Peter Oye Sagay

July 04, 2020

Wisdom is a rare human trait that is visible only when expressed in words or deeds. Its rareness is a consequence of the inherent difficulty in its acquisition. In fact, anyone who lives beyond infancy will be foolish many times during his or her lifetime.

Many religious and philosophical writings contain numerous advices and admonitions about wisdom. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is an example of such writings. Proverbs 4:7 and 16:16 advise on the necessity for the aquisition of wisdom and understanding. Proverbs 3:13 states the reward for the aquistion of wisdom and understanding:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver! Proverb 16:16.

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. Proverb 3:13.

What is wisdom and what is understanding? Why is Proverb 4:7 advising on the importance of getting understanding as one gets wisdom? The story told in the Bible in First Kings chapter 3, verses 16 - 28 (I Kings 3:16-28) illuminates the meaning of the wisdom and the understanding referred to in Proverb 4:7. The story narrates the quarrel between two women who came to King Solomon (King of Israel and son of King David and Bethseba) in Jerusalem for dispute resolution (after he has offered both burnt and peace offerings to the Lord before the Ark of the Covenant and made a feast to all his servants); and how King Solomon resolved the dispute.

16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said. Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28 And all Israel heard of the judgement which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

Now let us examine three important instances of understanding and wisdom that were revealed in I Kings 3:16-28.
(1) According to the story, there was no violence between the women before they came to King Solomon. If so, then the woman who eventually won the dispute did not fight the woman who stole her baby at midnight. Perhaps she understood the grief of the woman who lost her baby and because she understood, she exhibited wisdom by presenting herself to the authority for dispute resolution. She could have acted out her right and justified anger by engaging her housemate in a fight for the baby she believes is hers. But that would have been unwise because of its inherent risk. The baby could have been injured or even killed in such a fight.

(2) King Solomon's understanding of motherly love led him to the wisdom he exhibited when he pretended to want to divide the baby into two (essentially kill the baby). He knew that a true mother will repulse at and reject the murder of her baby at any time. A true mother does not have to be a biological mother. There are many biological mothers who have deliberately killed their children. So, King Solomon was looking for the true mother of the baby not necessarily the biological mother. He understood motherly love. So, he was able to wisely determine the true mother of the baby. The true mother who out of love for her baby was willing to loose her son in order to prevent his death. Had King Solomon's observation and understanding led him to believe that neither of the women exhibited motherly love, he probably would have denied both women, custody of the baby.

(3) King Solomon's understanding of humanity led him to the wisdom he exhibited when he granted the women audience. He was a King and they were harlots some might have said. Evidently, he did not see them in that light because their problem was important to him. King Solomon was never a perfect human being. However, he was a very decent human being who often shuned the arrogance of power. So much so that when in his dream God asked him what gift he wanted; he asked for an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9). The arrogance of power over time has been the major source of human cruelties.

It is clear that the aquisition of accumulated learning alone does not beget wisdom, otherwise intelligent people will always be wise. We know that this is not the case. There are many intelligent people who are often foolish. In fact, intelligence can be a road block in the wisdom journey if it is allowed to impede the open mindedness needed to get understanding.

Foolishness in deeds and words abound in our modern world. Particularly in deeds and words used to express real or perceived rightness of snapshots of Time. The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, Chapter Three Verses One through Eight (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) informs on the necessity for a one to one mapping of actions and time:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to ... Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Many times, foolishness is due to wrong timing of deeds and words (e.g. leaping before thinking, judging before understanding, tweeting and retweeting before thinking). Often times, the consequences of foolishness are innocuous. At other times, they can be hurtful and even deadly. The life long wisdom journey is desired by most if not all humans even though foolishness always lurks along the way. The Book of James in the Bible, Chapter Three Verse Seventeen (James 3:17) describes the wisdom we should all seek as we travel on the wisdom highway.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:17.

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