Bible Topics In The Christian Library
Chapter 4b
The Qualities of Wise Men

Added to the basic orientation just presented are certain other qualities of mind common to all wise men. These qualities, together with the foundation attitude, appear to comprise what psychologists call the General Factor of intelligence. Examining all that Solomon said about the wise reveals this general mentality. Their hatred of evil makes them cautious.

the prudent man looketh well to his going (KJV). A wise man sees evil coming and avoids it (JB) (Proverbs 14:15, 16).

he who acts hastily, blunders (Proverbs 19:2; NAB).

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself (Proverbs 22:3; KJV).

A prudent man seeth the evil, and hideth himself (Proverbs 27:12; ASV).

The wise know the dangers of even a momentary careless deed or word. one error destroyeth much good (Ecclesiastes 9:18; SPRL).

Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor (Ecclesiastes 10:1; RSV).

The desire of the wise not to err contributes to emotional control. a man of understanding holdeth his peace (Proverbs 11:12; KJV).

a prudent man ignores an insult (Proverbs 12:16; MOFFATT).

He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding (Proverbs14:29; KJV).

It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife (Proverbs 20:3; RSV).

a wise man quietly holds it [his anger] back (Proverbs 29:11; RSV).

The wise value knowledge and use it to live successfully. rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:8, 9; KJV).

The wise in heart will receive commandments (Proverbs 10:8; KJV).

Wise men lay up knowledge (Proverbs 10:14; KJV).

a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15; RSV).

A wise son heareth his father's instruction (Proverbs 13:1; KJV).

with those who take advice is wisdom (Proverbs 13:10; RSV).

he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13; ASV).

Every prudent man worketh with knowledge (Proverbs 13:16; ASV).

The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way (Proverbs 14:8; KJV).

The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14; RSV).

a man of understanding maketh straight his going (Proverbs 15:21; ASV).

Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22; RSV).

Wisdom is never out of sight of a discerning man (Proverbs 17:24; NEB).

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge (Proverbs 18:15; KJV).

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war (Proverbs 20:18; RSV).

when the wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge (Proverbs 21:11; NAB).

Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son (Proverbs 28:7; KJV).

The wise man's heart leads him aright (Ecclesiastes 10:2; JB).

As a man's wisdom increases, he becomes even more able to learn, and he increasingly enjoys the process. wisdom [is as sport] to a man of understanding (Proverbs 10:23; ASV).

knowledge is easy for a man of understanding (Proverbs 14:6; RSV).

the prudent are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18; KJV).

In the discerning heart, wisdom finds a resting place (Proverbs 14:33; KNOX).

Their words reflect their mentality-controlled , knowledgeable, and effective. he that refraineth his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19; KJV).

A prudent man concealeth knowledge (Proverbs 12:23; KJV).

a wise man's words are his safeguard (Proverbs 14:3; NEB).

The lips of the wise spread knowledge (Proverbs 15:7; RSV).

The mind of the wise makes his speech judicious, and adds persuasiveness to his lips (Proverbs 16:23; RSV).

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17; RSV).

The overall pattern looks like this. Wise men hate evil. They have no appreciation for senselessness. They look with distaste upon things that are wasteful and destructive. Physicians who work in hospital emergency wards loathe drunken driving because they continually face the misery it causes. Modern surgeons seem to be fanatics about cleanliness, refusing even to touch the patient with their bare hands during the operation. Some have even gone so far as to totally enclose each patient in a huge plastic balloon containing purified air. Fanaticism? But, oh, how successful these modern wise men have been. It was not always so. Read the fine book, None of These Diseases, by S. I. McMillen to see how long and how vigorously the medical profession resisted the ancient Bible teachings on the importance of cleanliness in dealing with disease. Manufacturers of those expensive earth satellites work with the same "fanaticism" toward cleanliness; likewise the manufacturers of computer chips. Scientists look with contempt upon careless research because it produces false, misleading information. Mechanics hate to work on poorly designed, filthy, or abused machinery. Teachers lament when they must face a classroom of wild, rebellious students.

A wise man is patient; he controls his emotions. If a quarrel erupts nearby, he does not get caught up in it. He quietly ignores an insult. Certainly he will remember and learn from the experience, but he will not be provoked into a meaningless fight, choosing instead to hold back his anger and to use his intellect to seek peace and reconciliation.

Notice, for example, how great national leaders successfully field the challenges and criticisms hurled against them. Wise men neither cause trouble nor look for it. Indeed, given the opportunity they will go out of their way to avoid it. When they see potential danger, they prepare ways to avoid or escape from it. Hence, they pay attention to warnings. If instructions specify certain things to avoid, they prudently attend to the advice. If laws impose restrictions, they obey the laws.

