“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures…” ~Proverbs 2:1-4
There are five examples of “then…” that follow from thus seeking wisdom diligently: 1) finding the fear of the LORD; 2) understanding justice and righteousness; 3) deliverance from evil men; 4) deliverance from evil women; and 5) walking in the good ways and thus remaining in the land.
But these are consequent to the “ifs” that Solomon here lays forth. He utilize eight verbs, putting term on term, to describe how his son may attain unto the knowledge of the Lord and of his ways, in order that he might receive the blessings of the covenant. Each of these “ifs” are contingent upon the son’s will, desires, and applied labor.
The father cannot coerce his son into wisdom, nor does he attempt to do so. Immediately after warning of the death that comes to those who scorn wisdom until it is too late, he tells his son what he himself must do in order to avoid this end himself. I particularly noticed that he didn’t tack the warnings upon the conclusion of his book as an afterthought — no, he urgently makes his son aware of the life and death nature of these things of which he speaks. He loves him, so he will tell him about the most desirable thing of all and of how he can obtain it; for it is not something that he can gain for his son, but only model for him, explain to him, and urge him towards. Indeed, he loves his son so much that he first of all tells him of the harsh reality that falls upon those who fail to obtain this end. It is only after doing this in a couple of different ways that he begins to instruct in his son in what he must do if he would not die the death of a fool under the justly scornful sarcasm of rejected Wisdom. For, of all things, he should most of all esteem the counsel and instruction and rebukes of wisdom.
So, then, what must be done? How is this to be gone about?
First — even, perhaps, primarily — he must listen to his father, receiving, taking in, seizing the words given to him. This is most certainly a verbal education, requiring literacy of thought, a command of language, a mind able to reason and equipped to think. It seems obvious that this must be presupposed, or this instruction simply cannot be followed. According to Scripture, then, the use of language is vital to gaining wisdom.
The second imperative here is that the son “treasure up” or “hide” his father’s commandments in his own heart. They are to be protected, kept, held dear, and pondered upon as a most precious thing; the son himself must regard them as real and binding upon himself, as his own precepts. Notice also that this father commands his son. He is not suggesting nice things or a set of little sayings and observations that he maybe has found useful in his own life. No, he commands him as one under authority himself, for his son is a child of the covenant. If this father were to neglect thus leading his son in the ways of righteousness as defined by God, the Covenant-Maker, he himself would be sinning. If he neglected this duty, he would be acting as if there is another truth besides that which is and as if God does not destroy the one who breaks his covenant and preserves the one who keeps and does it. Thus it is that he commands his son to keep his words: he is confident that what he speaks is the truth of the God under whose life-encompassing covenant he stands.
Solomon follows the command to his son to treasure up his words with an admonition for him to make his ear attentive to wisdom. In other words, he is telling him to listen, not just to hear. There is a difference. He must wait to listen to wisdom, putting his attention upon it, for wisdom is not obtained through careless osmosis — the one who would gain wisdom must shut his mouth and open his ears and patiently apply his mind and reason.
The fourth imperative therefore follows closely: “incline your heart to understanding.” His very inner being must have a desire for wisdom that draws him to love it and seek it. This kind of heart the son must strive towards and cultivate — lest he die. Solomon adds increasingly inward and even emotional elements as he comes to the second half of his instructions in how to gain wisdom. He quickly proceeds to tell his son that he must love wisdom and understanding so much that he will call out, raise his voice, seeking and searching for insight as earnestly and as diligently as he would for a hidden wealth of treasure. Truly, it is only for the very deepest desires of one’s heart that a person will cry out and go a-searching. By implication, then, Solomon is telling his son that unless he loves wisdom this deeply and applies his efforts this entirely, he will assuredly fail to gain it.
In these eight imperatives, Solomon is returning to the theme with which he opened his book of instruction, just now beginning to tell his reader the “how” he should approach all that follows. He lays it forth as a mission, a duty, a quest, comparing wisdom to precious riches once again. He sets out the obtaining of understanding and insight as a difficult thing, but immensely valuable, giving the task meaning, value, and worth. People tend to value what they have labored for — and to labor for that which they value. Solomon does not ignore this as he impresses upon his son what is the most valuable thing of all. Yet, in this, there is an urgency and an implicit warning, as well, for if the son does not take up this challenge, if he leaves the gauntlet lying there, so to speak, he shall not find what his father is directing him towards in the rest of his instruction — and he shall assuredly not gain Wisdom. Then, if he did not value the fear of the Lord, he shall surely die under the mockery of that truth he disdained.
Many years later, another wise man of God wrote on the same subject: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” ~James 1:5-8