Wise Sayings for the Modern Day
“Acquire Wisdom, and with All That You Acquire, Acquire Understanding.”—Prov. 4:7.
1. Why is life in happiness not a purely selfish desire, and how may it be gained in a perfect world?
LIFE in happiness—that is what we all want, do we not? That may sound like a selfish question. However, man was originally made to live, and to be happy in living. So happy living is a natural desire. By proving worthy of eternal life we vindicate God the Life-giver. In harmony with that Jehovah God created the first man perfect and put him in a paradise, the garden of Eden, where it was possible for him to live forever in the perfect enjoyment of life. As all of us were then in the loins of that original man, and yet to be born from him, that possibility of everlasting life in complete happiness was then ours also. But the opportunity of our being born of perfect parents in a paradise of happiness was lost to us. How? By the unwisdom of our first human parent, Adam; and look what a state all mankind is in in this so-called modern day! The human family is anything but happy, its expectation of life is cut down to far less than an average of a hundred years, and the very existence of the entire human family now seems to be threatened by the sudden dreaded explosion of the human bomb in a third world war of the most modern style. Happily our Creator, Jehovah God, has reopened the opportunity for lovers of life to gain everlasting happiness in a perfect world. Gain it how? By wisdom.
2. How does such life-bringing wisdom differ from the wisdom of this world?
2 Such life-bringing wisdom differs far from what this world has. The wisdom of this world has brought it to its woeful state, and by the wisdom of this world there is no possibility either of getting out of this woeful state or of at last gaining life in happiness. The wisdom of this world is from below, from beneath, from fallen, selfish men, who lean upon their own understanding. Insofar as it comes from the realm outside of mankind, that is, from the unseen, it comes from wicked demons, from devils, and so is demonic, devilish. The wisdom of this world does not know that “the god of this world” is Satan the Devil, the great adversary of Jehovah and man. Nothing else can account for it that the race of mankind has reached such a degraded, loveless, self-seeking condition, unable to live with itself and unable to keep peace and harmony among the members of its own family, but going in the way that leads to its own suicide in atomic warfare over political, religious, racial and economic differences. Far differently, the wisdom that leads to endless life in the happy and free world comes down from above. Insofar as it comes from outside of man, it comes from Jehovah God, the great Giver of life, peace and happiness.
3. With what wisdom, then, must we be wise, and from where must we get it, as illustrated by the wisest king of ancient times?
3 To live, then, we must be wise with a wisdom different from that of this world. We must get this wisdom neither from educational schools of this world nor from its so-called school of experience. We must get it from the only place to get it, from Jehovah God. From the wisest king of ancient times we get this piece of advice: “Jehovah himself gives wisdom; out of his mouth there are knowledge and discernment. And for the upright ones he will treasure up practical wisdom; for those walking in integrity he is a shield.” (Prov. 2:6, 7) From this same source he had got his own wisdom, so that he knew what to tell us. He was a young man when he became king of the twelve tribes of Israel in the year 1037 before the Christian era. When Jehovah God appeared to him by means of a dream and asked the young King Solomon what he wanted, Solomon answered: “Give me now wisdom and knowledge that I may go out before this people and that I may come in, for who could judge this great people of yours?” At this request God was pleased, and in actuality he gave Solomon extraordinary wisdom and knowledge. (2 Chron. 1:7-12; 1 Ki. 5:12) The historical record tells us: “Solomon’s wisdom was vaster than the wisdom of all the Orientals and than all the wisdom of Egypt.”—1 Ki. 4:30.
4. Going to some of Solomon’s preserved wisdom today is like what activity of ancient times, and whose wisdom are we really studying?
4 In support of this the Bible history further tells us: “He could speak three thousand proverbs and his songs came to be a thousand and five.” The book in the Bible known as Proverbs quite fittingly comes from Solomon’s pen. It is introduced with these words: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, the king of Israel, for one to know wisdom and discipline, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive the discipline that gives insight, righteousness and judgment and uprightness, to give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness, to a young man knowledge and thinking ability. A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction, to understand a proverb and a puzzling saying, the words of wise persons and their riddles.” (Prov. 1:1-6) In Bible history it is written: “And they kept coming from all the peoples to hear Solomon’s wisdom, even from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” (1 Ki. 4:32, 34) Since all the people of the earth, including the queen of Sheba, came from various distances to hear Solomon’s wisdom, it is wisdom on our part today to go to some of his wisdom, which God’s power has preserved for us in the book of Proverbs. Since this book was written under heavenly inspiration, and since Solomon’s wisdom was really that which “God had put in his heart,” then when we study the book of Proverbs we are really studying not just Solomon’s wisdom, a mere man’s wisdom, but the wisdom of Jehovah God. (1 Ki. 10:23, 24) These proverbs sum up eternal truths and so are just as up to date now as then.
