- Wisdom is the God-given ability to discern between good and evil;
- Wisdom is a spirit, specifically the Holy Spirit of God;
- Friendship with Wisdom must be pursued.
Our first step in studying wisdom is to notice that it’s a topic that runs throughout the entire Bible (not just the book of Proverbs). Wisdom first appears in the book of Genesis as Satan, working through a serpent, stalks his prey—Eve. The serpent tells Eve:
“For God knows that in the day you eat of it [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Gen. 3:5-6)
However, before Eve ever spied that fruit in the garden and desired what she thought was wisdom, wisdom had already played a significant role in the downfall of Satan. We see the importance of wisdom in the words of Ezekiel as he prophetically reveals Satan’s fall:
I [God] destroyed you, O covering cherub [Satan], from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. (Ezek. 28:16-17)
Wisdom is also spoken of in Job as Job describes the difficult path to finding her:
But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living. (Job 28:12-28)
The next big scene with wisdom comes to us from Solomon’s dad, King David, as he impresses upon Solomon the urgent need for wisdom:
Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. (Prov. 4:5-7)
Moving ahead to Solomon, we see that Solomon does indeed follow his father David’s advice. He asks God for wisdom. This request so greatly pleases God that Solomon ends up with a jackpot of blessings:
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” (1 Kings 3:10-14)
Even the Old Testament Apocrypha exhorts wisdom:
For she [Wisdom] is to human beings an inexhaustible treasure, and those who acquire this win God’s friendship, commended to him by the gifts of instruction. (NJB Wisdom 7:14)
Now skipping forward to the New Testament, we read the parable of the Wise Virgins. Here Jesus describes what heaven is like:
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. (Mt. 25:1-4, 8-10)
We then notice that God promises us wisdom:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (Jas. 1:5)
This of course is only a partial account of biblical wisdom, but by looking at these few passages you will notice that wisdom is extremely important: Satan’s pride corrupted his wisdom, Eve was drawn to what she thought was wisdom, David cherished wisdom, Solomon asked God for wisdom, God is delighted to give wisdom, wisdom is not found in the land of the living; yet, heaven is full of wisdom. So the questions we must ask ourselves after all this is (1) Why all this hub-bub over wisdom? (2) What exactly is wisdom? To find the answers let’s first look at the two things that wisdom is not.
Wisdom is not the “knowledge of good and evil:”
And the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Gen. 3:5-6)
The above verses describe the tree that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from. However, they did eat thereby attaining “the knowledge of good and evil.” However, they did not obtain “wisdom.” The knowledge of good and evil was not wisdom, but simply the awareness and the acceptance of good and evil into their lives.
But if eating from the tree did not produce wisdom, how can we know what wisdom truly is? To find out let’s look at the one man who knew wisdom well… Solomon. In the verses below Solomon is experiencing a theophany—a physical manifestation of God. “The Lord” has appeared to Solomon in a dream allowing him to ask for anything he wants. Solomon, on the advice of his now deceased father (David), asks for wisdom:
‘Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. (1 Kings 3:9-12)
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. (1 Kings 4:29-30)
We see through these verses that wisdom is not the awareness and acceptance of good and evil, but rather wisdom is the God-given ability to discern between good and evil (Jesus is the one person who perfectly discerned between good and evil). If Eve had acted with wisdom that day in the garden, she would have rightly judged the serpent’s words and identified his lies. She would have discerned who it was that inspired the serpent to speak, as well as the evil motive behind the words.
Wisdom is not a personified metaphor.
