Week of May 29

Reflections on Park Rangers and Wisdom

Read: Proverbs 7-9; Romans 9
“For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”
Proverbs 8:35-36, ESV


Treasures often are found buried and are discovered through much sacrifice. The treasure of wisdom, however, is abundantly available and easily discernible if one follows the one True Guide. God gives wisdom, and this is good because it is a vital attribute of His world and holds the key to a successful life. Let’s learn about godly wisdom today.

Understanding the Bible Context

A distinct pattern with a definite purpose
Duane Garrett writes that this section in Proverbs is “a two-proverb collection with elements of both parallelism and inclusio [something like an envelope structure; similar beginning and end] in which the proverbs together form an ethical merismus” (NAC). I’m smiling as I type merismus! In my best Mr. Rogers’ voice, I instruct, “Can you say ethical merismus?”

Merismus describes a figure of speech in which two parts of a thing, perhaps contrasting or complementary parts, are made to stand for the whole. For example, “finds me” (v. 35) is paralleled by “fails to find me” (v. 36) and “life” (v. 35) is answered by “death” (v. 36). Overall, obtaining the Lord’s favor contrasts embracing death (NAC). Have I ever told you that Duane was an older teenager in my home church youth group when I was growing up? How’s that for making something of yourself?! He has taught us a new word, and way, to appreciate Scripture. Let me tag on to his literary analysis and explain the ethics in these verses.
Presenting moral truth within poetic structure
We typically use language in church that is ethics-laden and never know it. That is entirely fine with me—Jesus is the way!—but I hope that you know there is more to a pecan than just the shell, so to speak. The parallel claims that Solomon states lay out before us what we often term “the wide” and “the narrow” path in the New Testament (Matthew 7:13-14). This ethical concept is termed the “doctrine of the two ways.” Life is not just about goodies and games but is a moral path (worldview) that shapes the decisions that we make and the direction that we ultimately follow. Got it?

Solomon used a familiar poetic structure in his day to present this powerful moral point. One will either be so devoted to wisdom that he/she will cling to every word (cf. v. 34, “watching daily at my doors”) or he/she will hate her (v. 36)! No one, in direct contrast to contemporary claims, is ever truly able to straddle the moral fence. “It is a matter of life or death,” says Garrett (NAC). I agree, and not just because we were in the same youth group! Let me explain.
The moral message
So, Solomon invites you and me in Proverbs 8 to receive a gift from God—wisdom. Read slowly here. We must get our ethical application correct. “Wisdom as woman” in the Proverbs represents an “attribute” of creation (cf. 1:20-33; NAC). She personifies the fact that the world has a rational structure and was not the result of some chaotic origin with no meaning or purpose.

God created wisdom, and this attribute helps you and me to see order in the world (v. 8:22). Our search for moral meaning in a confusing existence is aided by wisdom, which is always to be subordinated to the one true God. Therefore, our faith in God enables us to rightly apply wisdom to our understanding of the way God has ordered His creation and to lead successful lives.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

I enjoy museums and guided tours of historical sites. My family chuckled recently when we recalled the park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico telling the crowd of tourists, among whom our family of four was numbered, “It will take you about three hours to reach the bottom of the cavern.” I told my family, “We can do this in one-and-a-half hours,” and we did! I recall saying something to Shawna and the children as we rushed through, “That’s a stalagmite. We’ve seen many of these, so let’s keep it moving.” I do vaguely remember printed signs along the way that described the various formations we observed. OK. There is a lesson in my hurry: Do not override the gift of wisdom like you are on a lightning tour.

On other occasions, I have visited museums where I was handed a listening device that enabled me to appreciate more clearly the art that I was viewing. I would move slowly and thoughtfully from painting to sculpture and click on the appropriate icon on my touch screen and listen to a deeper and richer explanation of the art that was before me. Obviously, the voice on the recording was not a novice! Experts provided me with an analysis of what I was viewing.

Let’s stretch this illustration and apply it to God-given “wisdom.” God has built into this world a “voice” named “wisdom” that provides the explanation of what we “see” in the world and instruction in the best way to live. We hear the voice through the listening device of faith. Both wisdom and faith are God’s gift to us, and they are to be subordinate to Him. Our lives are successful when we follow “this path” (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Ponder for a while what “recording” is speaking into your ear as you live in our world. Seek godly wisdom and ask the Lord to help you to use it to see how to live successfully.

2. Wisdom, very often, can become misaligned, and we veer off the path if we resort to our human perspectives. This is why we subordinate our human reasoning to God’s will and seek His direction through faith.

First, faith sometimes requires us to wait to make a wise decision! The point is for us to train ourselves to wait on God through faith, as necessary, to make wise choices. Secondly, wisdom will instruct us immediately to speak the truth. Hurry leads to moral wrecks. We bend the truth to fulfill our desires and we and others suffer from it. Review a recent decision that did not work. Look for specific ways that you failed to exercise God’s wisdom. Write down ways that you will build God’s wisdom into your life going forward.

3. For Families: Ask your children to help you with something. Tell them that you need a series of step-by-step instructions, or tips, about how to prepare for various activities in your family’s life. For example, you need to know how they pack a bag for a beach vacation, or clean up their rooms, or feed the dog, or build a fort in the yard, or make a peanut butter sandwich. Have them write down six or seven steps for each task.

Then have them record these instructions on your phone’s recording function, and play them back for your family to hear. Then explain to them about this passage, and how, just like their own recordings, God has created wisdom to help us to live for Him. When we trust and obey God, and expect Him to help us, He tells our hearts what is the good and right way to live. God’s plans and ways are always best.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock