Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.
(Proverbs 4:7 NKJV)
God’s Word exhorts us to get wisdom – to seek it and acquire it. The book of Proverbs is full of such exhortations. But how does one acquire wisdom? Where does it come from? How do you find it, and who may possess it?
Job declared to his three friends, “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old” (Job 12:12 NLT). Perhaps you’ve heard this idiom, which confirms Job’s claim: “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.”
Sorry, kiddos; it looks like you’re out of luck. Wisdom appears to be reserved for senior citizens. God’s Word has declared it as such, so thanks for playing our game and be sure to pick up your parting gift on the way out.
Age is a relative thing, so we all likely have a different perspective on where the line of demarcation exists where one officially crosses over into the demographic of those we call old. Regardless, Job 12:12 may be a bit disheartening if you are under the age of say . . . 40 or 50?
Let not your heart be troubled, my friend. Job advances his postulate on wisdom in the very next verse with these words:
But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.
(Job 12:13 NLT)
This should give us all hope. Since true wisdom is found in God that means it is available to everyone who looks to the Source of true wisdom – regardless of their age. 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” (emphasis added).
So why all the fuss concerning wisdom? Let’s take a closer look at our opening text: “Wisdom is the principal thing . . .” (emphasis added). Note the spelling is principal, not principle. The distinction in usage is that of an adjective versus a noun. Here, Solomon is saying that wisdom is the beginning, first, choice, chief, or best thing. He’s not saying wisdom is simply one of many principles by which to live. He’s saying it’s the best and most important thing you could ever possess. It is superlative language intended to convince us that no other pursuit is as valuable and beneficial as the pursuit of wisdom.
This begs the question, “Why?” Why is wisdom so important? Why is wisdom worth more than gold or silver (Proverbs 16:16)? Why should we cry out for insight and ask for understanding (Proverbs 2:3)? How about to discern which mother a baby belongs to (1 Kings 3:16-28); or to offer more than just platitudes to a friend grieving the loss of a loved one (Proverbs 25:11)? Perhaps you need wisdom to know how to discipline your child or counsel them through those difficult adolescent years? And let us not forget the wisdom required for making sound business decisions, or knowing which job to take, or who to marry. Some choices we make can have a ripple effect for years to come. This is why we need wisdom, and why we need it more than fame, fortune, or fun.
Wisdom is not intended simply to benefit me. If I possess wisdom, I can also use it to help others. Here’s a case in point: when I was a young man, I made a number of terribly poor financial choices that resulted in amassing more than $100,000 in consumer debt. That’s right – consumer debt (i.e. debt not including my mortgage). When wisdom finally entered my brain, I made right choices that led to paying off all of that debt in three years and eight months. But here’s the real takeaway: though my unwise decisions cost my wife and me dearly, I realized later that I could use my (negative) experience as wisdom to benefit those following behind me – especially my children. And that, my friends, gave me reason to hope that God would provide a bit of redemption to my story by allowing me to use it to steer others clear of the pitfalls and potholes I either fell into or downright dug for myself. So in that sense I think it is at least possible to place an older head on young shoulders. It simply requires that those with experience be willing to share it and for those in their youth to receive it.
In continuing his defense to his friends, Job articulates this bit of insight concerning wisdom from Job 28, and punctuates it with a message for all of us:
1 People know where to mine silver
and how to refine gold.
2 They know where to dig iron from the earth
and how to smelt copper from rock.
3 They know how to shine light in the darkness
and explore the farthest regions of the earth
as they search in the dark for ore.
12 But do people know where to find wisdom?
Where can they find understanding?
23 God alone understands the way to wisdom;
he knows where it can be found,
28 And this is what he says to all humanity:
The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.