A few weeks back, a good portion of Southern California—from Santa Barbara to San Diego—was burning. My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew lived within a couple of miles of one of the fires. As it burned closer to their home, they prepared an evacuation kit, just in case they received a reverse 911 call telling them to flee.
If you had been in their situation, what would you have packed in your evacuation kit? Obviously, the wife, the kids, and the dog would be first on the list. But then what? How you answer that question depends on what you value most.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
In the Bible, virtue is always more important than wealth. We don’t always have to choose between them, by the way. Indeed, one of the major themes of Proverbs is that the path of virtue often leads to wealth. But sometimes it’s hard to get excited about virtue when shiny, sparkly baubles are glittering in your eyes. That is why Proverbs emphasizes that we need to “choose” wisdom. Good sense is not a given; it’s an achievement, and like all achievements, it requires hard choices to be made.
Why is wisdom more worthy than wealth? Because it is associated with the authentically good life. Usually, “the good life” refers to our ability to purchase and use whatever we want, without financial worry. In the Bible, however, the good life is moral in nature. Look at how wisdom describes her words in verses 6-9:
Listen, for I have worthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are faultless to those who have knowledge.
Worthy, right, true, and just; never wicked or perverse—these are the adjectives which describe wisdom. You can instantly see why wisdom is more important than wealth by asking yourself a simple question: Would you rather have wealthy friends or friends characterized by these adjectives? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? If that’s what we want in our friends, shouldn’t that be what we desire for ourselves?
To you, O men, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, gain understanding.
As I said earlier, wisdom is an achievement that must be chosen, not a given. Who can make that choice? Is wisdom the achievement of an elite few, or can everyone listen to her and learn? Proverbs is plain: it is available to “all mankind.” The only requirement is that we admit we’re “simple” and “foolish” enough to need it.