No matter how lofty their station in life may be, wise men are humble and eager to learn. They accept correction and try to change when proven wrong. Having discovered the power and beauty of truth, they listen to good counsel and receive teaching and education. They are especially careful to respect the advice and recommendations of experts and authorities. Indeed, they seek out many advisers and toil in the process of finding information and knowledge. They invest their time, money, and labor in the quest of learning. They enroll in courses of study and acquire libraries. As they continually accumulate their knowledge, they both increase their ability to learn and increase the pleasure they get in acquiring it. Indeed, education and learning become a form of recreation for them. Notice how successful, progressive nations and private companies promote activities to discover wiser ways to improve their efforts. They hire experts and invest in research; and as they make new discoveries, they carefully guard their knowledge, knowing that it enables them to survive and compete.

The wise understand the true difference between right and wrong, good and evil. They know the real meaning of justice and fair-play. They do not judge by appearances only, but they also see with depth. They have insight and foresight, enabling them to perceive both the underlying dynamics of things while accurately anticipating results and consequences. Therefore, they show good judgment and make correct decisions. Wise men are able to successfully perceive ahead because they have faith in the ultimate value of wisdom, even though for the moment it may seem to be ineffective or, perhaps, may even appear to be an obstacle; nevertheless, the wise know that in the end, the Lord's truth (whether in nature or Scripture) is always victorious. And so the wise are law-abiding, heedful of both natural law and social law. They can see far enough ahead to know the benefits of right living. The penalties for violations are too costly, and penalties are inevitable, because Solomon said,

If the most righteous in the land are punished, how much more the wicked and the sinner (Proverbs 11:31; AAT). Someone (a scientist, sportsman, businessman) may be tempted to cheat to gain fame and/or fortune; but a wise man recognizes that time catches up with the guilty, and the humiliation and loss of credibility far outweigh the brief benefits.

The wise are especially noted by their skill with words. First, they show self-control and restraint in their use of language. Realizing the power of words, they speak with great caution. When they do speak, what they say is true and relevant. Moreover, their words are both dignified and astute. What they say is uplifting and ennobling, bringing aid and comfort to others. Their wisdom and skill with words bring them security, honor, prosperity, and power.

Physical strength is no match for a well-developed mind. Men have long mastered the most powerful beasts. Countries that develop the national intellect have long towered over those that promote only physical prowess. There is no strength like wisdom and there are no great men like the wise.

In sum: In addition to their love of knowledge and their rejection of folly, wise men, everywhere demonstrate the following common characteristics. They are humble, behaving with cautious reserve and emotional control. Valuing knowledge they actively pursue it in order to live successfully. They eventually develop skill in learning and come to enjoy the process. Their use of words is likewise controlled, knowledgeable and effective.

Growing in Wisdom

Growing in wisdom is a lifetime process. Indeed, it is our duty to continue increasing our motivation for truth, while developing our self-control, and adding to our knowledge and understanding. Several times in the Bible a man's life (which, Jesus said, does not consist in the abundance of his possessions) and his mind are compared to the growth of a tree or the construction of a house. In these we can see the fundamental process involved in godly mental development. For example, in the first Psalm we find these words.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Psalms 1:1-3; RSV). Solomon referred to the process of building a house, saying, Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches (Proverbs 24:3, 4; KJV). Perhaps these words also contain a metaphorical meaning. In that case knowledge may refer to the elements of intellect; the facts and pieces of information that compose it; the bricks, boards, and furniture of the building. Understanding could refer to the relationships that hold the elements together. It gives meaning and comprehension to information, equivalent to the mortar and nails of the building. Wisdom, perhaps, is the integration. That Grand Lady, Wisdom, said, Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? (Proverbs 8:1; KJV).

I am understanding (Proverbs 8:14; KJV).

Our wisdom, then, would be the highest form of our understanding, that which provides the overall organization and integration to our various lower levels of knowledge and understanding. Our wisdom is the gestalt of our intellect.

Growing in wisdom is a process involving a continuous interaction of the intellect with perception. Intellect comes from seeing, and seeing comes from intellect; the two work together. The sense organs of the body are channels through which information is sent for the mind to build our cognitive structure. Through use of the eyes and the ears (primarily) we have access to knowledge. But eyes and ears only transmit the elements of information. Understanding and wisdom are created in the mind.

