wisdom
Week 36 is scheduled for study August 29-Sept. 4, 2022. Seek wisdom from God and all things will be well with your soul. There are plenty of counterfeits. Don’t fall for them.

Day 1

Consider how your study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can help you “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.”

Proverbs 1-4; 15-16 – Incline thine ear unto wisdom.

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Much of the problem I have with reading Proverbs is that each part of a sentence is given a separate verse number. Here is a rewrite of these two verses, using the Bible’s own substitution for the last phrase.

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their riddles.

It wasn’t until I read these verses in this way, as one thought, with the substitution at the end, that I caught on to what it is saying. Someone who is wise is

  • Willing to listen to what is said and what is taught. The assumption here is that the wise person listens without judgment or preconceived notion that they “already know it.” After all, how many times do we finally listen to the words of a child and see something in a new way? Can you think of the number of times you have heard an Apostle report in a General Conference talk that they took the admonition of the Prophet from the last Conference and then proceed to tell the Church what they learned from their studies because they took the Prophet’s advice?
  • The wise person seeks knowledge – worldly, as well as spiritual. Both types of knowledge support mutual learning. They are not two unrelated things. The point of seeking knowledge is that knowledge, in and of itself helps us to learn how to think, to problem solve, to comprehend advanced ideas, and to see things more clearly.
  • Someone who is wise seeks to come to understand wise counsel. Isn’t that why we study the scriptures and listen to the words of the prophets?
  • A modern term for a proverb may be meme – something that is short, to the point, and addresses a subject that is universally recognized and otherwise understood. You may see proverbs in witty “sayings of Confucius” or in old sayings, etc. Rarely does just one statement address more than just one bit of knowledge, but it is meant to make us think and possibly see life in a new way. This is what makes them enduring in nature.
  • “The words of the wise, and their riddles” was the most puzzling to me, until I thought of our scripture study. Studying the scriptures is how we use our gift of the Holy Ghost to tease from the verses we read bits of wisdom that open our world to greater understanding of God and His ways. Wisdom doesn’t come in a sudden burst, but as incremental understanding that builds upon other bits of wisdom to create a greater sense of wisdom, or how things should be, or could be seen in life. This is why wisdom must be sought after, for it is illusive in nature.

These are just a few of my thoughts on what it means to incline our ear unto wisdom. Remember that to incline our ear is to demonstrate a tendency to do so, to “lean” that way, as in an inclination to do something. The seeking of knowledge and wisdom is a deliberate act that is repeated over and over again, because we understand that wisdom always comes in unexpected ways, from unexpected sources, and with unexpected results. But always, the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom is welcomed and life changing.

Day 2

Consider how your study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can help you “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.”

Proverbs 4 – Ponder the path of thy feet.

I skipped the real Day 2 on the “fear of the Lord” because it was so self explanatory. So Day 3 became my Day 2. :)

I am guessing that Proverbs 4 is responsible for much of why modern Christians commonly refer to their daily walk, which means their usual way of living the Christian life. The Old Testament is full of imagery that describes spiritual behavior in terms of physical things. Examples are references to being on either the right hand or left hand of God, which refers to whether we are in a favored or unfavored position with Him. The Old Testament also talks about how we behave and compares our behavior to walking or running. When we keep the commandments we are walking the right path or way toward God. When we break our covenants and don’t keep the commandments we are “wandering” off the path into forbidden ways.

Refer back to Day 1 and think about how pondering and considering our daily habits and tendencies help to define the path of our feet as we seek to return to God. If we are honest with our self, chances are pretty good that we will find something we are currently doing that really isn’t in our own best interest, and that will lead us away from God, not towards Him. When we find a habit we suspect might affect our ability to return to God with honor and glory, perhaps it is in our best interest to consider changing or getting rid of that habit altogether. This is the act of pondering the path we are traveling, the path of our feet.

Day 3

Consider how your study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can help you “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.”

Proverbs 15:1-2, 4, 18, 28; 16:24-32 – A soft answer turneth away wrath

My mother has moved into an assisted living center. It has taken a while to get used to being in her new surroundings. At the age of 87 change is more difficult than it was 30 or 50 years ago. Mom has been with my sister in the mountains north of Boise, Idaho for the last 10 years, and the quiet of mountain living has made her somewhat of a recluse. Her natural disposition is to be in the center of the action. She has never been shy about talking to people when she goes shopping. Age, race, social standing, none of it matters to my Mom. She is naturally friendly.

Recently, she was sitting in the dining room at the assisted living center, and a new resident was wheeled up and placed next to her. He was not happy. Resentful of being placed against his wishes in an assisted living facility (even though it is a very nice one), Ron pushed himself roughly from the table and began cursing. He claimed he was a prisoner and being held against his will. He swore against those who had done this to him and glared around the room, fuming in his frustration. There was silence in the room then the care givers rushed to his side to see if there was something they could do to appease him. He would have none of it!

For a moment Ron sat glaring at all around him then my mother quietly said, “Ron, I know how you feel. Sometimes at our age we don’t get to have our way any more. It can be hard. But look, they have already poured your drink. Why don’t you come and eat with us so we can get to know you better?” Ron looked at her sullenly for a moment then rolled up to the table, apologizing for using such harsh language in front of the ladies.

Last week my wife and I went to lunch with my mother and there was Ron. He was going from table to table offering to sing to the other residents. At each table he would sing some little ditty that he had learned back in the 30′ or 40’s and still remembered. He was beaming.

This scenario could have played itself out in many ways. Ron was not behaving well, and probably deserved to be scolded for his bad manners and rough language. The care givers could have removed him from the dining room and taken him back to his own room, like a punishment. But instead, a kind answer to bad behavior changed his heart and softened his attitude. That simple interchange helped to pave the way for Ron to begin to fit into his new home and to make friends.

