Seven Weeks to Wisdom – Week 1: What is Wisdom?

Lesson 1 of the Quest for Truth "Seven Weeks to Wisdom" curriculum.

Lesson Developed by

Skip Masback

Goal

Bible study, Appreciation of Biblical Wisdom as Guidance for Life

Tips to Prepare

Here are some resources the leader may choose to review while preparing the lesson. In some circumstances, you may choose to share parts of them with your youth:

A. Definitions

From The American Heritage Dictionary: wis.dom. . . 1. Understanding of what is true, right or lasting; insight: “one cannot have wisdom without living life” (Dorothy McCall. 2. Common sense: good judgment: It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things” (Henry David Thoreau). 3.a. The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge: “In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations” (Maya Angelou). B. Wise teachings of ancient sages. 4.b A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.

From Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: [synonyms for wise: sage, sapient, judicious, prudent, sensible, sane] . . . mean having or showing sound judgment. Wise suggests great understanding of people and of situations and unusual discernment and judgment in dealing with them (wise beyond his tender years). Sage suggests wide experience, great learning, and wisdom (the sage advice of my father). Sapient suggests great sagacity and discernment (the sapient musings of an old philosopher). Judicious stresses a capacity for reaching wise decisions or just conclusions (judicious parents using kindness and discipline in equal measure). Prudent suggests exercise of the restraint of sound practical wisdom and discretion ( a prudent decision to wait out the storm. Sensible applies to action guided and restrained by good sense and rationality (a sensible woman who was not fooled by flattery). Sane stresses mental soundness, rationality, and level-headedness (remained sane even in times of crises.).

Materials Checklist

  • Bibles: New Revised Standard or New International Versions
  • Candle
  • Copy of “Seven Weeks to Wisdom: Week I” Handout of Excerpts (If you prepare one)
  • Writing Instruments
  • Flip Chart Pad (with Post-It strip or masking tape)
  • Three small different colored pads of post it notes
  • Enough 4×6 index cards for each student to have two cards
  • 3 Music Playing Devices (e.g. Smart phones, Tablets, Laptops) with
    speakers
  • A Way of accessing recordings and lyrics of Bob Marley’s song “Wisdom.”, The following links are to ad-sponsored sites. The songs are readily available on apps like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Google Play without ads). Bob Marley: “Wisdom”

Recording: Wisdom, by Bob Marley
Lyrics: Wisdom, by Bob Marley

Scripture Focus

Proverbs 1:20-31

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
30 would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices. (NRSV)

Purpose

To provide the youth with: a) an understanding of wisdom; b) the various ways cultures develop, preserve and share wisdom; and c) the value of wisdom as guidance for life.

Further Study

Yale Bible Study: Wisdom Literature (8 Week Course)

Introduction for Leaders

This is a seven-week course that will introduce youth to the Wisdom literature of the Bible, and you will explore where wisdom can be found and attained. Together, you will listen to and explore wisdom in music, fables and in scripture.

The process is meant to be iterative  – there will be collective exercises that give youth a chance to offer, share, and reflect on ideas, and there are take-home assignments to revisit/revise what they draft in youth group. We will then take the writings and compile a “Great Book of Our Youth Group’s Wisdom”.  The lessons can easily be adapted for online use if needed.

Following are some resources to help you prepare:

From Gerhard Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel at 3:

No one would be able to live even for a single day without incurring appreciable harm if he could not be guided by wide practical experience. This experience teaches him to understand events in his surroundings, to foresee the reactions of his fellow men, to apply his own resources at the right point, to distinguish the normal from the unique and much more besides. Man is scarcely aware of this continual guidance, nor of the fact that this experience is only partly contributed by him. He grows into it, it proves true for him, the most that he does is to modify it. Least of all will he reflect on that this experience, looked at more closely, is a highly complex structure. Of course, as we have said, it is constructed out of individual experiences which have been brought into play and purified over and over again. But experiences without preparation do not exist. By and large man creates the experiences which he expects and for which, on the basis of the idea which he has formed of the world around him, he is ready. Experience presupposes a prior knowledge of myself; indeed it can become experience only if I can fit it into the existing context of my understanding of myself and of the world. Thus it can even be that man misses possible experiences offered to him, that he lacks the capacity to register them, because he is incapable of fitting them into the limits of his understanding. This experiential knowledge is, however, not only a very complex entity, but also a very vulnerable one. And this cannot be otherwise, for it renders man an invaluable service in enabling him to function in his sphere of life other than as a complete stranger and puts him in the position of understanding that sphere of life, at least to a certain extent, as an ordered system. Such knowledge does not accrue to an individual, nor even to a generation. It acquires its status and its binding claim only where it appears as the common possession of a nation or of a broad stratum within a nation. But precisely in its [4] quality as a communal possession this knowledge finds itself on dangerous ground. Certainly, on the basis of a long period of trial, it can make for itself a claim to stability and validity. But, in so far as it becomes the possession of all, it is in danger of simplifying and generalizing truths which can be generalized only to a certain extent. Thus the sphere of order in which man is invited to take refuge is at all times under threat. It is fundamentally called in question by every contrary experience; indeed this knowledge can even become one enormous deception to the extent that it tries to shut off the experience of new reality and fights against it alongside periods of disclosure and of movement, periods of resistance and preservation.
. . . .