5. What is the secret of wisdom that Solomon gives us, and why did the greatest witness of Jehovah on earth compare Solomon with himself?
5 Solomon, the king of Jerusalem, in his proverbs gives us the secret of true wisdom. It is this: “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is. For by me your days will become many and to you years of life will be added.” Also: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge. Wisdom and discipline are what mere fools have despised.” (Prov. 9:10, 11; 1:7) From these words we can see that Solomon encouraged the knowledge and the fear of Jehovah, and he was a witness of Jehovah; in fact, the most outstanding witness of Jehovah in his day. The greatest witness ever on earth compared Solomon with himself. This was Jesus Christ, who said nineteen centuries ago: “The queen of the south [the queen of Sheba] will be raised up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it; because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but, look! something more than Solomon is here.” (Matt. 12:42) It will be interesting to see how King Solomon wrote about Jesus Christ, the one wiser and greater than Solomon.
6. So what is first of all necessary for all life seekers and in this behalf what are Jehovah’s witnesses today doing just as Solomon did?
6 However, since life-giving knowledge and wisdom have their start in knowing and fearing Jehovah, it is first of all necessary for all life seekers to fear Jehovah God. Before we can intelligently fear him we must know him, not according to the way that religiously mixed-up Christendom teaches about him, but according to the way that Proverbs and the rest of God’s written Word tell us about him. And just as King Solomon witnessed concerning Jehovah God, so Jehovah’s witnesses of this modern day are very actively bringing to all peoples the true knowledge of God by printed page and by word of mouth, as Solomon himself foretold.
7. First of all, then, what must we know, and why this?
7 First of all, we must know that Jehovah God is the Creator of all things seen and unseen, and on the foundation of that knowledge we must have faith or a living, impelling belief that he exists. Why? Because “without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) The visible creation all around us and also the invisible forces with which we have become acquainted are the marvel of all mankind, even the materialistic scientists who do not believe in a personal creator. The more they study and learn, the more they are obliged to confess that creation displays knowledge, wisdom and understanding with which they can never catch up. And why not? Because, as inspired Solomon writes: “Jehovah himself in wisdom founded the earth. He solidly fixed the heavens in discernment. By his knowledge the surging waters themselves were split apart, and the cloudy skies keep dripping down light rain.” (Prov. 3:19, 20) As he is the source of all creation visible and invisible, there was a time in the eternal past when Jehovah God was all alone, for he is eternal.
8. Although then alone, what knowledge did he have?
8 Although he was all alone in endless space he had knowledge; he had knowledge of himself and he knew there was no one else in boundless space. He was well acquainted with all his powers lying within himself, for he was the almighty One, with whom nothing is impossible. He knew the time for the beginning of his creation. When that time came he began exercising wisdom.
9. How did Jehovah show matchless wisdom right from creation’s start, and what did Jehovah then use his only Son in doing, and why?
9 Right from the start of creation he displayed matchless wisdom. What, then, was his first creation? A son—his first son, his only direct son. He was not earthly, as we are, because the earth did not then exist. He was spirit, just like his heavenly Father, and so was able to see, hear and talk with his Father, and to be in his personal company. What Jehovah God called his Son at that time we do not know. But Jehovah God gave to him immeasurably more wisdom than he ever gave to King Solomon; so much so that it was as if God had made this thing called wisdom into a living, personal creature. It was as if wisdom itself were made into a person, so perfectly did this Son show the wisdom of his heavenly Father. The Son even refers to himself as wisdom. Just as it is often the case on earth that a son works with his father, so Jehovah God wanted his Son to work with him. He knew that it was not good for such a talented Son to be idle. It would be a waste of his Son’s talents not to use them in his service. This wise Son was not lazy. Eager to work, he wanted to do what his heavenly Father and Creator and Life-giver desired him to do. In harmony with this, Jehovah God used this only Son of his in the creating of all other things seen and unseen, animate and inanimate.