Today’s Christian teaching tells us “wisdom,” as found in the Old Testament, is referred to as a “she” simply because it’s a personified metaphor:
She [Wisdom] calls out to the crowds along Main Street, and to the judges in their courts, and to everyone in all the land: ‘You simpletons!’ she cries. ‘How long will you go on being fools? How long will you scoff at wisdom and fight the facts? (Prov. 1:20)
Personification is a figure of speech. If we personify something then we are representing a thing or an abstraction as a person or by human traits. For example, many people believe Satan is merely personified evil. In this line of thinking there is no actual personality, but rather, evil (the bad things people do) are “personified” into an evil, pointy-tailed man. Regarding wisdom, many Christians believe wisdom is a characteristic (the ability to think with Godly judgment) and the Bible is merely personifying this concept into the image of a woman. After all, the Hebrew word for wisdom is “chakmah” and the Greek word for wisdom happens to be “Sophia.” Because these two words are both feminine, both the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) writers are able to “personify” wisdom as a female. And as many Christians argue, since wisdom is a characteristic—and not a living being—the “she” attributed to her should not be taken literally.
For myself, when I first read the book of Proverbs, the one book in the Bible set aside to teach wisdom, I certainly didn’t assume the “she” was literal. I read the book as a sort of guide on how to act and make wise decisions. I, therefore, thought wisdom was “smarts” or “good judgment” and I saw the book of Proverbs as a list of proven suggestions that, if followed, would make me wise: “don’t mix with evil people, don’t speak profanely, don’t be lazy”—all good suggestions for living life as wisely as possible, right? As for the strange way the book of Proverbs made wisdom come alive, describing it with living attributes and a personality—a “she” personality to be exact—well, I did as most people do, I explained it away by saying it was probably just personification similar to the way men refer to sleek sports cars as “she.” For example, God’s wisdom is like a beautiful woman: “all the things you may desire cannot compare with her” (Prov. 3:14). But the “she” certainly wasn’t a reality. But I soon came to a different conclusion. My understanding of wisdom was altered with these two verses…
The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Prov. 15:33)
If you seek her [Wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. (Prov. 2:4-5)
I was a bit confused at this point because I had been taught at church that “the fear of the Lord” was a very real understanding that God is alive and that he sees and hears everything—the fear of the Lord was taking God seriously, which I thought I did. But here in Proverbs I read, “The Fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom.” I had never heard this before. The instruction of wisdom? How can wisdom instruct? I understood that I could have wisdom, act with wisdom, learn wisdom, but here in Proverbs Wisdom was the one acting, knowing, and having:
Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things; For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness is an abomination to my lips. (Prov. 8:6-7)
For whoever finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the Lord; But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death. (Prov. 8:35-36)
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength. (Prov. 8:14)
Suddenly now, as I read the book of Proverbs it was as if Wisdom were in fact really alive. My part was to seek her. And if I did, then I would understand this “Fear of the Lord” stuff. Needless to say, I single-mindedly sought Wisdom like a pirate after treasure. So here I was a stay-at-home mom being led by God into a mystery of Wisdom, while at the same time yearning to know something—anything—about the Holy Spirit of God. I immediately returned to the book of Proverbs for a closer look:
Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. Turn at my reproof; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” (Prov. 1:20-23)
In the above, we have “the spirit of Wisdom” crying aloud saying if you would “turn at my reproof” which means “if only you would repent when rebuked.” If you repent then, “I will pour out my spirit on you.”
This changed things immensely. After all, since a spirit is a living entity the writers of the Bible cannot be using personification. Therefore, the “she” attributed to wisdom has purpose and meaning and is not in any way a literary device. Suddenly, it was obvious … there was more to wisdom than I had ever thought. I needed to find Wisdom!
Wisdom is a Person
I have to admit when I first read about wisdom in the book of Proverbs I really did automatically think, as most everyone does, that wisdom is referred to as “she” simply because we feel “she’s” something to be cherished. “She’s” something special. We’re simply being metaphorically affectionate. But what if the “she” in wisdom isn’t a literary device? What if wisdom is a someone? It appears she is someone, at least according to the Bible:
And the Child [Jesus] grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Lk. 2:40)
Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. (Deut. 34:9)
She [wisdom] entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs. (Wisdom 10:16)
In the above verses we find Wisdom can dwell not only in humans, but can be passed on to other people through the laying on of hands. In the Old Testament’s case Wisdom is passed from Moses to Joshua (the next Godly leader of the Israelites) through the hands of the previous leader. Not surprisingly, the passing of Wisdom is done in the same manner the apostles filled believers with the Holy Spirit:
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14).
Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. (Deut. 34:9).
The very same method (the laying on of hands) is used to pass on both Wisdom and the Holy Spirit and in both instances the Spirit is passed to other submitted Godly persons–this is further illustrated through the story of Simon:
Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.” (NRS Acts 8:17-24)
Surprisingly, the above verse is spoken about prophetically in both the Old Testament and the Apocrypha—only it is Wisdom to which the writers refer:
Why should fools have a price in hand to buy wisdom, when they have no mind to learn? (NRS Prov. 17:16)
Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money. Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction. (NRS Sirach 51:25-26)
She cannot be bought with solid gold, nor paid for with any weight of silver, nor valued against gold of Ophir, precious agate or sapphire. Neither gold nor glass compares with her, for her, a vase of fine gold would be no exchange, let alone coral or crystal: better go fishing for Wisdom than for pearls! Topaz from Cush is worthless in comparison, and gold, even refined, is valueless. (NJB Job 28:15-19)
So the question we must ask is, “Are the prophetic writers, when speaking about Wisdom in the above verses, expressly referring to the Holy Spirit? Obviously they are. After all, Wisdom (the Holy Spirit of God) is so valuable no amount of money can purchase her. Money becomes an insult. Wisdom is metaphorically “for sale;” yet, oddly enough, God gives her “freely”:
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)
Even though Simon was a believer and was even baptized (Acts 8:13) the Spirit would not enter him since he did not have a repentant heart (a heart that is turned toward God) A.K.A. a circumcised heart:
For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (NRS Isa. 57:15)
Real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God. (NRS Rom. 2:29)
Simon wanted the Spirit in order to perform magic, tell the future, make money and be honored. He was accustomed to dealing with ordinary spirits and not the Holy Wisdom of God. He did not ask out of humility:
The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Prov. 15:33)
Are there two spirits that indwell followers of Jesus? A spirit of Wisdom (perhaps an angel named “Wisdom”) and a Holy Spirit? No, the scriptures are clear—there is one Spirit:
We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, and we were all given the one spirit to drink. (1 Cor. 12:13)
For through Him [Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Eph. 2:18)
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph. 4:4-6)
The only difference between Wisdom and the Holy Spirit is in the Old Testament the Spirit of Wisdom was passed just to certain individuals: to Godly leaders of the Israelites (both judges and kings) in order that they may know God’s will; to (artistic) individuals who were required to build God’s tent of meeting (Ex. 31:3), and also to God’s chosen prophets for the purposes of speaking spiritual truths. Such prophets included Saul: “the spirit of God rushed upon him and put him in a prophetic state” (1 Sam. 10:10). And Daniel, “The spirit of God is in you [Daniel] that you may possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom.” (Dan. 5:14). And the prophetess Huldah, “She declared to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants’” (2 Kings 22:15-16).
In these cases the Spirit of God can also leave a person as the Spirit did with Saul (Sam. 16:14). In contrast, in the New Testament, the Spirit is promised to any and every believer who turns their heart toward God. God has now reached out to everyone with His promised free gift, bringing to life the words of the prophet Joel as well as the words of Moses:
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)
Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them! (Num. 11:29)
Through studying the Bible it becomes clear, Wisdom is not merely “prudent actions” or even “Godly knowledge.” Wisdom is someone—the Spirit of the living God. There are an overwhelming abundance of corresponding characteristics between Wisdom, as described in the Old and New Testament (including the Old Testament Apocrypha), and the Holy Spirit of the New Testament. I encourage everyone to spend time not only studying Wisdom but also seeking for her. After all, far too many of us want the Holy Spirit’s power; not enough of us desire her friendship.