About 1,000 years before the time of Jesus, the writer of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs in the Bible wrote: “Get Wisdom!” (Proverb 4: 5) In fact, the Book of Proverbs is nicknamed by many people “The Book of Wisdom.” The word ”wisdom” and its derivatives (such as wise, wisely, etc.) occurs over 500 times throughout the Bible, making it an important biblical subject. Of course, we know that wisdom is an important attribute for any person to possess, regardless whether or not they believe the Bible.
The writer of most of the Proverbs in the biblical Book of Proverbs was a King of the ancient Israelites named Solomon. Solomon became known for his proverbs about wisdom. In fact, the Bible says King Solomon wrote 1500 proverbs, but we have only a relatively few of those 1500 written in the Book of Proverbs. Near the beginning of Solomon’s reign, God asked Solomon “What shall I give you?” Solomon’s response was to ask God to give him wisdom and knowledge. (1 Chronicles 1: 10) Later, Solomon wrote “Get Wisdom!” as we noted in the first paragraph above.
Sadly, toward the end of his life, Solomon was seduced into forsaking the One True and Living God who had given him wisdom—and began to worship dead idols and non-God gods; in a manner of speaking Solomon “lost” much of the wisdom God had given him, and late in life wrote that life had become empty, meaningless, and futile. You can find those thoughts by Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. That book’s rather curious title means “a teacher writing to his assembled students.”
One basic principle of Bible study is to study all the occurrences of a certain word, topic, or subject before arriving at a conclusion; that way, one avoids picking out “proof texts” to prove what one has already concluded. That’s not only an important principle of Bible study; it’s an important principle for studying any literature.
Someone once quipped that when reading the Bible one should believe what one reads, rather than read what one already believes.
Another principle of Bible study is that there is usually a certain text, chapter, or book that sort of summarizes or encapsulates whatever subject one is studying. For example, to study the subject of “love” in the Bible, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 summarizes that subject. To study how God “speaks” to humans is summarized in John chapter 10, The Book of Proverbs encapsulates the Bible’s concept of wisdom, and so on for every subject or topic throughout the Bible.
Here’s the Bible’s definition of wisdom: “Comprehensive insight into God’s purposes for the entire creation—including all humanity…AND making correct decisions and choices based on that comprehensive insight.” The second part of that definition is very important in terms of our daily living and interacting with other people. Of course, being human and finite, we can never get a complete grasp of all God’s infinite wisdom…and being human, all of our choices and decisions will never be totally correct.
That reference in Proverbs also states, “Get understanding.” What is “understanding”? It is similar to “knowledge” that is defined as “to acquire facts, data, and information and put them together into a meaningful whole.” We all possess knowledge even if it’s limited in some way or even if we don’t put it together so it makes sense. We begin to accumulate knowledge from the moment of conception, and continue to amass it until our final breath when our spirit leaves our body at the moment of death. “Understanding” is also similar to wisdom; it means “to comprehend and make sense of one’s knowledge.”
Someone has quipped: “Knowledge is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing whether or not to do it. Knowledge is knowing what to say; wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it.”
Okay, we’ve given you basic, working definitions of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Now let’s begin to examine more closely the concept of wisdom, and attempt to learn why God wants us to get wisdom. First, I urge you to understand that wisdom isn’t some ethereal concept that only philosophers and other “Ivory Tower” people need. Wisdom is needed by virtually everyone so as to make at least partial sense of God’s creation…AND to at least attempt to make correct decisions and choices in one’s daily life based on that knowledge and understanding.
An amplified and paraphrased reading of Ecclesiastes 3: 11 sheds some light on how all our understanding and knowledge is only partial in this life: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted the long ages of time in the hearts of all people. However, humans can never have more than partial insight and understanding of all that God does because of our finite limitations.”
Here’s an important, often overlooked fact about wisdom: Wisdom is actually a Person, Jesus, God the Son! Yes, Jesus is the personal embodiment of wisdom. That is found in 1 Corinthians 1: 30. Moreover, wisdom is not simply a philosophical concept; in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a “she,” not an “it.” Wisdom is characterized as a communicating person, not as a cold abstraction. “She” is a caring personality, even though her tone sometimes implies scolding, while at the same time being encouraging. This personalized, communicating concept of wisdom is taught primarily in Proverbs 1: 20 – 33 (and in various other places throughout the Book of Proverbs).
