“Proverbs, and the wisdom literature in general, counter the idea that being spiritual means handing all decisions over to the leading of the Lord. The opposite is true. Proverbs reveals that God does not make all people’s decisions for them, but rather expects them to use his gift of reason to interpret the circumstances and events of life within the framework of revelation that he has given. Yet when they have exercised their responsibility in decision-making, they can look back and see that the sovereign God has guided.”
The famous American flag Francis Scott Key watched flap in the sky as he wrote the national anthem (“O say, does that Star-spangled Banner yet wave”) is housed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in D.C. It’s the first square flag I’ve seen, measuring about 30 foot by 34 foot in size, shortened horizontally by over 10 feet due to people cutting it into squares of handkerchief-sized keepsakes. And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone knifed at the middle to cut out one star, a brazen act that has left a sloppy haphazard hole right in the middle of the flag.
What was not sliced apart by its fans looks to be in good shape for an old flag that lived through a war. Which is to say it’s now tattered to threads, and has deteriorated badly, resembling a favorite t-shirt I wore in college on a regular basis until it took on semi-transparent qualities. It was a shirt I enjoyed wearing as a bachelor and probably would still be wearing had that shirt not experienced a post-marriage disappearance.
Like my t-shirt, this flag is irreplaceable, and in recent years restoration experts have worked carefully in the hopes of stabilizing the flag’s condition and preserving it for centuries of future visitors. The last time I saw it, the flag was behind a special glass-encased room under dim lighting and positioned so the restoration experts could easily inspect each square inch of cloth. Although I’ve not seen anyone working on the flag, I imagine a careful worker with white gloves, a magnifying glass, and tweezers.
Step outside the museum, walk down the street a few blocks away, look up, and you will see sharpshooters walking around on the roof of the White House. These men are standing atop the most iconic building in the United States and home to a few of the most powerful men and women in the world. From the roof, these shooters have a nice 360-degree panoramic view of the surroundings and can watch for anything out of place. Their perch positions them for a clean shot.
So what do restoration experts and sharpshooters have in common? Well, nothing really, except they are both in the business of protecting. The one protects through detailed examination and restoration. The other protects with strength by standing on top of what is protected. For me, both of these protective agents come together in Proverbs 4:6,
Do not forsake her [wisdom], and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom “keeps us,” a term that emphasizes wisdom’s subtle, careful, and delicate act of protecting us in the details, evoking an image of a restoration specialist replacing weak threads in the fabric, strengthening frail cloth, and initiating chemical processes that will protect the flag from invisible corrosive dangers. Wisdom is at work in subtle ways, making small but strategic actions to protect us.
But wisdom also “guards” us, which is to say She protects us by standing over what is being protected. This is the image of the White House sharpshooter. I think of things less subtle, of broad protection, and clean sightlines to approaching temptations.
Whether it’s by protecting our hearts from subtle corrosive temptations or by standing over our lives with a loaded rifle on the hip, wisdom is working to protecting us. A precious promise straight from scripture to those who love and cherish God’s wisdom—that wisdom is living and active.
The dusty Palestinian city was abuzz, despite the blazing morning sun. The city streets were lined with leaders, buyers, sellers, and laborers. Another workday was in full swing as men gathered at the gate to discuss matters of trade and government.
Robed women walked through the dry and dusty streets, scrutinizing lines of chickens and vegetables for the meals of the day. Unsteady wooden carts clicked along the rough streets to bring fresh produce from nearby villages. The city was fully awake with the chorus of conversation and commerce.
With the amount of people lining the streets, it was difficult to see and hear the woman standing where the city gate connected to main street. But she was better dressed than anyone, more sharply fitted than those out for another day of trading and business. In contrast to the men and women walking the streets with their heads bowed down to the street-level bustle, her eyes were raised upward to the burning desert sky.
This woman stood in the middle of the street, visibly removed from the produce, clothing, and other wares. She stood alone in the city square when she started to speak.
Her voice rose in intensity, and at times she would break into a yell–yet her voice barely broke through the accumulated commotion of the market. Turning to the left and to the right, she raised her voice to the people, now buried in their daily routines, who passed around her on all sides.
But apart from the sneering glances, the men, women, and children walked along uninterrupted. The woman now raised her arms, cupped her mouth with her hands, and yelled louder to the disinterested crowd. Many of the people, intently focused on the day, continued with little interest in the pleading woman. Yet it was those ignoring her—even those opposing her—to whom she showed deep concern.
Facing the growing resistance of the crowd, her heart filled with compassion and her voice grew even more strained. She approached two men standing in conversation and cried out, “Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right.” The men, annoyed at the interruption, walked away. She continued walking along the streets for one soul to listen and heed—just one! Yet those gathered as spectators of this now ardent woman began to ridicule and mock her as the town crazy. Still others walked on, avoiding eye contact. Others grew angry and lobbed derogatory responses as they passed, telling the woman to shut up. Yet the woman continued, her voice now pleading ever more urgent, with tears filling her eyes. She walked up to groups and spoke with specificity. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
In the bustle of our day, God in his compassion and mercy is walking among us, offering the same sweet fruit of wisdom [Prov. 1].