10. What does this heavenly Son talk about, and why does he speak of himself as wisdom, though in Hebrew “wisdom” is feminine in gender?
10 Under the inspiration of God, the Proverbs of Solomon picture the heavenly Son of God as wisdom personified, and hence as talking about the creative work from the very beginning. Of course, in the Hebrew language the word “wisdom” is in the feminine gender, but when the Son of God used the word “wisdom” as meaning himself it did not mean that he was feminine or womanly. He was merely referring to an outstanding quality that God had given him and he was using this as his name to show that this quality of God was active through him in the work of creation. So he says:
11. What does wisdom personified have to say with reference to creation, in Proverbs 8:12, 22-31?
11 “I, wisdom, I have resided with shrewdness and I find even the knowledge of thinking abilities. Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way [Revelation 3:14], the earliest of his achievements of long ago. From time indefinite I was installed, from the start, from times earlier than the earth. When there were no surging waters I was brought forth as with labor pains, when there were no springs heavily charged with water. Before the mountains themselves had been settled down, ahead of the hills, I was brought forth as with labor pains, when as yet he had not made the earth and the open spaces and the first part of the dust masses of the productive land. When he prepared the heavens I was there; when he decreed a horizon upon the face of the surging waters, when he made firm the cloud masses above, when he caused the fountains of the surging waters to be strong, when he set for the sea his decree that the waters themselves should not pass beyond his order, when he decreed the foundations of the earth, then I came to be beside him as a master worker and I came to be what he was specially fond of day by day, I being glad before him all the time, being glad at the productive land of his earth, and the things I was fond of were with the sons of men.”—Prov. 8:12, 22-31.
12. Why, then, may it be said that “Jehovah himself in wisdom founded the earth,” and how did the things of which wisdom was fond prove to be with the sons of men?
12 In a very real sense, then, it could be said that “Jehovah himself in wisdom founded the earth,” for he used his wise Son as a “master worker” beside him in doing so. This is in full agreement with what the Christian apostle John later tells us about how all creation came into existence. (John 1:1-3) This created Son of God did not then know that, long after Jehovah said to him: “Let us make man in our image,” he himself would become a man that he might buy back mankind from the terrible consequences of the first man’s unwisdom, his sinning against the simple commandment of Jehovah God. Thus, in a very special sense the Son of God showed that, to quote him, “the things I was fond of were with the sons of men.” On earth he was far wiser than King Solomon, and he said to his faithful apostles that, when they had to give a witness before the political rulers of this earth, “I will give you forceful speech and wisdom which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute.” (Luke 21:15) One of his apostles named Paul sets forth the difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of its Grecian philosophers and the wisdom of God. He says:
13. How does Paul, at 1 Corinthians 1:20-30, set forth the difference between this world’s wisdom and God’s?
13 “Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing. For both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for falling but to the nations foolishness; however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . . in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God. But it is due to him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God.”—1 Cor. 1:20-30.
14. Why is it now the way of wisdom for us to follow and copy Christ, and why is it wiser than the politics of this world to accept him as King?
14 It is therefore the way of wisdom for us in this modern day to become Christ’s disciples and to copy Christ. “Carefully concealed in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Hence the apostle Paul goes on to warn us: “Look out: perhaps there may be some man that will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ; because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:3, 8, 9, margin) Or, to quote The Authentic New Testament (1955) by H. J. Schonfield here: “For it is in him that the immensity of the divine wisdom corporately dwells.” He is the very embodiment of God’s wisdom. Our acceptance of him as the one whom God provided for our salvation from the death that resulted from Adam’s unwisdom leads to life. As wisdom personified he says: “The one finding me will certainly find life, and gets good will from Jehovah. But the one missing me is doing violence to his soul; all those intensely hating me are the ones that do love death.” (Prov. 8:35, 36) It is wiser than the politics of this world for us to accept the glorified Jesus Christ as Jehovah’s anointed King of the New World, for he is far wiser than King Solomon. To him even the angels of heaven say: “The Lamb that was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:11, 12) He has everything that the King of the New World needs.
KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING
15. Why was it unnecessary for Adam to eat from the forbidden tree to get knowledge, and what did he miss out on by disobedience?
