This is the second post in our wisdom series. Last time, we compiled some definitions of wisdom and learned the important truth that wisdom comes from God. In this post and the next one, we’re taking a really deep dive into the Bible to find all the relevant wisdom scriptures we can. This week we’ll look at the Old Testament Wisdom Scriptures and next week we’ll look for wisdom in the New Testament.
First though, let’s revisit the definition of wisdom we landed on last time: Wisdom is learning all we can about who God is, how He (Jesus) lived, and what He says and then placing such great value on that knowledge that we learn how to apply it to our own lives, asking Him to guide us and give us good judgement.
*If you need to catch up on last week’s post, you can find it here: What is Wisdom and Why is Wisdom Important?
Now, let’s expand on our understanding of Biblical wisdom by digging into Scripture with some Old Testament wisdom. What we’re doing here is simply a word study through Scripture using the words “wisdom” and “wise.”
You can go to most online Bible study tools like Bible Gateway, or Bible Study Tools, or Blue Letter Bible and just type any word you want to study into the search bar and it will give you every place that word is found in whatever translation of the Bible you choose. It’s a pretty useful tool and word studies are a great way to study the Bible!
I’m using Bible Gateway for my search, and I did it in the NLT, ESV, KJV, and NASB. In each version I did one search using the word “wisdom” and one using the word “wise.” If you want to go even deeper, you could do the same with the words “understanding,” “knowledge,” “foolish,” and “fool.” But for the sake of time we’ll just stick to our two words. Now let’s dig into some wisdom Scriptures!
Wisdom Comes From God
The first time we find the word “wisdom” or “wise” in Scripture is in Genesis 3:6. It tells us that Eve wanted the wisdom that the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would give her. What an interesting way to start out our Bible study! It is not lost on me that the most foolish decision in all of human history was motivated by a desire for wisdom.
Let’s take the lesson that is there for us to heart. Desiring wisdom, even chasing after wisdom, is not enough. Eve wanted wisdom, but God had already told her and Adam that eating from that tree would bring sin and death into the world. When Eve disregarded God’s warning and believed instead that wisdom could be found doing it her own way, the results were disastrous!
It will be the same for us. We must never ignore what God has said on any matter if we hope to make wise choices. True wisdom comes from God. Let’s never forget it.
Next in our Old Testament Wisdom Scriptures, we find the word “wise” used to describe Joseph in Genesis 41:33 and Genesis 41:39. The context makes it clear that his wisdom was a gift from God. It was something that distinguished him from other people. This is also the case in many of the instances when our words “wisdom” and “wise” appear throughout much of the Old Testament.
Here is a list of Old Testament Wisdom Scriptures that refer to a person who was given special wisdom from God:
Exodus 28:3; 31:3, 6; 35:10, 25-26, 31, 35; 36:1, 2-4, 8; Deuteronomy 1:13; 1:15; 34:9; 1 Samuel 18:5, 14-15, 30; 2 Samuel 14:2, 20; 16:23; 20:16, 22; 1 Kings 7:14; 1 Chronicles 26:14; 27:32; Ezra 7:25; Psalms 49:3; 105:22; Proverbs 31:26; Isaiah 1:26; 28:29; Daniel 1:4, 17, 20; 2:12-14, 20-24; 5:11, 14-15.
There are also many times the words wise or wisdom are used when referring to “wise men” as a title or people who were advisors to a king or leader. These occurrences of the words don’t really add anything to our study or help us understand how wisdom comes from God. They aren’t relevant here, so for the sake of space and efficiency, I will not include those verses.
2 Principles from King Solomon’s Wisdom Scriptures
No study of Old Testament wisdom Scriptures would be complete without a look at King Solomon. He was considered the wisest person who ever lived.
1 Kings 4:29-34 – God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else…
His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants…animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.
He wrote several books of the Bible and contributed to several others. All of these books are classified as the “wisdom Scriptures” or “wisdom literature” or “books of wisdom.” They include a few of the Psalms, most if not all of Proverbs, and all of Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.
There are also many references to him and his wisdom in the books of 1 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. These include 1 Kings 2:6, 9; 3:10-12, 28; 4:20, 29-34; 5:7, 12; 10:4-8, 23-24; 11:41; 1 Chronicles 22:12; 2 Chronicles 1:10-12; 2:12; 9:3-7, 22-23.
I believe there are two really big lessons on wisdom we can pull from Solomon’s life.
Solomon’s Wisdom Principle #1 – Wisdom comes from God and all we have to do to get it is ask.
The first comes from his desire to be wise and how he went about becoming wise. Here’s what the Bible says:
1 Kings 3:3-14 – Solomon loved the Lord and followed all the decrees of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local places of worship. The most important of these places of worship was at Gibeon, so the king went there and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings. That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”
Solomon replied, “You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.
Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied,
“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies – I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for – riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”
Solomon demonstrated great humility here at the beginning of his reign, as well as deep devotion to God, and a sincere fear of the Lord. He knew that wisdom comes from God, so he simply asked. This was pleasing to God and He answered by granting Solomon’s request.
Our lesson is that wisdom is born in humility and reverence for God and can only be given by Him. All we have to do is ask.
Solomon’s Wisdom Principle #2 – Humility and wisdom go hand in hand.
The second lesson is less positive. You see, Solomon’s fear of the Lord did not last. As he got older his wisdom became a source of pride and he began to pursue wisdom from sources other than God. His heart was led astray and his life began to fill with failures. His family was a mess, his children a disaster.
On top of that, the man was miserable (see Ecclesiastes). After his death the Kingdom was torn apart and only part of Israel (the Kingdom of Judah) remained faithful to Solomon’s heir.
The book of Ecclesiastes is basically a thought journey as Solomon searches for wisdom. The whole book is a rollercoaster of emotions as he believes he’s found wisdom and significance in some principle, only to realize it’s all meaningless – like chasing after the wind. In the end he does finally come back to some wisdom and conclude:
Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 – But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.
Our second lesson is that chasing after wisdom from sources other than God will only lead to frustration, heartache, and foolishness. When God grants us wisdom, we must be careful not to grow conceited and start to believe it has anything to do with us. This will lead us to madness and ruin. Humility and wisdom go hand in hand.
Old Testament Wisdom from the Book of Job
Job is another book of the Bible that is included in the category, “wisdom Scriptures.” It is a LONG book mostly composed of an argument between Job and four of his friends. It can be very frustrating to read as these men go back and forth for about 30 chapters but accomplish very little.
Our words “wisdom” and “wise” show up many times in these chapters, but they are mostly being used in sarcasm to mock one another. Plus, at the end of the book, when God shows up and sets everyone straight, he says that basically everything three of the friends said was foolishness. So we have to be really careful in our handling of the book of Job. If a verse is found in any of the sections where these three friends are speaking, it should not be given much (if any) weight.
For that reason, I am not including any of those verses in our compilation of Old Testament wisdom Scriptures. The rest of the book, however, is another story.
Some parts simply tell the saga of Job’s life, so they aren’t much use to our study. Though we should note that what set Job apart from others was that he feared God. That was why God had blessed him so greatly. It’s also what made him a target for Satan who believed he could bankrupt Job’s faith if he was simply allowed to bring suffering into Jobs life. Thankfully, this wasn’t true. Job remained faithful despite the suffering because faith and true fear of the Lord are not dependent on circumstances.
Then there are the sections of the book where Job was talking. When God spoke at the end of the book, He said that what Job had spoken about Him was truth, though He rebuked him for his attitude. These sections of Job’s monologues contain quite a few references to wisdom, especially as it pertains to the wisdom of God: Job 9:4; 12:12-17; 28.
In fact, Job 28 is all about wisdom. It is one of the most valuable chapters in all of Scripture for defining Biblical wisdom. In the first part of the chapter, Job spoke about how people know how to mine the great treasures of this earth, but not many know where to find wisdom. Despite it’s very great value, Job said, it cannot be bought or found here on earth. He concludes the chapter with this:
Job 28:23-28 – God alone understands the way to wisdom; He knows where it can be found,
for He looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens.
He decides how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall.
He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning.
Then He saw wisdom and evaluated it. He set it in place and examined it thoroughly.
And this is what He says to all humanity:
The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.
There are also the six chapters in which the fourth friend (Elihu) speaks, and God said nothing to rebuke that section, so we can assume it was good and filed with insight. He speaks about wisdom as an attribute of God in Job 36:5, and says that anyone who is wise will fear Him in Job 37:24.
And finally, there is the section where God spoke and then Job responded. God’s rebuke of Job was not that what he said about God was untrue, but that his attitude was full of pride. Job had said that what was happening to him wasn’t just, but God basically said to him, “who are you to decide what is right and wrong? Are you God or am I?” (my paraphrase.)
God speaks of His own great wisdom in Job 38:2, 36-37; 39:17, and 26 and asked Job to give an answer as to why he had dared to question God. This is how Job responded:
Job 42:2-6 – “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’
I had only heard of you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”
So what can we take away from what the Bible says about wisdom in the book of Job? I think there are four things:
- Wisdom belongs to God – What He does is wise, He is wise, and wisdom comes from God.
- Questioning God is foolishness.
- Thinking we can tell someone else what God is doing in their life is foolishness
- When we learn humility and the fear of the Lord we will have laid a foundation for wisdom.
Psalms and Proverbs About Wisdom and Knowledge
This brings us to the biggest chunk of Old Testament Wisdom Scriptures of all – the Psalms and Proverbs. These two books are absolutely jam-packed with instructions and parables God has given us to teach us about wisdom. I wish I could just write all of them out here, because the truths found in this section of Scripture are so rich.
But that would take up WAY too much space, and well, we already have the Bible. So I can just tell you where to go and you can look these verses up for yourself. Please do! They are SO good!
Psalms and Proverbs with instructions on wisdom:
We’ll start sorting through these Old Testament wisdom Scriptures by listing the Psalms and Proverbs that specifically include instructions on how to be wise. Let’s start with this one in Proverbs 3 that kind of sums up what we’ve already learned so far:
Isn’t that perfect? Alright, here are the rest: Psalms 2:10; Proverbs 3:21; 4:1, 5-8, 11; 5:1; 6:6; 7:4; 8:1, 5, 33; 16:10; 19:20; 20:18; 22:17; 23:4, 9, 15-16, 19-21, 22-25; 26:5; 27:11
Psalms and Proverbs that define wisdom and understanding:
Now we’ll move on the the Psalms and Proverbs that help us define wisdom and understanding. Again, let’s start with a few that just restate what we’ve already learned to drive home the fact that what we’re saying about wisdom is absolutely true.
Psalms 111:10 – Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey His commandments will grow in wisdom. Praise Him forever!
Proverbs 9:10-12 – Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgement. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.
Proverbs 15:33 – Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.
Much like Job 28, Proverbs 2 is an entire chapter about wisdom. Again, it is another of the best places to go in Scripture to understand what wisdom is, where it comes from, and why it matters. Also, how to get it! You can read the whole chapter here: Proverbs 2. But for now, here is an excerpt:
Proverbs 2:2-11 – Tune your ear to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God.
For the Lord grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to Him.
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.
Proverbs 8 is yet another entire chapter dedicated to defining wisdom. Here, wisdom is personified and she speaks. “Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice!” the chapter begins. Here are a few of the things wisdom has to say about herself in Proverbs 8:
- Everything I say is right, for I speak the truth and detest every kind of deception. My advice is wholesome. There is nothing devious or crooked in it. (Prov. 8:6-8)
- I, Wisdom, live together with good judgement. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment. All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech. (Prov. 8:12-13)
- The Lord formed me from the beginning, before He created anything else. (Prov. 8:22)
- And when He marked off the earth’s foundations, I was the architect by His side. I was His constant delight, rejoicing always in His presence. And how happy I was with the world He created; how I rejoiced with the human family! (Prov. 8:29-31
- Joyful are those who listen to me… For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death. (Prov. 8:34-36)
Here are the rest of the Psalms and Proverbs that help to define wisdom: Psalms 36:1-4; 119:24, 97-104; 107:43; Proverbs 1:2-9, 20-23; 3:13-18, 21-26; 9:7-9; 14:33; 16:21, 23; 20:15; 24:23-25
Psalms and Proverbs about God’s wisdom and that show wisdom comes from God:
Now let’s move to my favorite category of our wisdom Scriptures – those that speak about God and His wisdom. I believe spending time meditating on these passages is a wonderful way to worship. Not to mention a great way to grow in understanding and wisdom! But then, I think those two things might be fundamentally tied together!
Psalms 104:24 – O Lord, what a variety of things You have made! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your creatures.
Proverbs 3:19-20 – By wisdom the Lord founded the earth; by understanding He created the heavens. By His knowledge the deep foundations of the earth burst forth, and the dew settles beneath the night sky.
Psalms 14:2-3; 19:7-11; 47:7 (NASB); 51:6; 53:2-3; 64:9 (KJV); 90:10-12; 136:5; Proverbs 8:12-16; 21:12 (KJV); 21:30; 30:1-6.
Proverbs about wisdom and Knowledge from Psalms and Proverbs
And finally, we come to the sections of Psalms and Proverbs that are, well, proverbs about wisdom and knowledge. Proverbs are short sayings stating general truths or pieces of advice. These statements, which obviously make up the lion’s share of the book of Proverbs have tons and tons of insights from which we can glean a wealth of wisdom.
Proverbs 10:23 – Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.
Proverbs 11:2 – Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Proverbs 14:3 – A fool’s proud talk becomes the rod that beats him, but the words of the wise keep them safe.
Here is a list of the MANY Psalms and Proverbs that fall into this category: Psalms 37:30; 49:10-13; Proverbs 3:35; 9:1; 10:1, 5, 8, 13-14, 19, 21, 31; 11:12, 14, 29-30; 12:8, 14-18, 23; 13:1-2, 10, 14, 16, 20; 14:1, 6, 8, 16, 24, 35; 15:2, 5, 7, 12, 14, 20, 21, 24, 31; 16:14, 16, 20; 17:2, 10, 16, 24, 27-28; 18:1, 4, 15, 20; 19:8, 25; 20:1, 26; 21:11, 20, 22; 24:3-7, 14; 25:12; 26:12, 16; 28:2, 7, 11, 26; 29:3, 8-11, 15; 30:24-28.
More Old Testament Wisdom Scriptures
We’re almost there! We’ve covered almost every appearance of the word wisdom in the Old Testament. Let’s just go ahead and list the rest of them in a few categories like we did with Psalms and Proverbs.
- Instructions on wisdom in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 4:6, 16:19; Jeremiah 9:23
- Old Testament wisdom Scriptures that define wisdom: Deuteronomy 32:29; Isaiah 50:4; Jeremiah 4:22, 8:8-9, 10:21, 17:5; Hosea 14:9; Micah 6:9.
- Proverbs on wisdom found in the rest of the Old Testament: Exodus 23:8; Isaiah 5:21; Hosea 13:13.
- Prophecies about Wisdom in the Old Testament: Isaiah 29:14, 44:25; Daniel 11:33-35, 12:3, 12:10.
- Old Testament wisdom Scriptures on God’s wisdom and that show wisdom comes from God: Isaiah 11:2, 31:2, 33:6, 52:13; Jeremiah 10:1-16, 23:5, 32:19, 51:15.
That’s it! That is what the Old Testament has to say about wisdom.
Obviously, this is not the kind of blog post in which I’ve spent a lot of time and space using my own words to expand on or explain a principle in Scripture. There isn’t a lot of interesting narrative either. The purpose of this post is simply to lay out the places that the words wisdom and wise show up in the Old Testament and then pull out a few key points.
I hope you will take some time to sift through all these verses, reading them and looking at the verses around them for context. What a treasure trove we have in the inspired Word of God! In fact, let’s close this post out with a passage found in one of our lists above that talks specifically about the wisdom of God found in Scripture. May God bless you as you seek the wisdom He has to offer!
Oh, how I love Your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.
Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of Your laws. I am even wiser than my elders, for I have kept Your commandments.
I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to Your Word. I haven’t turned away from Your regulations, for You have taught me well.
How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.
Your Word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
And don’t forget to come back next week so we can do this again with the New Testament!