The wise person recognizes they are surrounded by temptation every day. If there isn’t an external pressure to ignore the ways of God, there are internal pressures that lure us from the path of Wisdom. So what is it this wise person does to not only recognize temptation but to avoid it? The Apostle Paul once told the Corinthians that the Lord does not allow us to be tempted beyond our power to overcome, and yet we continue to fall. How do we learn to break that cycle?
We are admonished over and over in the first few chapters of Proverbs to pay close attention to the voice of Wisdom. We are supposed to learn how to recognize her voice, bind her sayings around our necks, and write her ways on our hearts. And in this way the simple heart learns not just the words of Wisdom but her ways. And her ways become the guardrails for our path. If we are pulled too close to the edge of the path, we hit a guardrail – a precept – and we know what needs to be done. In short, if we keep the ways of the Lord, the ways of the Lord keep us.
Solomon says that when we are attentive to Wisdom, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path” (vs. 9). Wisdom is understanding – an understanding of the ways of the Lord. If Wisdom decrees that we ought not be selfish but share our goods with those in need, we will only find the truth of that if we are walking in Wisdom’s path. The fool, however, sees their goods in a different way and hordes instead of gives. Or even if they give, do they do so with a heart inclined in the right direction? How many of us give to be seen giving?
And Wisdom is a matter of both heart and hands: “for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (vs 10). A wise life constructs in us a taste for God’s truth and His ways. The wiser we are, the more we love the truth and revelation of God. We will love getting to know him. And as part of this path, our hearts are changed. The wise life is lived from the inside out. We can fake a wise act from time to time, but the insight and motivation that Wisdom creates in us cannot be counterfeited for very long. Wisdom is an inclination; it is a way of perceiving and filtering the world. Wise acts are like the surface spring of an underground stream.
This underground stream of wisdom, will in turn guide a life in the ways of the Lord. “Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil” (vs 11-12). Thinking again of Paul’s remark about temptation and our ability to overcome, we see in the ways of Wisdom our path through temptation. Discretion and understanding are results of a person’s dedication to the knowledge of God, and they turn into the clarity with which we see temptation and its destruction. Then we gain, more and more, the strength to overcome.
The Lord will keep his people from the ravages of foolishness and sin, but his people need to hear and heed his voice. Wisdom cries aloud in the streets and in the marketplace asking us to learn what she says. Humans don’t magically or mistakenly avoid folly and end up living lives of wisdom. That is a job – a life-long job of seeking after and valuing the wisdom of the Lord. But in the end our lives are kept safe from our own folly when we learn to keep the ways of the Lord.