You may have heard of the seven pillars of wisdom. They are seven ways we can become wiser in the way we deal with things in our lives. What is the origin of the seven pillars of wisdom? The origin is in the Bible at Proverbs chapter 9, verse 1.
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.
Here see a woman called wisdom building a house and for that house she has cut out seven stone pillars. Pillars ofcourse have been used from the earliest times to support the roofs of large rooms and they had through time been made of wood, stone or mud-brick. A lot of architects back then had a particular favourite design when designing a more expensive house and that was to build the house around a courtyard. The structure would be supported by three pillars on each side of the courtyard and one in the centre on the third side facing the open space which was the entrance. So perhaps the woman called wisdom had built her house with the pillars laid out like that.
Now if we were able to go back in time to when this proverb was written and ask if we could talk to this woman called Wisdom, I think we would discover that we are going to have a bit of hard time finding her. The reason we won’t find her is because she doesn’t exist. What is happening in this proverb is that the characteristic of wisdom has been personified. Wisdom has been symbolised as a woman who has built a permanent house for herself. We should note that this is not a tent she has built which can be moved at a couple of days notice, this is a permanent solid house with seven pillars in place to support it’s stone roof. In other words, this is telling us of the importance and the permanency of wisdom. Wisdom is permanent and must be housed for the long term.
We will also note that there are seven pillars. In the Hebrew, seven is Shevah. Which comes from the root word savah, which means to be full or satisfied. And because it means full and satisfied, it is, therefore, the number of spiritual perfection, and you can clearly see that is the case in various places in the Bible.
So, in summary, what we have is wisdom having a permanent place to live, where the house will be supported by the perfect number of pillars.
If we look at verse one of chapter nine it tells us that the seven pillars had already been hewn or cut from the rock. So we must go back in time to see where they came from, we must find out what their source is. We can find the answer in the previous chapter. In chapter 8 Wisdom is again personified but this time as a lodger staying in a house. It tells us in verses 12 to 14 that wisdom dwells with or has seven attributes.
"I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
Let’s now look at each pillar of wisdom:
From these verses we can see that the first pillar of wisdom is prudence. In these verses, wisdom is being portrayed as a lodger who lives in the same house as a woman called Prudence. The meaning here for us is that men and women who are wise are prudent also – they dwell together. They are wise in handling practical matters and they exercise good judgment or common sense.
And probably the best way that they can show good judgment is in their own behaviour. For when they think about their own behaviour they have the ability to judge in advance the probable results of their own actions. They know what will happen if they behave in a particular way. For example, they know that if they do a particular thing it may lead to others sinning. So as a result they will show restraint.
Therefore, people with prudence have self-restraint and sound judgment as part of their character. The true wise and prudent are those described in Hosea chapter 14 and verse nine.
Who is wise? He will realise these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
So those who know the righteousness of God will be called truly wise and prudent. Prudence means shrewdness and sound judgment. It is the ability to keep oneself from being misled. An example of this can be found in the disciples of Christ. The disciples were instructed by Christ to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” and this gives us the idea of the meaning of prudence.
To explain further what it means to be as wise as serpents, it says elsewhere in Proverbs, we cannot afford to be naive. As we go through life we gain knowledge and we do this so that we can avoid the pitfalls in the path of life. And this is main reason why we need prudence, so that we can discriminate between truth and error. We need to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We cannot afford to be naive.
So prudence is the first pillar of wisdom.
Knowledge of sagacious things
Let us return to Proverbs chapter 8 to see what the second pillar is. We can see the second pillar in the second part of verse 12.
I, wisdom dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.
Therefore, wisdom finds knowledge and discretion.
Now, the Hebrew word for discretion is mezimmah (mez-im-maw). This word mezimmah means the power of forming plans. In other words, it is using wiseness to devise, imagine, plot or think up something.
Sometimes this word is used to talk about people with evil purposes. That is men who use their wiseness to plot or devise a wicked plan. And we call this wicked type of plotting, “machination”. But this same Hebrew word of mezimmah (mez-im-maw) can also be used to talking about someone planning something good. When someone plans something good we use the word “sagacious”. Sagacious means possessing or showing sound judgment and keen perception. It is someone who can reason and plan the best direction to head in.
Throughout the book of Proverbs it shows that the godly man is a man who takes an interest in all those things going on about him, he takes the trouble to know his way about; he plans his course of actions realistically. Put simply, it is someone who looks ahead and then plans his action. As an example of this have a look at Proverbs chapter 22 and verse 3.
A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
What this verse is telling us is that there is a great deal of difference between faith and blind optimism. In fact, those with blind optimism are seen as fools. God does not want us to put ourselves in dangerous situations and then expect Him to rescue us. An example of this might be driving our cars at high speeds well over the speed limit. That is exactly what this proverb is about. Part of wisdom involves knowing how to avoid danger.
This is further confirmed in Proverbs chapter 14 and verses 15 and 16.
A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.
Again, this is a similar message. A wise man plans for the future and knows how to avoid danger and evil. And there are many examples of men being sagacious or showing wiseness in their planning for the future.
Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his family.
David was directed by wisdom to hide himself from Saul.
The disciples were taught to flee from the impending evil of the Roman army (Matt.10:23, 24:15-18)
Paul repeatedly hid himself from threatened destruction (Acts 9:23-25, 17:14, 23:17).
Even Jesus himself acted on this rule (Luke 4:29,30).
So the second pillar of wiseness is having knowledge of Sagacious things. Knowing what is going on about you so that you can wisely plan for the future and avoid any potential dangers or evils.
