“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” – Proverbs 9:1-2
Americans have mastered few occupations to perfection like feasting and luxury. A survey of our favorite holidays quickly confirms the elevated and central position which feasting holds. Or, for that matter, think of how easily we are be enticed into the most minor, trivial, and tedious gatherings by the lofty promise of coffee and donuts. Likewise, it doesn’t take any architectural genius to observe that new condos are never promoted as “modest” or “rather average and functional”. Luxury is always our starting point.
There are two main objections in people’s minds when they consider setting themselves toward living a life of wisdom, or perhaps as we might describe it, “striving to do the right thing as often as possible”. First, that sounds hard. Second, that sounds boring. This proverb sets out to unseat both these objections.
Personified wisdom, in these verses, seeks to grab ahold of every person it can. And, contrary to popular perception, the pathway of wisdom is not an obscure, austere lifestyle. Wisdom has built her house and hewn seven pillars. Whatever symbolism this verse may contain, two things are definitively being stated. First, if you go to find wisdom, you will find it in a house. That is to say, it’s not in a cave in the rock, or behind some hidden waterfall, or in a lonely shelter in the wilderness. Secondly, seven pillars implies that wisdom did not exactly cut corners, tighten its budget, and opt for the efficiency kitchen. Wisdom lives in a mansion.
The point of wisdom advertising its mansion is not so much to say that living with wisdom will make you wealthy and opulent, though other verses suggest that trend. This is saying that wisdom is not hard to find. We often envisage the procurement of wisdom as the hidden spoil of a forbidding pilgrimage into the clefts of the Himalayas. After years of lonely wandering, the weathered face of a mysterious monk re-emerges, having obtained and internalized the hidden jewel of contentment. He then retreats into his own solitude in his mountain cottage, where true seekers must journey to find him, and then make their trek back home, working to ponder and decipher his opaque one-liners.
Finding wisdom, which can always be discovered in the person of Jesus, and the text of Scripture, is more like spotting that gated mansion you drive by every day on your way into town. Except that wisdom’s gates are wide open and there’s a 24/7 welcome banner. We may not like the work involved in acquiring wisdom, or the way it confronts and challenges our closed-off selfishness, but we shouldn’t pretend we don’t know where to find it. The Bible is always there on the shelf, collecting dust.
The second misconception wisdom has to dispel is that its hospitality is meager and withholding. We might acknowledge wisdom’s house as hard to miss, but we prefer to drive by. We assume we already know the menu. There will be a few leafy greens, some stew which is heavy on the broth, and the strong scent of herbal incense, mingled with the aroma of exclusivity and superiority. The meal can be washed down with mineral water artfully garnished with lemon rinds. This is the wrong picture. In reality, it turns out that wisdom has a feast at the ready, its table groaning with meat and wine. The life of wisdom offers the finest, the sweetest, and the most filling food we could hope for, though oftentimes full enjoyment of the buffet comes with an acquired taste. We should go to the house of wisdom, starting with Scripture and a fear of the Lord, knowing that every time we come, there’s a feast ready, and the table is set.