For example, throughout the Book of Proverbs concepts like these in this paragraph and in the following three paragraphs are written about wisdom: a person who finds wisdom is happy; wisdom instructs people in right living; wisdom gives brilliant strategies for leadership; wisdom is something to be praised and celebrated; wisdom can be found in the hustle and bustle of daily living; God gives us wisdom as a generous gift from his hidden storehouse; wisdom brings true pleasure to one’s thinking and attitudes; God formed all creation from wisdom’s blueprints; to gain true wisdom is greater than gaining all the wealth of this world.
Continuing on in Proverbs, we find even more about the value of wisdom; wisdom empowers people to live a good and godly life; wisdom reveals the true meaning of life; wisdom serves to protect us during our lifetimes; wisdom helps us live our mortal lives with integrity; after we receive God’s correction, wisdom snaps us back to reality; wisdom gives us the correct words to speak in various situations…and helps us know when to speak and whether or not to speak.
Yes, throughout Proverbs the writer tells us that wisdom will change our inner being for the good; wisdom is so priceless that it exceeds the value of any jewels; wisdom provides purpose and direction for our lives, giving us a sense of destiny; wisdom leads to true and authentic success; we can feast upon wisdom and build solid lives on a foundation of wisdom; wisdom causes us to be humble and teachable, not proud, arrogant know-it-alls; true wisdom properly applied is soothing and peaceful; wisdom softens our anger.
Words of wisdom spoken are like a fresh, flowing brook—like deep waters that spring from within us, bubbling up and quenching the thirst of others; we can learn to actually love wisdom so that our lives are vital and flourishing; wisdom gives us bright futures with authentic hope; wisdom gives us a more full, satisfying, and intimate relationship with God.
The four paragraphs immediately above this one are just a smattering of truths about wisdom contained in the Book of Proverbs. There is much, much more! As already noted, wisdom is personified throughout the Book of Proverbs. “Lady Wisdom” is a figure of speech for God the Father. Wisdom invites us to live abundant lives of purpose, meaning, and destiny. Also, as noted earlier, Jesus, God the Son, is wisdom personified: 1 Corinthians 1: 30, Colossians 2: 3, and Isaiah 11: 1 and 2.
Thus far, I have taught about how we need to get wisdom, defined wisdom, and written about some of the good things true wisdom can do for us in our daily lives as followers of Jesus. The questions now arise, “How do we get wisdom? Where does wisdom come from? Of course, if you’ve been “reading between the lines,” so to speak, you already know that true wisdom originates with God; God gives true wisdom to people, but the question still remains about how to get wisdom.
In the New Testament portion of the Bible—near the end—there is a short book of only five chapters written by James, the half-brother of Jesus; James is actually his anglicized name; his Hebrew name was Jacob. James’/Jacob’s book contains some very profound truths about wisdom, just as the Old Testament Book of Proverbs summarized the entire concept of wisdom.
Jacob says in chapter 1, verse 5 that if anyone lacks wisdom, simply ask God for it. When asked, God will give the wisdom asked for…and He won’t make anyone feel stupid or dumb because they asked God for wisdom. Have you ever asked another human a question, and they made you feel stupid for asking a “dumb question”? God will never do such a thing, especially if we ask Him for wisdom.
However that text goes on to say that we must ask for wisdom with faith and confidence that God will answer, without doubting that we will receive wisdom. If we don’t ask from that position of faith and confidence, Jacob says we will be ambivalent and unstable about the wisdom for which we ask; he says being undecided makes us become like rough seas driven every which way by the winds, causing us to waver about that for which we ask.
“If you feel you have God’s wisdom, understanding the ways He works throughout his creation, advertise it with a beautiful, steady, fruitful life guided by wisdom’s innate gentleness. Build a good life based on wisdom’s firm foundation. Never brag or boast about what you’ve said or done and you’ll prove thereby that you truly do have God’s wisdom. However, if you don’t truly have God’s wisdom about a matter, it will cause jealousy and bitter competition in your life, and you’ll try to deny it and compensate for it by boasting and being phony.
Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourself sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom. For that has nothing to do with God’s authentic wisdom, but can best be described as the wisdom of this world, both self-centered and devilishly conniving. So wherever jealousy and self-centeredness are uncovered, you will find many troubles and every kind of meanness.