15 In the Proverbs King Solomon has much to say about knowledge and wisdom and understanding or discernment. He connects them up with one another. Let us see why. First is knowledge. It comes from Jehovah God. In the garden of Eden, the original home of mankind, God planted among other trees “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” From this tree God commanded the first man Adam not to eat if he wanted to avoid dying. (Gen. 2:9, 15-17) The book of Proverbs, as well as all the rest of the Bible, impressively shows us that Almighty God Jehovah was well able to give Adam the knowledge of good and bad in God’s own time without Adam’s having to disobey God and eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and bad. In disobeying God Adam fell away from the fear of his Creator and so missed out on knowledge, for, as Proverbs 1:7 says: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.”
16. Why does God not want man to fall into ignorance, and, correspondingly, why does Solomon urge us to listen to what he has to say?
16 God did not make man ignorant and he does not want man to fall into ignorance, for that does not result in good. “Also, that the soul should be without knowledge is not good, and he that is hastening with his feet is sinning.” (Prov. 19:2) Knowledge should serve to hold us back from hastening ignorantly into a certain way and thus sinning against God. “Everyone shrewd will act with knowledge, but the one that is stupid will spread abroad foolishness.” (Prov. 13:16) Knowing of the benefits of knowledge of God, the inspired writer of Proverbs urges all seekers of it to listen to what he has to say through this book of the Bible: “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise ones, that you may apply your very heart to my knowledge.”—Prov. 22:17.
17. When did God exercise wisdom first, what is wisdom, and so what does wisdom need and use?
17 During all his everlasting existence before he created his wise Son, Jehovah God had knowledge. When he began creating he put that knowledge to work. It was then that he used wisdom or displayed it. Wisdom is a worker. It is the ability to use knowledge aright; it is the exercise of knowledge in a right way with good results and carrying out one’s purpose. It means action with enlightenment. Wisdom needs knowledge: “The wise are the ones that treasure up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish one is near to ruin itself.” Wisdom uses knowledge: “The tongue of wise ones does good with knowledge, but the mouth of the stupid ones bubbles forth with foolishness. The lips of the wise ones keep scattering knowledge about, but the heart of the stupid ones is not like that.”—Prov. 10:14; 15:2, 7.
18. When God through wisdom finished creating the first man and woman, what did he see, and what is first necessary for us in order to act with God’s wisdom?
18 In creating all other things Jehovah God used wisdom personified in his first son, and used it as a master worker. When God, through wisdom, finished creating the first man and woman, “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Wisdom gives skillful direction to one’s activity, and because of His wisdom and ability all activity of Jehovah God is perfect. Thus wisdom is more than mere knowledge, more than the mere possessing of information in the mind. It is the putting of that information to work in a way that brings honor and praise to the great Fountain of knowledge, Jehovah God, and that therefore brings benefit to his creatures. For us to act with the wisdom of God we have to act with knowledge from him. That is why it is inescapable that we have to go to God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and to study it for its knowledge. Getting knowledge there is necessary for us to gain life. Said wisdom personified to his Father: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Then one can be wise and one’s lips and hands can spread the life-giving knowledge to others.
19. (A) What is an indispensable need besides knowledge and wisdom? (b) Why is knowledge necessary to understanding, but what is understanding in itself?
19 In addition to knowledge and wisdom, understanding is an indispensable need. That is to say, God’s understanding is our need. We cannot pit our own understanding of things, events and arrangements against his: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight. Do not become wise in your own eyes. Fear Jehovah and turn away from bad.” (Prov. 3:5-7; 21:30) To take notice of him in all our ways we have to know him by having a knowledge of what he has said and done. We find this in the Bible. Without a knowledge of him we cannot enjoy the benefits of true understanding. “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is.” Again we are told: “Men given to badness cannot understand judgment, but those who are seeking Jehovah can understand everything.” (Prov. 9:10; 28:5) Understanding therefore means one’s ability to see something in its connected parts, to separate the parts of a thing and to see and know the reason why they belong and act together, and to see all this in its connection with God. It means discernment, always with God in mind. So, then, it is more than wisdom, which is the ability and inclination to use one’s knowledge to carry out one’s purpose to the best effect.
20. How did Jehovah show forth understanding in creating the heavens, and in this regard why did he make man different from the lower animal creation?