Every nation with a culture has devoted itself to the care and the literary cultivation of this experiential knowledge and has carefully gathered its statements, especially in the form of sentence-type proverbs. This, then, is one of the most elementary activities of the human mind, with the practical aim of averting harm and impairment of life from man. Not only does the outside world as an object stimulate man’s desire for knowledge; its movements and reactions affect him and, at the same time, subject him to influences. In any event, man must know his way about in the world in which he finds himself in order to hold his own in it.

What we have just described as one of the most elementary activities of the human mind is nevertheless a highly complex phenomenon, for the road from an experience which is considered worthy of the linguistic expression of it – and to this particular linguistic expression – is a long one, one which has by no means been adequately explored. Once an experience has found expression in a proverb, a sentence, a maxim or even an aphorism, a multi-layered process has come to an end. In the interval, the validity of the experience in question must have been proved. Where does this happen? What are the given presuppositions for this type of intellectual productivity? If we disregard the proverb for a moment, then the composition of wisdom literature seems to be connected with particular periods in the intellectual life of nations. How is one to determine its [5] relationship to other “ideological” works of literature? Does it simply fill what has been felt to be a gap? Above all, however, by which intellectual powers is this process carried out? By the reason or rather, perhaps, by a particular type of intuition? The maxim – if we disregard for the moment, its individual types – can function in the most varied contexts. As a trivial proverb it can belong to the world of the simple. It can, however, like a precious stone among trinkets, outshine a poem of the highest quality. The demand which it must always satisfy is that of brevity, of compactness and yet of intelligibility, with, if possible, a clear graphic quality; in short, that of being easily remembered.

Ancient Israel, too, participated in the business of cultivating her experiential knowledge. That in doing so she stumbled upon perceptions largely similar to those of other ancient peoples is no longer surprising. What is surprising, rather, is that many of the most elementary experiences appeared quite differently to her, especially because she set them in a specific spiritual and religious context of understanding. But was ‘reality,’ then, not one and the same?

From Introduction to Wisdom Literature, The New Interpreters Bible v. 5. [at 16]:

The people of the ancient Near East, like people today, were interested
in learning how to live optimally in a world they found only partially
understandable. They took note of successful and unsuccessful ways of
coping with life, stated them memorably, and handed them on to others.
They also observed that life is often inexplicable and the lot of human
beings to be miserable, and they explored such problems in complaints and
dialogues. It was the human task to observe carefully the world the gods
had made and to record their observations. Because of this common
commitment to attend to the world and its rhythms and laws, there is
remarkable continuity among the wisdom literatures of antiquity.

The people of Israel lived in that world and responded to it in literature similar to that of its neighbors. Belief in the sole God, Yahweh, made things different, however. The relation of wisdom to Yahweh had to be explained. The problem of evil was an especially vexing problem, because there were no demons to blame or fate beyond God; there was only Yahweh, whom they celebrated as all-wise and all-just.

The wisdom books now appear in the Bible, a book of books. In the perennial dialectic of the bible, the wisdom books “charge” other books and themselves receive a charge from them. They are incorporated into a story, which Christians and Jews regard as still ongoing. The wisdom books remind readers that one must take hold of life as both gift and task, that there are many possibilities but also profound limits, and that honest observation and fidelity to one’s experience of life can put one in touch with a wondrous order whose source is God. The wisdom books’ starting point of everyday experience and honest observations create common ground for Bible readers to engage other people just as it once did for ancient Israel and its neighbors.

Gather

Gather (10 minutes)

  •  Invite the youth to sit in a circle. As they settle down, place a candle in the center of the circle and ask one of the young people to light it.
  • Lead the group in “The Serenity Prayer” a prayer for wisdom commonly attributed to the great Christian theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference

  •  Invite the youth to close their eyes as they listen to Bob Marley and the Wailers play Marley’s song, “Wisdom”.

Recording: Wisdom, by Bob Marley
Lyrics:  Wisdom, by Bob Marley

Introduction to the Session

  • Both the Serenity Prayer and Bob Marley’s song are about wisdom. We may be a bit fuzzy on what the word actually means, and we may not think we have ever studied wisdom, at least not intentionally, but wisdom has always been incredibly important to human existence. Here’s the way one scholar of Biblical wisdom (Gerhard Von Rad) put it:

No one would be able to live even for a single day without incurring appreciable harm if he could not be guided by wide practical experience. This experience teaches him to understand events in his surroundings, to foresee the reactions of his fellow men, to apply his own resources at the right point, to distinguish the normal from the unique and much more besides. Man is scarcely aware of this continual guidance, nor of the fact that this experience is only partly contributed by him. He grows into it, it proves true for him, the most that he does is to modify it.

  • Today, and throughout our seven weeks together, we are going to explore the idea of wisdom together. We’re going to explore what wisdom is, where wisdom can be found or attained, how portions of the Bible collect wisdom of the ages for us, and how wisdom can serve as “guidance for life” in our daily lives.

