“There’s nothing better than being wise,
Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life.
Wisdom puts light in the eyes,
And gives gentleness to words and manners.”
~Ecclesiastes 8:1 (Msg).
Who knows someone wise? I think we all do. Although none of us are perfect, I bet that everyone who considered this question just now has rapidly conjured in their minds the picture of someone they know, trust and admire.
What is ‘Wisdom?’
What is wisdom but to see life acutely from God’s divinely-balanced perspective? It’s practically knowing the right courses of action to take as we are dealt the cards of life. It’s responding aright, come what may. It’s ability of character; not what we say, but what we do.
It is, therefore, a thoroughly worthwhile and sensible goal to invest in wisdom; to become wiser.
There are many different takes on this proverb—there’s even some confusion as to what it actually means. The Septuagint (Greek) version (a.k.a. the LXX) of the Old Testament has it:
“Who knows the wise? and who knows the interpretation of a saying? A person’s wisdom will lighten their countenance; but a person of shameless countenance will be hated.”
(Adapted to be gender inclusive.)
Another word for “countenance” is tolerance, or otherwise patience. The Greek work translated “countenance” in this proverb is πρόσωπον (prosōpon) and it means many things; even “face,” “appearance” and “presence.”
A Portrait of this ‘Tolerant’ Wisdom of ‘Presence’
Even in the midst of great cognitive, emotional or spiritual difficulty the person known to be wise is found gracious, resilient, even quietly and humbly confident. They seem to have a winsome and serenely regal and unhurried way about them, even when they’re challenged. They are generally both godly and ‘popular.’
This is what is indicated by the first lines of the LXX—“Who knows?”
These questions are framed as impossible to answer with any authority for the people not housing such wisdom. The person with wisdom can determine who are wise—as they keep such company—and they can also divine a saying, repealing the ambiguity that ordinarily locks vision of such truth from the eyes of commoners.
Having our ‘Presence’ Lightened
Wisdom is good for us; it makes our face shine with delight. God, also, is attributed as the source of putting light in our faces (Numbers 6:25).
Having faces lit positively must surely be the goal of any sensible human being, and the way of doing this is a heart after wisdom.
Surely we should focus on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, James etc and learn to wrangle with the theology in these great wisdom books. But we should not stop there! We should be voracious in our broader wisdom reading—extending past Christian circles so we can hone a discerning mind and heart for truth.
Better still over all this is to be able to understand life and not be confused and overwhelmed by it. This is said by and large, for there are some things which will confound anyone.
Wisdom can hence solve (or resolve) a great number of spiritual and mental ills, but only God can resolve it all.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Roland E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes – Word Biblical Commentary (