A wise man will hear and increase learning,
and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
As we learned from our last study together, Solomon has some pointed words to say to the simple and to the impetuous young men. Remember?
To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion (Prov. 1:4).
But he also has much to say to those who lived on the other end of the continuum: the wise, the learned, the men of understanding who seek wise, Godly counsel. You see, Proverbs is a book given to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16) and is for all of us: the young, the old, the dedicated as well as the apathetic, the hot, the cold, and the lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-17), the theologically trained and the ones who only know one thing, “that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25). It’s for everyone. And regardless of our sinful, broken past or our life of privilege and opulence, the wisdom of God revealed in the Proverbs calls each of us, no matter who we are, wherever we are, into a deeper relationship with Him.
And in the closing two verses of the preamble to this grand gift to us, Solomon lets the pendulum swing hard to the other side and turns his attention to the opposite of the simple and naive. He now addresses the wise and astute, the ones who should know better, who do know better, and shows us how to understand the book we are now reading.
Let’s take a look at what Solomon had to say to those who live on the other side of the spiritual track.
The Wisdom of the Wise
In Proverbs 1:5-6 we read:
A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
As you can see, Solomon is addressing two categories of people in this passage: a wise man and a man of understanding. But who are these people and what about their character draws us to them?
The term wise man is used to describe “one who is skilled or experienced.” The Proverbs expand this definition by showing a wise man is one “who continues to learn and is teachable (Prov. 9:9, 13:1), is one who heeds and accepts a rebuke (Prov. 9:8, 15:31), and one who speaks properly (Prov. 14:3, 15:2, 16:23).”1 But there’s much more. For Solomon continually contrasts the life of the wise man with the not-so-wise man to show us the inevitable results of the choices we make. For example:
Proverbs 3:35 – The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the legacy of fools.
Proverbs 10:8 – The wise in heart will receive commands, but a prating fool will fall.
Proverbs 10:14 – Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.
Remember, a wise man is only wise because he has received the wisdom from God that makes him wise. His wisdom does not come from within himself, or from some university degree, or his apparent success in this world. Scripture tells us that all the wisdom this world can offer is “foolishness (or, moronic, folly, absurdity) before God” and will soon fade away (1 Cor. 3:19). It means nothing. Zilch.
Proverbs 1:5 begins by telling us the “wise man will hear (or, listen, be attentive, understand, obey) and, as a result of hearing, increase (or, to do again, to add, to continue) learning (or, receive teaching, insight, instruction).” The wise man thirsts for more, wants more, craves more. He will not be satisfied with trifle tidbits of information designed to placate his curiosity. He’s inquisitive, with an insatiable appetite for more than what he’s already received. “If there’s more to Christ than I know right now, I want it! And I won’t be satisfied with anything less.”
The wise man, the one filled with the wisdom of God, with Christ Himself (1 Cor. 1:30), will hear, listen, understand, and then obey what he receives from the Lord. He will be loyal and trustworthy, faithful with the small, what he now has, knowing Christ will soon reward him with greater truths (Luke 16:10). And the more he sees of Jesus, the more he understands about Jesus, the more he lives in the unbroken presence of Jesus, the more he wants Jesus. Nothing else matters. Nothing else can satisfy.
This wise man will hear from the Lord and then increase or continue in what he has learned. He wants to know more, to experience more, to understand more. He will study the Scriptures to “present himself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). He will diligently memorize Scripture in order to “hide God’s word in his heart, that he might not sin against God” (Psalm 119:11) and he will work hard to grow in the wisdom God has provided him (Prov. 9:9).
A Man of Understanding
A “man of understanding” (biyn), on the other hand, is a man of “comprehension and discernment, one who exhibits righteous actions with a strong moral and religious connotation.” He’s a man who strives after the things of God and who can discern the difference between, not only the “good and the bad”— but also the “good and the best.”
And it says “a man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5). The word attain means to “get, buy, possess” at all costs and is reminiscent of the Kingdom parables spoken by our Lord. Remember? A man finds a treasure hidden in a field and joyfully goes and sells all he has to purchase the field (Matt. 13:44). Why? To attain the treasure, no matter the costs. Again, a merchant seeking beautiful pearls finds what he’s looking for and sells all he has to buy the pearl, the object of his search and obviously the passion of his life (Matt. 13:45-46). Why? Because he would not let anything keep him for attaining the pearl, even if it costs him all he has. And so it is with the “man of understanding” when it comes to getting wise counsel.
The phrase “wise counsel” means wise “guidance, direction, or good advice” and the importance of that virtue is taught many places throughout the Proverbs. For example:
Proverbs 11:14 – Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.
Proverbs 13:10 – By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.
Proverbs 20:18 – Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.
Proverbs 24:6 – For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, and in a multitude of counselors there is safety.
As you can see, a “man of understanding” seeks the wise counsel in order to learn from others who have also received the wisdom of God. Why? Because they lead to collective wisdom, for no one man can know everything there is to know about all things. After all, “he who walks with wise men will be wise” (Prov. 13:20) and “a wise man is strong, yes, a man of knowledge increases strength” (Prov. 24:5). Need we say more?
Riddles and Dark Sayings
But what about the last part of this passage? What about the “riddles and dark sayings”? It seems the “wise man” and the “man of understanding” will “hear and increase learning” and “attain wise counsel” for only one reason: “to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).
“But what’s an enigma and the words of the wise and their riddles”? you ask. Great question. And one we will look into next time.
Until then, enjoy some wise sayings from our own culture.
“Two minds are better than one.”
“Many hands make light work.”
Or, how about this one: “When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.”
Adveho quis may.
Come what may.
1. How would you describe your quiet time with the Lord?
2. Do you have a special place where you meet daily with the Lord? Does He meet you there? And, if so, what is your time with Him like?
3. Do you have a group of fellow believers who speak wisdom into your life? If so, how did you meet them? How has your intimacy and trust with them grown over time?
4. If you don’t have those in your life who can offer you wise counsel, why? And, are you a person who is in a position to offer wise counsel to others? If so, how did that relationship come about? If not, why?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?
Next Step Challenge
Take a sheet of paper and write down 5 people you know to be wise and ones you would trust to receive counsel from. What about their lives leads you to trust them? What character traits do they possess that you admire the most? What single thing in their life speaks loudest about their relationship with Christ?
Do you have the same character traits in your life that you admire in theirs? If not, what are you prepared to do about that? Are you willing to humble yourself before the Lord and ask Him to change you into the person He wants you to be, no matter the costs? Have you asked Him for His wisdom, for His Son, and have you received Him on His terms?
Finally, make a list of 5 people you would never go to for wise advice. List the reasons why. Then compare the two lists and see which one most describes your own character traits.
Is the news good or bad? And what are you prepared to do about it?
1. Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 336). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.