Engage

Engage (30 minutes)

Activity: What is Wisdom?

  • Invite one of the youth to read this definition of Wisdom:

From The American Heritage Dictionary: wis-dom. . . 1. Understanding of what is true, right or lasting; insight. 2. Common sense: good judgment 3.a. The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge b. Wise teachings of ancient sages. 4.b A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.

  • Invite one of the youth to read the following excerpt from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

“As I ate she began the first of what was later called “my lessons in living.” She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors. She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit. That in those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations.”

  •  Ask the youth what struck them about Angelou’s understanding of “wisdom or “mother wit.” Let the responses offered by the youth lead the conversation, only occasionally gently guiding the flow of discussion back on topic when it strays.
  • If these topics have not been raised by the youth themselves, lead a follow up conversation around the following queries:
  1. What does Angelou mean by “lessons for living?” Information taught in a class in history, chemistry or math can obviously be relevant to “living.” What’s the difference between what Angelou means by “lessons for living” from the kinds of information taught in high school classes.
  2. What does Angelou mean by “always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy?”
  3. What does Angelou mean by “homely sayings?”
  4. How are “homely sayings” “couched in the collective wisdom of generations?” How is the “collective wisdom of generations” developed? How is it collected? How is it communicated from one generation to another?
  5. Clearly, Angelou’s notion of wisdom is not limited to Biblical wisdom; the Bible is only one of many sources of wisdom that humans have put together over the ages. At all times and in all places, communities attempt to observe, record and pass wisdom down across generations. Collective wisdom of generations can be expressed and preserved in many forms. How many different forms can you think of (Biblical passages, poems, books, songs, movies, stories, sayings, parental teachings, etc.). Can you think of an example of each?
  6. Can you think of any examples of “homely sayings” couched in the “collective wisdom of generations?” How did you learn this saying? Why do you remember it? Does it ever come to mind in the course of your daily life? How? Do you think it is true?
  •  Like Angelou’s reference to “mother wit,” the Bible sometime personifies wisdom, depicting wisdom as a woman. Invite a student to take turns reading verses from the following Bible passage. Let a student volunteer to read verse 1:20, explaining that the student on their left will read verse 1:21, etc. proceeding around the circle until you get to the end of the passage:

Proverbs 1:20-31

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
30 would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.

  • Divide the youth into three groups of equal size. Give each group a flip chart pad with a post-it strip or masking tape and a marker. Ask each group to discuss each of the following four questions, recording their answers on the flip chart pad.
  1. What does the figure of Wisdom desire in this passage? How does she attempt to accomplish her aim?
  2. When humans reject or ignore Wisdom’s guidance, how does she respond?
  3. In verse 31, Wisdom warns that there are consequences when humans “have none of her counsel” or “despise her reproof.” What are those consequences?
  4. Can you think of times when someone ignored the “counsel of wisdom” and, as a consequence, ended up eating “the fruit of their way.”? In that circumstance, what was the “counsel of wisdom” they ignored? What was the “fruit of their way” that they ended up “eating.”
  • After gathering back in a large circle. Ask a representative of each group to report out on their group’s answers to the four questions. When they have finished their “report”, have them post or tape their pad pages on a wall.

 

 

Reflect

Reflect (15 minutes)

  • Gather the youth back in the circle around the candle. Hand out the index cards. Invite them to reflect on the discussion of Maya Angelou’s understanding of wisdom preserved as “mother wit” in the “homely sayings” “couched in the wisdom of generations” and to get up and review the pad sheets summarizing answers to the four questions about Biblical Wisdom’s appeal in Proverbs 1:20-31. Ask them to jot down on their index cards any specific sources of wisdom that come to mind (any specific song, poem, Biblical passage, saying, movie, story or parental teaching).
  • Re-gather around the circle, and, as time permits, invite the youth to share a few words about one particular source of wisdom (e.g. a specific song, poem, Biblical passage, saying, movie, story or parental teaching, etc.) that occurred to them as they reflected.
  • Ask that they reflect on wisdom during the coming week and pick just one example of a wisdom source (one song, poem, Biblical passage, saying, movie, story or parental teaching) to share with the group next week. Invite them to contact you if they have any questions or need help presenting their wisdom source (e.g., if they need a video projector, screen, audio device, etc.).

 

Send Forth

Send Forth (5 minutes)

  • Invite the youth to join you in prayer. Let them know before you begin that there will be an opportunity for those who wish to lift up any specific joys or concerns during the. prayer. Note that every time a “petition” is lifted up, the group will respond with, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Begin the prayer with a sentiment such as that expressed in this collect adapted from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.

“Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray for the gift of your wisdom. Give us ears that can hear your wisdom calling, give us minds that can understand your guidance, give us hearts to respond in faith and love. We bring before you the joys and concerns that are on our hearts tonight. We pray . . . . (start with one or two petitions of your own. Leading the response to each: “Lord, hear our prayer.” Then leave time and space for your students to add their own petitions – again, leading the response to each: “Lord, hear our prayer. When everyone has had a chance to lift a petition if they choose, close by saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison.