Click here for a print-friendly version
Summer Quarter: Many Faces of Wisdom
Unit 1: Wisdom in Proverbs
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 14, 2020
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Proverbs 2
Key Verse: Proverbs 2:6
To understand that God gives wisdom to establish righteousness, justice, and equity
In the Know
Some of you will remember the E.F. Hutton commercials that ran on TV in the late 70s. There was a room full of people engaged in conversation. The camera would focus on two folks in the midst of the crowd. They were discussing investments. One of them would say something like, “My broker is suggesting I invest in emerging markets.” At that point, the other person would say, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says…” Suddenly, everyone in the room would stop talking, lean in, and strain to hear what special information might be coming next. At that point the commercial would end with the words, “Inquiring minds want to know,” across the screen. Later they would adopt a more brand specific tag line: “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”
I have to admit that more than once I have been curious to learn what really lies behind some of the strange – if not bizarre – headlines that appear on the cover of the “National Enquirer” on display in the grocery store checkout line. They would promise secrets about the habits, appetites, and relationships of celebrities; important revelations and prophecies concerning the future; and reports of “classified” encounters with visitors from space. In 1987, the publisher of the tabloid adopted the more commonly British spelling and trademarked the phrase – “Enquiring minds want to know.”
When Ted Turner launched Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980, he had a hunch that there was enough of an appetite for news to support a 24-hour cable news channel. It is an appetite that seems insatiable. Today, people consume news through multiple outlets that seem to proliferate daily. People want to know. They want to know what is good for them and their family. They want to feel a sense of mastery over a subject. They want to be able to impress others with their special insight.
Remember the garden? After “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…. the Lord God planted a garden in Eden.” God planted all kinds of trees, bearing all kinds of fruit that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” And also there God planted “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:7-9). You know what happened next.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Genesis 2:15-17).
The man needs a companion,
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air … but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man
Next the serpent enters the story with the intent of confusing the plan and purpose of God by misleading God’s first family concerning their maker’s intentions for their good.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew…
They had pursued knowledge, but at the cost of their relationship with God and with one another.
As we begin to look at the second chapter of Proverbs, we find a passionate plea to seek wisdom. The invitation is not coming from “Woman Wisdom.” Now the parent is urging their child to commit themselves to the search for insight and understanding. The parent has no reservations about the value of this endeavor. In fact, as you look over these verses you will find multiple references to wisdom and knowledge as being more valuable than precious metal or hidden treasures.
Notice all of the ways the parent suggests their child engage in this search: “making your ear attentive,” “inclining your heart,” “cry out,” “raise your voice.” This endeavor demands total focus and full participation.
Notice also where this endeavor leads. It does not lead directly to wisdom; instead, it leads to “the fear of the Lord.” As we established in the first lesson, God deserves our respect, our obedience, and our utmost regard for the ineffable wonder of God’s presence, power, and glory. Once we embrace that truth, we find that we are prepared to receive the gift of wisdom from the Lord – a wisdom God has stored up for the upright. Still, what makes this pursuit noble is that its chief end is a deeper appreciation of the power, presence, and wisdom of God.
The Treasure Revealed
Let’s admit that most people today pursue knowledge as a means to benefit their personal interests. They are tempted – not so differently from Eve and Adam – to see the promise of knowledge as something that will satisfy some appetite, increase their fortune, or improve their reputation and standing with their colleagues. They may study for hours, pay hundreds or thousands of dollars, and travel miles and miles to attend lectures and workshops with experts, all to gain an edge on their competition. This is not the quest that is commended here.
It becomes clear when you take the time to look at what follows for those who receive the gift of God’s wisdom. For those who receive “sound wisdom:”
[The Lord] is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path
Let’s pause for a brief Hebrew lesson. Halakha
is the Hebrew word for the practical application of the 613 commandments in the Torah. It is commonly translated as “law.” However, this word is derived from the Hebrew root halakh
– “to walk” or “to go.” So taken literally, halakha
translates as “the way to walk,” rather than “law.”
This is important because wisdom leads one to “walk blamelessly.” And when a person is walking blamelessly – in a way that honors God’s will and purpose – that path leads to righteousness, justice, and equity. These are the characteristics that mark a covenant community – a community where people are living in right relationship with one another.
The enduring value of wisdom is that it carries with it the understanding that my relationship with God and my neighbor are more important than any pleasures that might tempt me to do any less than love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love my neighbor as myself (cf. Luke 10:27).
The parent in Proverbs is inviting their child to remember that God has designed us to live in community. For this community to thrive people must be honest and truthful in their dealings with one another. They must treat one another with respect, acknowledging every person’s right to fair treatment without bias toward them because of their race, age, or status. They must be conscientious to avoid playing favorites or to persist in claiming a position of privilege. The good path will be the path of love and service.
Therefore walk in the way of the good,
and keep to the paths of the just.
For the upright will abide in the land,
and the innocent will remain in it
What questions would you ask yourself to determine whether your search for knowledge was self-serving or for the good of others?
How would you describe the discipline required to engage in a whole-hearted search for wisdom?
Where have you witnessed evidence of the value of wisdom when it is applied to our shared life in community?
Rev. Ashley Randall is the pastor of Garden City UMC. He is working with a group of faith leaders across Chatham County to help establish the Savannah Area Interfaith Justice Ministry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.