We all want true wisdom, don’t we? Yet wisdom and understanding seem to be elusory concepts just beyond our reach and not quite coming into focus. We love the idea of being wise, but what does wisdom actually entail? And beyond that, how do we obtain true understanding?
When considering this concept, our first inclination is to turn to Proverbs. Certainly, that book has much to teach us about wisdom. However, the next stanza of Psalm 119 answers our two-fold question: what is true understanding and how do we get it? Consider the following verses—
“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.” (Psalm 119:97-100)
In this section, we know the Psalmist possesses wisdom by the words of contrast: “wiser,” “more insight,” “understand more.” This wisdom is expounded in the rest of the passage by what it enables him to do. For example, verse 101 says, “I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.” True wisdom and understanding enabled the Psalmist to (1) discern the right path from the wrong path, (2) reject the way of evil, and (3) actively choose the path of righteousness.
In other words, true wisdom is not mere head knowledge. Wisdom is a knowledge of God’s ways, but that is not all it is. Wisdom is applying our understanding of the Lord and His ways to the decisions we have to make on a daily basis. This does not mean we look for some sort of “spiritual” significance behind everything, such as what brand of peanut butter to buy. What it does mean is that we are filtering our decisions through our understanding of what pleases the Lord.
This understanding does not come from men. The Psalmist’s enemies, teachers, and the aged were the three groups who seemed to have the most wisdom. They were cunning, had insight, and seemed to understand. While the Psalmist may have learned from their examples, his wisdom ultimately came from a higher Source.
And that is the thrust of this passage. The reason he understood more than those three “wise” groups was because of his personal relationship with the Lord. He says in verse 102, “I have not turned aside from Your ordinances, for You Yourself have taught me.” He learned from the Lord and the Word, not simply thirdhand from someone else. This is not some mystical experience, though. Rather, it was through a diligent and daily thinking on and considering the Word of the Lord. In those four verses cited above (97-100), the Psalmist explains how he received this wisdom, and without fail, each explanation describes continual meditating on and holding God’s Word. This wasn’t a mere mental acknowledgement. He clung to God’s Word and learned from Scripture how to live.
The New Testament presents this same truth. Colossians 2:2-3 declares that believers gain true “wisdom” through knowing “Christ Himself.” The rest of Chapter 2 and all of 3 is devoted to explaining our union with Christ and how we ought to live in light of that union. Wisdom is not head knowledge—it shapes how we live.
Can pastors, teachers, and even education help us with that? Absolutely, but we must not make the gaining of head knowledge our goal. The Lord wants us to know His Word and live in light of that understanding. This is true wisdom. The Psalmist possessed it from His personal relationship with the Lord. We should follow His example and seek to truly know the Lord and His Word more and more.