Wisdom, Pt. 1

  • Steve Hatter
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What is wisdom? Is wisdom different from knowledge? Must one be educated to be wise? The answering of these questions seems now the “debate-behind-the-debate” as our ruling authorities continue to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and its unfolding decision points. My blog this week will be Part One of a two-part covering of this topic.  

A cursory internet search of “wisdom verses knowledge” yielded countless musings and assertions, some compelling, more arguably weak. Generally, the postings assert that most people instinctively know there is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Some even bluntly quoted this adage: “I wouldn’t want to rely on an educated fool.” Education—which in our time has become the accumulation of knowledge measured in degrees and certifications—does not alone create a wise, discerning mind. As Christians, how are we to speak to the wisdom versus knowledge question?

My draw to an answer led me first to the Old Testament narrative found in 1 Kings. Chapter three describes an incredible gift young Solomon was given by God early in his kingship over Israel. Solomon had inherited the throne from his father, David, and feeling the pressures of leadership upon his youth and inexperience, cried out to Yahweh:

“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:7–9)


Solomon’s humble prayer pleased God, and so He answered the request:

“Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you” (1 Kings 3:11–12).

Wow, an incomparably “wise and discerning” mind was bestowed on the young king by the Sovereign of the universe! Let that sink in for a minute. God made him the smartest guy ever!

Well, how did Solomon do with God’s gift? We know this “smartest guy ever” ruled Israel for a long time, and he did some good things as her sovereign, perhaps the most noteworthy being that he oversaw the finishing of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. However, we also know Solomon had a pride problem that he manifested in disobedience. His disobedience had negative consequences both in his own life and in Israel’s corporate story. Solomon led Israel into a downward spiral of follow-on failed kings, an eventual kingdom split, and ultimately crushing national invasion and captivity.

Solomon did not foresee these longer-term curses, but he did muse late in his life about what he had learned in the use and misuse of his wisdom. Those inspired reflections, most scholars agree, are the Book of Ecclesiastes. I stand amazed at the incredible relevance of Ecclesiastes in our current circumstances. 

Life has been hard since the fall, and surely it remains hard today. Ecclesiastes taught the Old Testament saint regarding the mystifying experience of living under the curse. In fallen creation, wherein men could never fully know what eternal God was doing or why, the book’s message mirrored the conundrum of Job, who was challenged to trust and surrender to God, even as he suffered greatly. Some seek to mitigate or even ignore the consequences of the fall, and Solomon wrote of this. He offered perspective on his quest to find meaning in worldly pursuit apart from God—work, pleasure, health, wealth, power, and other endeavors—only to find his effort and energy ultimately leading to wastes, or vanity. Moreover, the reality of man’s mortality led Solomon to ruminate extensively that all life was vain absent “understanding,” which could only come from Yahweh. The depressing emptiness associated with a man’s chasing of things “under the sun,” combined with the specter of his sure physical death begged help from God as to the wise way one should live in a fallen world of seeming futility. Solomon, as God’s inspired scribe, landed on three “helps” for the Old Testament saint:” Fear God, Work, and Enjoy Good Gifts.

Fear God

The fact that no man can ever know the inner workings of God’s creation troubled Solomon. However, the reality of God’s sovereignty, power, and judgment over all emerged as the only great certainty germane to Solomon’s deliberations. Solomon knew that despite a person’s ambitions or intentions, there was little any man could do to change the fallen creation for the better. Further, God’s omniscience and just nature left Solomon to conclude the only fulfilled life was one lived in proper recognition of God, and man’s service to Him:

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (Ecclesiastes 8:12–13).

Any life apart from humble submission to God was then—and remains today—doomed to frustration, pointlessness, and meaningless death. However, Solomon wished to tell the Jewish believer who would humble himself before God in faith, that he could yet live in the cursed creation with purpose and even joy, albeit limited. Such purpose and joy were found through understanding work and God’s good gifts.

Next week I’ll go deeper into these two categories—work and good gifts.  I’ll consider how we, as New Testament saints, can not only benefit from Solomon’s teachings on works and good gifts but also how we can seek and receive wisdom for living under the New Covenant, as found in the testimony of the New Testament book of James. As a teaser, consider this…James 1:5 says:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Hey, that sounds like the same way Solomon received wisdom, imagine that!