Contemplating

As I have spent the last few days contemplating today’s lesson, I have been keenly aware of all the times that something was said to which I was tempted to answer with sarcasm, a veiled snarky remark, or outright criticism. Instead, I held my tongue until I could think of something useful, constructive, or supportive to say. All those first-reaction comments would have put my conversations on edge, but being mindful of my responses has led to a much more peaceful series of conversations. And in a few instances I have actually learned something that I probably would not have had I gone with my first thought.

Learning to respond with softness, gentleness, and kindness is something that takes deliberate effort on our part. We have to learn to look past offense and harsh or thoughtless comments that make us want to respond in kind. I guess it is the nature of wisdom to seek a better way, to look for peaceful means, and solutions that build others instead of tear things down.

Day 4

Consider how your study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can help you “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.”

Proverbs 31:10-31 – A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised

Have you ever wondered why this description of a virtuous woman is in the scriptures? My first impulse upon reading this description was to write about how all women should be. The thought had not gone inches from the center of my being before I recoiled at the thought. How many women shudder over the expectations they have for themselves when it comes to simple things like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day? They are so riddled with the recognitions of their own shortcomings that having to publicly face the image of a perfect woman is more than they can bear.

I get it. I have never seen anyone write down a list of what the ideal man should be like, and I still feel inadequate about my ability to provide for my family to the level I would want to. I cringe at the expectation of being the father that my children can look up to, or even meeting my own fantasies about what it means to be a really good man – at least good enough that my own mother would only be able to find praise for my behavior, and my father would beam in pleasure that his son turned out so well.

All of us have unrealistic expectations about what we should be able to be like, versus where we are in life at present. The description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs is one man’s perception of the perfect woman of his day. How many women do you think would have been able to say in Solomon’s day, “Yeah, that describes me perfectly?”

My approach to the scriptures tries to take into account that in some ways I am doing well, while in other ways I need improvement. It is good that the Lord’s expectations are so often laid out for us in the scriptures and through the words of the prophets. We just need to remember that those words are for instruction and encouragement. The Lord knows we all have our own personal struggles as we try to live up to our own expectations in life, let alone someone else’s expectations. I hope that as you read the verses from today’s lesson that you will recognize that we all have room for improvement, but we are all better in some ways than even we think we are. Cut yourself some slack and be grateful that the Lord is kind and gracious, and will help you with whatever goal you set for yourself that will draw you closer to being like Christ, who embodies all virtues with perfection. He is the model for either gender for right behavior and attitudes.

Day 5

Consider how your study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can help you “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.”

Ecclesiastes 1-3; 12 – Mortal life is temporary

I think there must be a trick to reading Ecclesiastes and not going into a week-long funk. Ecclesiastes is a really depressing read if all you see is the Preacher’s definition of vanity – that which lacks eternal value for the soul. In that regard the Preacher is correct – all is vanity. That is the point of mortality. It is temporary. Mortality’s very temporary nature is what makes it possible for us to either get lost in the vanity of the worldly pursuits or gain a desire to find something that will last longer than our fleeting time on earth.

If all we pursue in life are the things that also end with our death then what good have we done for ourselves or for others? Really? The Preacher ends his tirade about the temporary nature of this life with all its varied activities and pursuits with this statement in chapter 12.

13 ¶ Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

The Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes has spent so many verses describing everything about mortality that ends in loss and nothingness that we are all brought to the point of wanting to ask, “Then is there anything of value in mortality?” His last two verses answer this question. That which pleases God is of eternal value. Since God will judge everyone for every act committed in mortality, what else is of worth but that which is eternal in nature? God’s commandments are all spiritual in nature. God has never at any time given us a purely carnal commandment. All His covenants are eternal in nature, each of them leading us into happiness for eternity. Each of His commandments lifts us, improves us, and exalts us in the end.

As I shook off the depression of having read Ecclesiastes, these thoughts of hope are what gripped my mind and heart. Those who only see mortality as the length and scope of their existence have nothing they can hold onto. Only those who embrace God’s promise of eternal life and who accept His commandments can have hope in eternal joy and progression, the ultimate freedom and promise. We can become like God Himself. What in mortality can offer anything to compare with that?

FHE/Personal Study

Proverbs 3:5-7 – Lean not unto thine own understanding

Here are the verses for you.

¶ Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

¶ Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

I love the example given in the manual. Can you lean on a broom for support? Yes, yes you can, but only in a very limited fashion. One wrong move, too much pressure in the wrong place, or the slightest loss of balance on your part and the support vanishes instantly and you end up on the floor. It is probably with good reason that we are told that Christ is the “rock” of our salvation. If you look at a cornerstone, the rock used to measure out all the other dimensions and placement for the rest of the building, it is a rock that must be completely solid, without blemish or weakness. To have a cornerstone with weaknesses (cracks) is to spell disaster for the rest of the building, for the cornerstone must be able to bear the weight and pressures of the whole building.

We are told and counseled repeatedly throughout the scriptures to rely on Christ, to use him as our rock, our support. He even used the example himself of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, as opposed to the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. It has occurred to me that a grain of sand is a counterfeit of the boulder that is Christ. Both are rocks, but the grain of sand is completely inadequate to do what Christ can do as the rock of our salvation. Not even basing our life on a whole bed of sand, many millions of tiny rocks, can save us. Only the one true and perfect rock is safe for us to lean upon if we hope to achieve the salvation God promises us when we keep His commandments.

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OT36-2022 – The Fear of the Lord

Week 36