Understanding Wisdom and Foolishness

Understanding Wisdom and Foolishness

Written by Richard P. Belcher, Jr. |
Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A wise person submits every aspect of life (thinking, willing, and feeling) to God’s Word….A foolish person rejects God’s Word, which is a rejection of God’s way of wisdom, and pays the moral consequences for not fearing God. 

No one wants to be considered a fool. A fool will act in ways that bring shame, ridicule, and condemnation to his life. But what if a large group of people define what has been deemed foolish as wisdom and what has been deemed wisdom as foolish? We see this happening in many different areas of our culture today, including how people want to express their sexuality. How are we to decide such questions? Where is wisdom really to be found?

God is the God of wisdom, which means that He is the source of wisdom. He has revealed in His Word what wisdom and foolishness look like. He defines the characteristics of a wise person and a foolish person. We become wise people as we live our lives according to the way that God defines wisdom. In so doing, we will also avoid the heartache and trouble that come with living a foolish life.

The Old Testament has a lot to say about wisdom. The main term for “wisdom” is the noun hokmah (there is also a verb and an adjective from the root hakam). “Wisdom” can refer to human wisdom, which always falls short of God’s wisdom because it comes from human strength rooted in arrogance (Isa. 10:13) and it leads people astray (47:10). True wisdom begins with God’s definition of wisdom. Wisdom can be defined in two broad ways. It refers to a skill that is learned or developed and a basic perspective on life. The first definition of a skill that is learned is also seen as a gift given by God. The skill needed to build and furnish the tabernacle is called “wisdom.” This includes the craftsmanship to devise artistic designs; to make Aaron’s garments; to work with gold, silver, and bronze; and to cut stones and carve wood (Ex. 28:3; 31:3–5; see also 35:25–26, 31, 35; 36:1–2). These skills are said to come from the Spirit of God. They are also skills that would need to be developed through training and experience. Solomon specifically asked God for wisdom to be able to govern the nation of Israel and to administer justice (1 Kings 3:7–14; 4:29). In the book of Proverbs, “wisdom” refers to the “skill” to navigate the difficulties of life. It helps us avoid the pitfalls of life to achieve the right goals in life.

The second way that wisdom is defined is as a description of a perspective on life. Two key passages are Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding,” and Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The perspective on life that comes with wisdom is the fear of the Lord. The word “fear” can have the connotation of being terrified of something or someone. When God appeared to the Israelites on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning that caused the mountain to smoke, the people trembled (Ex. 19:16; 20:18). They were afraid that they were going to die (20:19). Moses tried to calm them with the words, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (v. 20). The word “fear” is used twice in this verse. Moses first commands the Israelites not to fear God. He is commanding them not to be terrified of God even though they have seen a manifestation of His majestic power. Instead, they should fear God so that they do not sin. Moses exhorts the people to have a reverence and respect for God that will affect the way that they live their lives. Such a reverence for God will lead them to want to honor God with how they think and what they do. They should be willing to submit the way they think and the way they live to the law that God has given them and to judge everything in life by the standards of righteousness that He has set forth. God becomes the center of a person’s life when he is willing to submit his life to the truth of God’s Word as the true path to wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:6 states that the keeping of the law of God is the people’s wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations.

The book of Proverbs uses these same ideas to develop further the true path to wisdom and the implications for living life. The fear of the Lord is central to obtaining the knowledge that is key to living a life of wisdom. It is called the “beginning” of knowledge, which means that it is the first or controlling principle of a person’s life. You must start with the fear of the Lord to live a life of wisdom, but the fear of the Lord must also continue to be the basic perspective by which you live. It is foundational to everything else in life. First, it leads to knowledge (Hebrew da‘at). Knowledge includes information but it emphasizes more how to use that information. The craftsman who built the tabernacle had to know how “to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Ex. 31:4–5). But to properly use that knowledge in ways that would be pleasing to the Lord included not just the work done on the tabernacle but also the right perspective that such work was done for the honor and glory of God. The Spirit of God was needed to help the craftsman approach the work with the right reverence for God (v. 3).

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