friend, your boss at work and even those around you in church can be a mystery to you.
In life you seek to trust others–especially those you love–but all too often pain and disappointment can result. There is a reason divorce is so common and that the most popular drama on movies and TV so often about betrayal of trust.
To see and understand the true motives behind someone’s actions is the hallmark of all great detective stories. Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most famous literary character. In the recent movie adaptations, Holmes has almost superhero qualities as he perceives, through swift deduction, what his opponents will do next. [Check out this scene where Holmes turns his amazing skills in deduction upon Watson's fiancee–but does not quite get it right.]
You may not be a world-renowned detective but you do interact with people every day and Godly wisdom will play a part in how you see and live–and how you can grow in Christ’s love.
There is no more wise perceiver of hearts than Jesus. Throughout the gospels He uncovered the truth of those whom He encountered. From His call of the disciple Nathaniel:
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”–John 1:43-48
Jesus did not call perfect and pure-hearted men. He called sinners, including Nathaniel. In fact, the twelve disciples that He called to follow Him included those who would squabble for His favor and when He was at His greatest need, one would deny–and another even betray Him.
To be wise is to understand that all of those whom you deal with are fallen people, including yourself:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,–Romans 3:23
To be wise is to not hold others up in idolatrous fashion to place all of your hopes and reliance but understand and interact with them as fellow travelers who struggle with sin.
Because you cannot truly know the heart of another person you must love with Christlike affection, forgiving wrongs and seeking repentance for your own failures.
Can you do this? There are some people whom we struggle to forgive, and others that we want to blindly trust. To be wisely discerning is to be “neither legalistic or relativistic,” as Tim Keller says.
Seeing others in light of Christ allows you to love them as Christ loves you. As Peter reminds you:
8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”–I Peter 4:8
You are also called upon to discern time and history in another way too. To be wise is to perceive that you are part of an overarching covenantal history of life, the universe and everything.
According to Os Guinness, in his fascinating book “Carpe Diem Redeemed” there are three ways of perceiving time. First, there is the eastern–or cyclical–view in which time is a circle or reincarnation and rebirth. Second is the atheist, or western worldly view, that holds that the march of time is purely chronological–a progressive unfolding to some future oblivion in which every age is supposed to be greater than the last.
(You know from the horrors of the current age that the world is not improving on its own, or if it is a circle of events where you are doomed to repeat this life for eternity, then there is little hope to be found.)
Finally, the covenantal view of time–that God is present in His world and history and interacts with His creation–is the only viable and hope-filled view.
What does knowing that God is alive and involved in your life do to your understanding of how to live in this world?
In one biblical example, David had the men of Issachar who “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” (I Chronicles 12:32)
Much has been made of the men of Issachar in modern Evangelical discussion, especially when it comes to the subject of Christians being involved in politics or interpreting the news. The main point is that this tribe was aware of the condition of the world around them and would respond wisely.
When you perceive that all life events, large or small, from world news to local gossip, occur in light of God’s providence and sovereignty, it makes you a part of history–even if you feel the part you play is tiny and insignificant.
Author Os Guinness is a descendant of the famous brewers of Dublin, Ireland, but he recounts that his branch of the family did not enter business or politics but answered the call of Christ to become missionaries.
His grandfather, Gershom Whitfield Guinness, labored in China and his father Henry was a medical missionary in Henan province. Os was born in China and his parents worked until the 1949 revolution drove missionaries out and the church underground.
Guinness recalls that for many years people would speak to his father about his family's service and the rise of Communism. There was usually a comment like, “I can't imagine what it must be like to have all that work wasted.”
To which his father would reply:
“Wasted? We were privileged to sew the seed, and what happens now is up to God.”- Henry Whitfield Guinness
Can you see how your life is a part of God’s great plan? How does this affect your daily decision making? What about your interactions with others? To discern the scope of time, and to perceive Him at work in the world around you, is to obtain a wisdom that the world–with its cyclical “time is a flat circle,” or the endless progress into nothingness–will never know.
Whats more, Guinness says in a recent interview:
Forgiveness uniquely frees the past and forgiveness uniquely opens up the future. The Christian faith, through forgiveness, is the life of the second chance. Freedom is brought into time in a wonderful way.–Os Guinness, “Think Biblically Podcast,” 2020
As a believer repents and forgives–as Christ has forgiven him–can change the march of history into something redeemed and glorifying to God.
Solomon urges you to get this discernment and perception–to understand the hearts of men and to see your place in the arc of time:
7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding.–Proverbs 4:7
In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is awakened to this and his view of his life is permanently changed:
“I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me!”–Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
The legendary 1708 hymn, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” by Isaac Watts is based on Psalm 90 and captures the grand scope of God’s work in your life:
1. O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
2. Within the shadow of thy throne,
Still may we dwell secure.
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
3. Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.
4. O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last
And our eternal home.–Isaac Watts, 1708. [Enjoy this arrangement by guitar virtuoso, Phil Keaggy or the congregation in Westminster Abbey HERE]
Armed with God’s word, and with access to Him through prayer and fellowship with other believers, you will not need to rely on self-help books, your own wits, or even Christmas ghosts to grow in discerning wisdom.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.