‘Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways… Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favour from the LORD. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death’ (Proverbs 9:32,34-36).
Listening. It’s a vital skill for almost any kind of learning. Yet at Primary School I was a hopeless daydreamer. While the teacher droned on about subjects that didn’t interest me (mathematics chiefly), my mind would be roaming outside the classroom window. Thankfully, I was fluent at reading, which is at least half an education. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have learnt anything at all!
And then there’s the problem of selective hearing. In the children’s home which my father managed, we had the extensive grounds of an old orchard to play in. And somehow we always contrived to be just out of earshot whenever we were being called in for bedtime. Of course, when the bell was being rung for tea, we seemed to hear instantly, and were there like a shot. Funny that!
Similarly, when it was time for pocket money to be dispensed, or any other kind of treat, we were hanging round the door, waiting for good things. And in today’s passage, listening, watching and eagerly waiting are directly related to receiving wisdom.
The pursuit of wisdom is a central focus of the book of Proverbs. Often it is given in the form of short pithy statements which are meant to provoke thoughtful reflection about practical living and character. But in the early chapters we are repeatedly enjoined to pursue wisdom as our greatest treasure, as opposed to folly, which leads to destruction.
In this chapter, as elsewhere, Wisdom is personified as a woman who calls out at the crossroads, encouraging all to listen to her instruction, which is worth more than the choicest riches (8:1-11). In chapter 9 she has built a house with seven pillars, and prepared a feast for those who will come and eat. In this she is contrasted with another woman, folly, who entices fools to their destruction with the empty promise of stolen delights (9:1-18).
Halfway through chapter 8, this personification is extended as we are told that wisdom lives together with prudence, and possesses knowledge and discretion (v12). We are told that by her kings reign and princes govern (v15,16), and she forms a rich inheritance of treasure for all who love her (v18,19,21).
At this point the personification is extended even further, as we are told that ‘the LORD brought me forth as the first of His works’ (v22), in a passage which goes on to describe the wonders of God’s Creation. Unfortunately, this verse has been misunderstood and misused throughout history, being seized upon by Arian heretics in the fourth century, and so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses today. If Christ is our Wisdom, (1 Corinthians 1:30) they argued, then this verse shows that He was a created being, and not the eternal Son of God. However, there are two things that can be said in response to this. Firstly, this verse can be translated, ‘the LORD possessed me at the beginning of His work,’ which fits in with the remainder of this passage which basically asserts that God’s wisdom pre-existed all of Creation (v25-31). After all, surely it is clear that there was never a time when God lacked wisdom.
Secondly, we need to recognise that Wisdom in this passage does not directly portray the person of Christ as the pre-existent Word, or logos, but is a personification of Wisdom throughout. In the New Testament Christ is revealed as a person in whom is fulfilled all of God’s wisdom, but this is very different from a literary personification of wisdom as a woman who lives with prudence and calls out in the street, and is contrasted with the adulterous woman folly. The Lady wisdom is a poetic characterisation, whereas Christ is a real person.
What was simply pictured or illustrated in the Old Testament has been focused in the New Testament reality of one man, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate.
Okay, back to the blessing of these verses.
‘Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors..’
Those who listen to God’s wisdom are happy, indeed ‘..those who find me find life and receive favour from the LORD…’ (v35). To heed God’s voice is to know the smile of His blessing. Of course hearing God’s wisdom is more than just passive listening. ‘Blessed are those who keep my ways’ (v32) God’s wisdom needs to be kept or retained through active listening and obedience. In verse 33 we are told not to ‘disregard’ this instruction. The word disregard, or ignore here, has the literal sense of ‘letting it blow away,’ like a kite which has slipped from our grasp. If we want to grow in wisdom we need to retain what we have read or heard preached from God’s word, taking it to heart and endeavouring to put it into practice, allowing God’s wisdom to shape our lives. We need to have a serious attitude, ‘waiting at my doorway,’ (v34) coming to God’s word with eager and expectant hearts.
The opposite of this attitude is intensely harmful to us. ‘But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death’ (v36) It is dangerous to look the other way, to pretend we haven’t heard, to refuse to seek out God’s wisdom, to fail to take it to heart or let it slip through our hands. Sadly those who reject God’s wisdom, who hate the life which is found in Him, are choosing to live in spiritual death, living without the joy of God’s favour, and heading for the bleakness of the grave and a lost eternity. When we ‘fail to find’ wisdom, we literally ‘fall short,’ which is elsewhere translated as ‘sin.’
In the Old Testament, these words relate to our response to God’s wisdom in His word. But it seems to me that they find their ultimate fulfilment in the gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. He is the one in whom spiritual life is found (1 John 5:11,12)
‘Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors… for those who find me find life and receive favour from the LORD.’ (Proverbs 8:34,35)
May God help us to be those who listen and benefit from God’s wisdom, and keep us from spurning or rejecting it. May we hold on to it firmly, even as we are held, and let’s be praying for all those who have not yet responded to the glorious gospel call which brings life. In Jesus’ name, Amen