Fear of God
Returning to Proverbs chapter 8 and verse 13 we can see the third pillar of wiseness.
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech.
True wisdom is firmly grounded in a fear of God and is free of the faults of worldly wisdom. Proverbs chapter 1 and verse 7 says this:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
What does fear mean? It means reverence. But it means more than that. The apostle Paul said in Hebrews that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. It means a right attitude to God and the practical expression of this attitude in a person’s day to day life. We must be committed to God’s purpose. This means serving, worshipping, obeying and loving him.
It also means turning from evil and hating evil. And that last point is made very clear in the verse we read before in Proverbs chapter 8 where it says “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil”. And it says elsewhere in the scriptures that as a reward to those who fear God, that:
no good thing will the Lord withhold from them that fear him (Psalm 84:11)
So this is the third pillar of wisdom, to fear the Lord.
Returning to Proverbs chapter 8 and verse 14 we can see the fourth pillar of wisdom.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
Therefore, counsel is the fourth pillar. Counsel means to give good advice, to give wise guidance. It also means to listen to counsel. To depend on one’s own judgment, even in private matters, is the height of foolishness. Even the wisest and godliest have made errors in discerning things. We must seek counsel instead. And we can do this by weighing up a matter in the presence of God through prayer and also through inviting counsel from other experienced believers.
David and Solomon were both specially endowed with wisdom. Yet despite having their own wisdom they still seeked the advice of wise counselors when it came to governing the kingdom. In David’s case, Ahithophel and Hushai were his counselors. For Solomon, 1 Kings chapter 12 speaks of the “old men that stood before Solomon”.
So we should have no fear going to others for advice and counsel. Ofcourse, the Bible is also for guidance and edification. Recorded in these scriptures there is an abundance of counselors who testify as to how a man or woman should walk before his or her God.Perhaps the best advice on counsel is found in Proverbs chapter 19 and verses 20
Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.
Another version of the Bible puts it possibly a bit more clearly when it say:
Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days”.
Counseling, then is another pillar of wisdom, and involves giving good advice to others. But it is also wise to listen to counsel and learn, so that you also may be wise.
The fifth pillar of wisdom is found in verse 14 of Proverbs chapter 8 which we read before and it is sound wisdom.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
Sound wisdom or judgment goes back to the Hebrew word of tushiyah (too-shee-yaw) which means in a general sense, wise behaviour. In other words, it is talking about practical wisdom. How we put wisdom into use in our day to day behaviour. It is very practical. Have a look at Proverbs chapter 1 and verse 3. We’ll read from verse 1 for context.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
In an alternate version of this verse 3 it says:
“To receive instruction in wise behaviour, righteousness, justice and equity”.
So this type of wisdom is talking about the way we use wisdom in our day to day behaviour. Some people may ask how can we be wise in our day to day behaviour? What must we do to be wise in our daily behaviour?
Well, wise behaviour is more clearly defined in the words which are contained in the last part of verse 3: “Righteousness, justice and equity”. These are the ways that we can be wise in our daily behaviour. These are the great prophetic themes. The emphasis here is on action rather than on casual armchair religion:
Righteousness means in the Hebrew to be right or straight. It is to act or live in an upright manner.
Justice is the ability to come to a proper understanding of things through observation.
Equity means a way of thought and conduct that is honest. It means fairness and impartiality.
Sound wisdom means behaving each day with these three great themes being the basis of your behaviour. It goes hand in hand with the fourth pillar of wisdom, counsel. For people will only seek counsel where they know they can find sound wisdom. In other words, if a man or woman shows righteousness, justice and equity in their life, then others will come to them in confidence to seek wise counsel.
The sixth pillar of wisdom listed in Proverbs chapter 8 and verse 14 is understanding. To understand we must do three things:
- To understand we need to firstly know the source of all wisdom. We must understand that all wisdom comes from only one source and that is our Heavenly Father.
- To understand we must secondly receive instruction from that source we call the Bible. It requires not casual detached study but disciplined study and learning. Knowledge and learning are the keys to being wise in the Truth.
- And lastly, to understand, we must discern wisely. Like Solomon we need to be able to discern between good and evil.
This is the sixth great pillar of wisdom – understanding.
The last pillar listed in chapter 8 and verse 14 of Proverbs is Strength or Power. There is no point in understanding a problem, if there is no power to implement the solution.
You may be reading this article and thinking that through hard work and diligence that it is possible to attain the first six pillars of wisdom as you progress through life. And indeed some of us may already have attained those pillars. But what about attaining the seventh pillar of power and strength? If you don’t think you have the power to implement solutions that you have thought through then the answer to attaining strength can be found in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes chapter 7 and verse 19 says this:
Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city.
The solution is simple the seventh pillar of strength comes from attaining the previous six pillars. If you have attained the first six pillars then the seventh pillar of strength comes naturally to you.
The man with godly wisdom is truly strong and fortified. Put in another way, if a man or woman has attained prudence, knowledge of sagacious things, fears God, gives and receives counsel, has sound wisdom in his or her behaviour, and has attained understanding then that person truly has power and strength. He or she is truly fortified against the evils of this world and is a true servant of God.
Jesus Christ had become strong through attaining those pillars of wisdom.
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)
Jesus attained his strength through being filled with wisdom. And this same wisdom is available to us, for as James says, God gives wisdom generously to all who ask. If we truly aspire to be like the man Jesus Christ then we must live in that house built by wisdom, dwelling amongst the seven pillars that she has hewn out.
Isaiah chapter 11 and verses 1 to 5 tells of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and how the great pillars of wisdom will rest on him.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.