20 In the creating of the marvelous heavens visible to us, Jehovah God used and showed forth understanding. From their beginning he knew and discerned all the parts of the heavens and the relationship of those parts to one another and their working together and the effect they have upon one another. What effect they would have upon his creatures on the earth was also important for him to discern and foreknow. He is the “Maker of the heavens with understanding: . . . the One spreading out the earth above the waters: . . . the Maker of the great lights: . . . even the sun for dominion by day: . . . the moon and the stars for combined dominion by night.” (Ps. 136:5-9) “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding hath he stretched out the heavens.” (Jer. 10:12, AS) He created man different from the lower animal creation of earth, in that he gave man the ability to understand and the desire to understand. To keep living man had to understand his relationship to his Creator.
21. Why does a person of understanding go to God’s Word, and why does he keep in close touch with wisdom?
21 To understand we must know what we seek to grasp with the mind with a clearness of vision. “The understanding heart is one that searches for knowledge, but the mouth of the stupid ones is one that aspires to foolishness.” The search that understanding makes for knowledge is rewarded: “The heart of the understanding one acquires knowledge, and the ear of wise ones seeks to find knowledge.” Because the understanding heart sees the Source of true knowledge and acknowledges man’s relationship to God and man’s dependence upon God for all things, such a heart turns to God’s Word for the vital knowledge, and God gives such a heart insight into the meaning of his Word: “By one’s giving insight to a wise person he gets knowledge.” (Prov. 15:14; 18:15; 21:11) A person of understanding not only craves knowledge of all things that are connected with God’s Word and works, and the purpose behind these, but he keeps in close touch with wisdom for the ability and intelligence to use that knowledge in harmony with God. He keeps wisdom close in front of him. “Wisdom is before the face of the understanding one, but the eyes of the stupid one are at the extremity of the earth.” (Prov. 17:24) For what discernment the stupid person has or shows, his eyes might as well be as far off from him as the end of the earth.
22. How does a stupid person differ from an understanding person, and how did King Solomon despite his wisdom turn to stupidity?
22 The stupid person does not keep God in mind or in view; the understanding person does. He is not only wise in fearing Jehovah; he is understanding. He is acting in accord with his godly fear. It was God himself who said: “Look! the fear of Jehovah—that is wisdom, and to turn away from bad is understanding.” (Job 28:28) The understanding person will not refuse a reproof and then ridicule: “The ridiculer you should strike, that the inexperienced one may become shrewd; and there should be a reproving of the understanding one, that he may discern knowledge.” (Prov. 19:25) A mere reproof, not a violent blow, is enough for an understanding person. In spite of all his wisdom, he may act indiscreetly or wrongly. For that reason he may from time to time need a reproof to bring him back to understanding. Encrusted in old age, King Solomon did not take heed to a mere reproof. Despite all the wisdom with which God had favored him, he turned to stupidity. Why? Because he left off understanding. How? He let his vision and his keen sense of his relationship to Jehovah God grow dull; he became like a beast. “Earthling man, although in honor, who does not understand, is indeed comparable with the beasts that have been destroyed.”—Ps. 49:20.
23. So Solomon lost understanding when he did what, and how can we appreciate the great wisdom from which he fell?
23 Solomon lost understanding when he abandoned his relationship with Jehovah and yoked himself with other gods, the gods of the many pagan wives whom he had married. “And Jehovah came to be incensed at Solomon, because his heart had turned away from Jehovah the God of Israel, the one appearing to him twice. And respecting this thing he commanded him not to go after other gods, but he had not kept that which Jehovah had commanded.” (1 Ki. 11:9, 10) The great wisdom from which Solomon fell to a death in God’s disfavor can be appreciated when we turn to the writings of Solomon that he composed under inspiration as one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
24. Why should we never ridicule the things of God, and why will we try to make knowledge, wisdom and understanding a part of ourselves?
24 Let us never ridicule the things of God. The life-giving knowledge of the true God will never be got that way. One who understands his creative tie with God and his total dependence upon him will find it easy to know him. “The ridiculer has sought to find wisdom, and there is none; but to the understanding one knowledge is an easy thing.” (Prov. 14:6) Seeing, then, how knowledge, wisdom and understanding must be kept together, and how needful all three are to life and right conduct, we will try to make them an inseparable part of ourselves. We will make them our relatives, members of our spiritual family. “Say to wisdom: ‘You are my sister,’ and may you call understanding itself ‘Kinswoman.’”—Prov. 7:4.