21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:21)
The LORD’s first woe against the Nation of Judah in the 8th century B.C. was materialism. The second woe was directed towards drunkenness and devotion to pleasure while concurrently the people neglected the LORD’s work of judgment and redemption. The third woe was against those who ridiculed and mocked the LORD and His people; especially His prophet, Isaiah. The fourth woe concerned the reversal of morality.
The fifth woe concerned those who were wise in their own opinion and not deriving wisdom from the LORD and His Word. The LORD will bring judgment upon those who are presently and actively seeking for wisdom within themselves.
Wisdom, or to be wise, (Heb. Ha’Kam) means to be skillful, clever, experienced or shrewd. While it can mean to possess the knowledge of a craftsman in some technical work (Exodus 35:10, 25; 36:1, 2, 4, 8; Isaiah 3:3; Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 27:8), it is also a capacity for understanding and discernment (Proverbs 10:8).
A synonym is the word shrewd (ne’bo nim). It means to have understanding, perception and discernment.
As one theologian explains, “The word “wisdom,” with reference to human beings, is used in a variety of different ways in the OT. The word is often used as virtually synonymous with the term “knowledge,” but in its general and secular uses it commonly indicates applied knowledge, skill, or even cunning. Wisdom could be defined as either “superior mental capacity” or “superior skill.” Thus, wisdom is used to describe both the cunning of King Solomon (1 Kings 2:1–6) and the skill of the craftsman Bezalel (Exodus 35:33). But it was also used to describe mental capacities and skills that had a moral component—the capacity to understand and to do good.”
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “There is a section of the Old Testament known as the Wisdom Literature — the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Wisdom Literature makes a startling affirmation: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10). For the Jews, wisdom meant a practical understanding of how to live a life that is pleasing to God. The pursuit of godliness was a central concern of the writers of the Wisdom Literature. They affirmed that the necessary condition for anyone to have true wisdom is a fear of the Lord.”
The woe contained in today’s text is not a condemnation against wisdom or shrewdness, but rather the pursuit of wisdom void of a prior pursuit of God. It is a wisdom which is man-centered and not God-centered.
Wisdom is the practical application of knowledge from God through His Word. People may possess knowledge and not have wisdom, but they cannot have wisdom without knowledge. The knowledge people must have to truly have wisdom is a knowledge of God which He has given of Himself. This knowledge of, and from, God is not only found in creation but also in God’s Word (Psalm 19).
Proverbs 1:1–7 says, “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, “We want to be rich, successful, and comfortable, but we do not long for wisdom. Thus, we do not read the Scriptures, the supreme textbook of wisdom. This is foolishness. Let us pursue the knowledge of God through the Word of God, for in that way we will find wisdom to live lives that please Him.”
May we today pursue the knowledge and wisdom which is from God and not that which is found within ourselves.
Soli deo Gloria!