For the past few years, whenever someone asks what my favorite book in the Bible is, I respond, “Ecclesiastes.” The picture King Solomon paints for man’s life is not always a beautiful one, but it is as accurate as it gets.
This favoritism I have toward this book may be due to the candor Solomon displays or perhaps my affinity for Ernest Hemingway (fans will catch the reference). When reading Solomon’s writings, you will notice a particular virtue that is mentioned throughout. Of course you guessed it: wisdom (I did mention it in the title).
SOLOMON & WISDOM
Before reaching his two famous books not named The Song of Songs (or The Song of Solomon), we should reference 1 Kings 3 and 2 Chronicles 1. In Gibeon, God said to him in a dream, “Ask what I shall give thee.” In his request, you will see the correlation of his writings in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. According to 1 Kings 3, he is recorded as requesting “an understanding heart” to best judge the people of Israel, and in 2 Chronicles 1, he is recorded as requesting “wisdom and knowledge” to best judge the people of Israel (of course, there is no difference in the two).
In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, wisdom is mentioned 55 and 25 times, respectively; understanding is mentioned 54 and one time, respectively; and knowledge is mentioned 41 and seven times, respectively. Solomon mentions the necessity of the same virtues 183 times. There are only 43 chapters combined in both books. It is the reiteration that should be noted.
As wisdom, understanding and knowledge are needed to ensure justice, the words “justice”, “just” and “judgment” are referenced 58 times. But our focus will not be on these words.
THE WISDOM OF INSTRUCTION
A word that is mentioned 25 times in Proverbs (though none in Ecclesiastes – there is a reason for that) is "instruction." Solomon rightly states that the path to wisdom, knowledge, and understanding must come by instruction. In fact, Proverbs begins twice with wisdom and instruction side-by-side:
Proverbs 1:2-3, “To know wisdom and instruction… To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity.”
THE SOURCE OF WISDOM
When Solomon responded to God in his dream, he referenced his father, David. He understood the importance of adhering to his father’s words and instructions. In fact, in the first verse of Proverbs 1, notice instead of “The proverbs of Solomon, king of Israel”, he writes, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.”
In this book, Solomon states four different times for children to listen to their father’s instructions (Proverbs 1:8, 4:1, 13:1, and 15:5). He also warns children against listening to wrong instruction (Proverbs 19:27).
His reference to his earthly father is substantial, as this is where his instruction began. In this recognition, he also referenced his heavenly Father, Whose laws guided the steps of David. Solomon, even before obtaining the supernatural ability for wisdom, had understanding of at least the source of his current wisdom and where it had always and would always come from. Wisdom is transcendent, not ascendant. It must be passed down. It comes from the previous generations, never from the most current.
Solomon made this obvious in Proverbs 19:20 when he wrote, “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” In other words, gaining wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is a process, and often, depending on how wise you wish to be, a timely process.
INSTRUCTION LEADS TO POWER
Solomon calls those who reject instruction fools. It is a proper assignment, for who, other than a fool, would despise and reject instruction and the opportunity to learn? The fool truly defines himself.
Though stemming from England, it has become an American expression that “knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon is credited with coining the phrase, and Thomas Jefferson used the phrase numerous times in his correspondences. This power is the essence of ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a phrase used in the Declaration of Independence, of which Jefferson is commonly considered the author.
As in the Jeffersonian phrase, this power is not about riches. It is about much more than that. Hence the reason Solomon wrote “Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold (Proverbs 8:10).” This proverb is a direct reflection of what Solomon was told in his dream: “And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days (1 Kings 3:13).”
The qualities of riches and honor simply tend to follow those who seek instruction, though perhaps not to the quantity of a king. The contrasting side to this is shown in Proverbs 13:18, “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction.”
INSTRUCTION IS LIFE
Instruction is the path to life—a good and prosperous life. Along with instruction being transcendent (from the older generations), it is also, or at least can also be constant. This is why he writes in Proverbs 4:13, “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.”
As I mentioned, Ecclesiastes does not mention the word “instruction”; but the entire book should be considered “the great instruction” as it is Solomon looking back over his life and expressing all he has learned and studied, and how he now views life and mankind.
As often as Solomon mentions wisdom, understanding and knowledge in his two books, it is instruction that creates those virtues. All of it must stem from previous generations. The most prolific wisdom, however, can only be gifted from God. So as much as Solomon mentions the virtues of wisdom, the first and only step toward it is taking instruction, which is itself a very wise decision.
The next virtue in Part II, however, is only mentioned 10 times in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, yet without it, all virtues fail.