God’s wisdom from above is always pure, filled with peace, is considerate, and teachable…as well as just plain polite. It is filled with love and never displays prejudice or hypocrisy in any form, and it always bears the beautiful harvest of sincere right living! Good seeds of wisdom’s fruit will be planted with peaceful acts by those who cherish making peace, resulting in harvests of goodness.” (Various texts throughout the Book of James/Jacob, amplified and paraphrased)
There is another aspect of God’s wisdom that must not be overlooked. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 12, a chapter in the New Testament that is largely about supernatural “gifts” that God dispenses to his church, the Body of Jesus—to help build up and “grow” the Body of Jesus and reach out to others who have not yet become followers of Jesus. It is one of the so-called gifts of Holy Spirit: the “word of wisdom.”
A footnote in The Passion Translation of the Bible says this about the word of wisdom mentioned in verse 8 of chapter 12: “It is a revelation gift of Holy Spirit to impart an understanding of insight and strategy that only God can give in specific situations. This is more than simply learned wisdom, but the clearly crafted ‘word of wisdom’ from God to unlock the hearts of people and free the corporate Body of Jesus to move forward under God’s direction.
This gift will express the direct wisdom of Holy Spirit, not that learned by the person exercising the gift. The best examples of this gift were  when Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree and knew his true character as a man without guile (John 1), and  when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and unlocked her heart with words He could not have known solely by human wisdom.” (John 4) (I have modified the footnote in a couple of places)
An example of God’s use of the “word of wisdom” in my own life occurred a number of years ago when I was counseling a young married couple; she was in the early stages of a pregnancy, but before this pregnancy, she had a number of miscarriages, and the young couple were worried that they might lose this baby too. They asked me to pray for a good delivery and a healthy baby. Just as I started to pray for them, I perceived that God was speaking a “word of wisdom” to me to share with them.
Here is what God said to me: “Bill, tell them to return to their ob/gyn physican and ask him to investigate the trophoblastic cells of the placenta.” I had never before heard of that condition. They quickly made an appointment with the physician and told him those exact words. He responded, “Frankly, I had never thought of that possibility.” The condition was corrected with medication and they had a healthy baby some months later.
Now I need to write a little bit about how God speaks to people, including their requests for wisdom. It goes without saying that a person querying God must believe that God speaks to people; if you don’t believe that, then this entire teaching has been of no value to you. However, it is clear from the Bible and from thousands of years of human experience that God does speak to people.
On four occasions in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel in the Bible, Jesus stated that those of us who are his “sheep” (his followers) hear his voice. God does, indeed, speak to us; He is speaking to us all the time, far more clearly and distinctly than we imagine. We “hear” his voice within the spirit component of our three-part beings (body, soul, spirit) by means of our inner “faith-sense.” He generally speaks to us in a quiet, soft whisper within our spirits.
The question is not, “Does God speak to me?” Rather, the real question should be, “When is God not speaking to me?” Do not be surprised at the Good Shepherd’s tender voice constantly whispering into your thoughts . . . from within you where He abides permanently in your spirit. Keep in mind, however, it’s difficult for us to hear God if we’re doing all the talking! But God is not limited to communicating with us only in a quiet, soft whisper; He can communicate with us in any manner He chooses.
However, He generally speaks to us from within in five distinct and clear ways: 1. From the Bible, God’s written, LIFEgiving, transforming Word for all humanity. 2. By inserting and imbedding his thoughts and creative ideas into our thoughts. 3. By means of visions, images, pictures, our creative imaginations, and dreams He “broadcasts” to the “viewing screen” of our spirits. 4. By means of strong but gentle, inner impressions, nudging, and urgings. 5. By means of speaking in tongues with the interpretation.
Again, I don’t want to limit God speaking to us in only those five ways; He cannot be limited to our finite comprehension; we cannot “put Him in a box” and limit Him in any manner, but He does Self-limit his means of communication in order for us mortal humans to understand Him.
A prime biblical example of listening to God is found in the life of Samuel, an Old Testament prophet, when he was a boy. Samuel was staying with a local priest. In the night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. Thinking it was the priest calling him, Samuel ran to the priest’s bedroom to ask what the priest wanted. The priest informed Samuel that it was God who had called Samuel’s name. When Samuel heard the voice next time, he responded: “Speak, God, for I’m listening.” That was the beginning of a long lifetime relationship with God in which Samuel heard God speak to him many times. The simple lesson to be learned from Samuel’s experience is: God speaks. Are we listening?
I want to encourage you: Please do not be afraid to ask God for wisdom—either on-the-spot for specific situations or for general daily living. God will give you wisdom!
Revised and Updated February 2023