By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong [or: “The wise are mightier than the strong” (NLT)],
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.
ICING ON THE CAKE
These proverbs are descriptive, only implying prescriptions. Hubbard notes that, “There are no admonitions here, only sentences which describe how wisdom works. Only by implication do they call for action…” (Hubbard, 379).
As I see it, these two stanzas start with the basics and move on to greater things. In the first stanza, the house is built well and then it is filled up with wonderful things. In the second stanza, there is strength that increases and results in victory.
Indeed, there is even a progression from the first to the second stanza: From the stage of the “neighbourhood” to that of the “world.”’
The Home (24:3-4)
The first stanza, 24:3-4, is about the building of a house or household. The way of wisdom is to start with stability, then add increasing detail, and then beauty. First you establish and then you fill.
This echoes Proverbs 3:19-20, where God “constructs” the world through Wisdom. The wisdom with which we build is akin to the Wisdom through which God established the world: Proverbs 3:19-20:
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
By understanding He established the heavens.
By His knowledge the deeps were broken up
And the skies drip with dew.
At creation, first the heavens and the earth were formed, and then they were given increasing detail and beauty. Wisdom and its synonyms – “understanding” (or “practical know-how,” “skill”) and “knowledge.”
[See Exodus 31:3 and 1 Kings 7:14 where these words are used in references to people, under the inspiration of God, building the tabernacle/temple. (See Lucas, 344-346.)]
It is important to note that, in Proverbs,
“Material wealth [for instance, the “precious and pleasant riches” that fill the home of the wise in 24:4] is a good which it is legitimate to seek and enjoy. It is a blessing which may well come to those who follow the way of wisdom. However, it is a secondary good and should not be sought for itself. The search for wisdom must be the top priority in seeking ‘the good life.’ Material wealth, like the other secondary goods mentioned in these chapters – such as sexual fulfilment, physical health and social status – must be sought and enjoyed within the framework of the communal social virtues of justice, righteousness and equity, because those who do otherwise threaten the well-being of the community” (Lucas, 298-299).
Or, in the words of Hubbard:
“It is a wise person’s house, gracefully designed, solidly erected…, and beautifully furnished with ‘precious’ … and ‘pleasant’ … objects that take wealth … to acquire. The house itself and the bounty that fills its rooms are patent evidence that the owner’s wisdom has been blessed of God. The sayings that forbid envy (23:17-18; 24:1-2; Ps. 37; 73) make clear that the teachers held no automatic and ironclad connection between wisdom and prosperity. They were very sure, however, that the odds of life, given the divine order that governs it, highly favored the wise over the fool who almost always lacked the skill, patience, discipline, and taste to build and equip a graceful dwelling” (Hubbard, 379-380).
Wealth is merely a “crown” – not the substance of the life lived in the fear of the LORD: “The crown of the wise is their riches, the folly of fools is foolishness” (Proverbs 14:24; see also 10:22; 22:4).
The Battlefield (24:5-6)
The second stanza, 24:5-6, is about the kingdom. It speaks of the need for a ruler to combine wisdom and power. This passage tells us “how war is won: not by strength but by ‘wise counsel’” (Hubbard, 380).
[See Proverbs 20:18; 21:22; and Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 on wisdom being better than strength. 11:14 on multitude of counselors.]
But a major point here, as I see it, is again that of increase or development. The point is not merely that “… both wisdom and strength are needed to wage war successfully” (Lucas, 159). But that, power is to be added to wisdom as a “crown.” Without wisdom, might can be used for evil; indeed, “might” does not constitute “right.” On the other hand, with wisdom first – which is a type of “power” all on its own – might is used properly and becomes a tool of wisdom.
Typically, the waging of war has always been a necessity – even if it comes only in the form of defending borders. Here, the wise waging of war (i.e., the exercising of the epitome of national might) leads to increased safety, wealth, and prestige – the crowning achievements of a nation.
Again, there is an increase or progression that is important here. Wisdom is foundational and will lead to crowning glorious that are secondary. One might alter the earlier quote from Lucas: “[The safety and prestige of military victory] is a blessing which may well come to those who follow the way of wisdom. However, it is a secondary good and should not be sought for itself. The search for wisdom [and good counselors] must be the top priority in seeking ‘the good life [of the nation].’”
Again, as usual in proverbs, all of this seems to imply an “ideal” situation. Jeremiah knew that wisdom from God sometimes teaches that it is time to give up (Jeremiah 27:11).
Do you see your fruitfulness increasing? Here is a road map. Start with wisdom. Start with God’s gift of wisdom. Seek it out and “all these other things will be added to you,” as it were. Start with the foundation. Start with a sound plan.
What does this mean for Christians who seek to imitate Jesus? He seems to have needed the monetary support of others. Or what of Christians, like the Macedonian Christians of Paul’s day, who gave out of “their deep poverty” and were lauded for it (2 Corinthians 8:2)?
What is the role of wealth for Christians? Is it an icing on the cake? Is it a “crown”? Or something else?
How does this apply to other areas such as Church leadership, parenting, and evangelism?