Helen Keller had neither working eyes nor ears, yet she acquired a college degree and became an accomplished speaker. Two people can view the same thing but may "see" something entirely different. Perceiving involves understanding, and this is done in the mind from the information provided by the eyes. We use our eyes and ears together with the knowledge and understanding within our hearts to perceive the world around us. Far more important than healthy eyes and ears in determining what we see and hear is the nature of our minds. The author of the letter to the Hebrews spoke of the necessity of training our senses by comparing knowledge with food.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:14; KJV). Prejudiced minds or hardened hearts can make perception impossible. When the Lord God began to give up on his people, ancient Israel, he told the prophet Isaiah, Go, and say to this people: "Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive." Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed (Isaiah 6:9, 10; RSV). When the Bible mentions the eye, it often refers to the eye of the mind—that part of the heart that enables us to understand. Jesus said, The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22, 23; RSV). We cannot perceive correctly if we do not have correct knowledge and sound understanding; nor can we obtain knowledge and understanding if we do not perceive correctly. The information of the senses interacts with both the information and the attitude of the mind to give us the power to perceive and understand. This is one of the reasons why the ignorant learn so slowly and the educated learn so quickly. Perhaps these words of Jesus apply. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Mark 4:25; RSV). Solomon said that the wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool and the wicked both walk in darkness. If the eye of the mind is sound, we understand correctly. If it is not sound, we either misperceive or misunderstand the information we receive by the senses. This is why Paul could say, But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6; KJV). Moreover, Solomon said, An high look, and a proud heart, even the lamp of the wicked is sin (Proverbs 21:4; RV). The lamp of the wicked is a proud heart misinforming them about their rightful place in the world, perverting their perception of right and wrong, leading them into rebellion against authority, and causing them to commit selfish cruelty against others. Notice how Agur uses the word eye. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men (Proverbs 30:13, 14; KJV).

The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it (Proverbs 30:17; KJV).

There is another way the eye of the mind can be perverted-through a kind of lust. Perhaps the eye is to the heart as the mouth is to the stomach. As the mouth is never satisfied, the eye, too, is never full. Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20; KJV).

All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing (Ecclesiastes 1:8; KJV).

Like the mouth, the eye is a source of pleasure. The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart (Proverbs 15:30; KJV).

Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun (Ecclesiastes L1:7; KJV).

Moreover, like the mouth, it can become greedy to indulge in excess. The lust of the eye appears to fuel greed for possessions. Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee (Proverbs 23:6, 7; KJV).

He that hath an evil eye hasteth after riches (Proverbs 28:22; AS~).

Solomon said that having excess riches only serves to indulge the eye. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? (Ecclesiastes 5:11; KJV). Pride and greed both corrupt the eyes and ears of the mind making them blind and deaf to the needs of others. The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes (Proverbs 21:10; RSV).

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the helpless, he will cry for help himself and not be heard (Proverbs 21:13; NEB).

He whose eye is generous will be blessed, for he gives food to the poor (Proverbs 22:9; MLB).

He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse (Proverbs 28:27; KJV).

The Lord has given us our senses to use as tools to acquire knowledge so that we can live righteously, and Solomon encouraged us to use them well. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:7; KJV).

Let your eyes look right in front, and your eyelids be directed straight ahead of you (Proverbs 4:25; AAT).

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them (Proverbs 20:12; KJV).

The poor and the oppressor have a common bond: the Lord gives light to the eyes of both (Proverbs 29:13; NAB).

Receptiveness to knowledge helps enlighten the eyes of the heart, thereby enabling it to grow in wisdom, which, in turn, increases its power to perceive. Paul wrote the Christians at Ephesus, saying, For this reason because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:15-18; RSV). Our physical growth ends after fifteen or twenty years; our physical strength grows for twenty or thirty years and then declines; intellectual growth can continue almost to the end. The elderly may lose their youthful vigor and strength, but they compensate for the loss by the quality of their wisdom (which is symbolized by gray hair). A hoary head is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life (Proverbs 16:31; RSV).

The glory of young men is their strength, but the beauty of old men is their gray hair (Proverbs 20:29; RSV).

Nevertheless, no matter how much wisdom and/or strength we may acquire, the Lord, through Jeremiah the prophet, said that our true glory is understanding and knowing him. Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:23, 24; RSV). Knowing the Lord is our glory because, Solomon said, the knowledge and strength of this world is vain. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:17, I8; KJV). In sum: Growing in wisdom is a lifetime process. It involves a dynamic interaction between a man's intellect and his perception of things. The more he learns the better able he is to see and comprehend. This, in turn, increases his capacity to learn.

Copyright 1997 by Walter L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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