Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.
There are two ways this verse is commonly interperated, and they are by no means of equal merit. To disclose the first, I am going to do something I have never done before on the blog: I’m going to cheat. I know, this is my blog and I started it to write things, but this was so good, and I didn’t want to have to paraphrase the whole thing to avoid being a plagiarist.
This is what Matthew Henry had to say about the first interpretation of Proverbs 18:1.
Some take it as a rebuke to an affected singularity. When men take a pride in separating themselves from the sentiments and society of others, in contradicting all that has been said before them and advancing new notions of their own, which, though ever so absurd, they are wedded to, it is to gratify a desire or lust of vain-glory, and they are seekers and meddlers with that which does not belong to them. He seeks according to his desire, and intermeddles with every business, pretends to pass a judgment upon every man’s matter. He is morose and supercilious. Those generally are so that are opinionative and conceited, and they thus make themselves ridiculous, and are vexatious to others.
I agree with this interpretation, but I like to think of it from a slightly different angle. Say that this man spoken about in Proverb 18:1 is less a wisdom seeking intellect, and more a lover, seeking distraction. It does sound a bit like a man in love seeking to take his mind off a woman. Look at the wording here: through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.
Those in bold are the key words, and I’ll take them each apart for you. With desire, I can see the subject being a love distraught young man, whose desire for a young woman–who is perhaps oblivious or obstinately against the young man–, drives the young man to the next key word of the passage. This man, being rebuffed and unrequited, then separates himself from the world and all feelings of love, burying himself in the seeking and absorbing of knowledge. But the simple search and consumption of facts doesn’t fix the young man’s angst or dissolve his desire: it isn’t enough to just seek. So, our young man discovers a lust for wisdom, driven by a desire to forget about his young woman entirely. Regular study is not enough, therefore he takes it upon himself to learn all wisdom.
Then, after that, we still see the effects of those actions in the Matthew Henry commentary, but it gives the man a different motive and a personability, (new word), that we can learn from and relate to. I could bring this all back to the comments made by Henry… But, Matthew Henry can get his own blog if he wants to.
The other interpretation we can derive from this verse is one that is vastly different than the first: the man of selfish motive seeking all wisdom. This other interpretation paints a very different man. Again, deferring to Henry’s words on the point as they are more eloquent than my own.
Our translation seems to take it as an excitement to diligence in the pursuit of wisdom. If we would get knowledge or grace, we must desire it, as that which we need and which will be of great advantage to us, 1 Co. 12:31. We must separate ourselves from all those things which would divert us from or retard us in the pursuit, retire out of the noise of this world’s vanities, and then seek and intermeddle with all the means and instructions of wisdom, be willing to take pains and try all the methods of improving ourselves, be acquainted with a variety of opinions, that we may prove all things and hold fast that which is good.
This interpretation seems to portray a pious monk. Though it is likely intended to glorify the pursuit of knowledge and justify the forsaking of all else, the words above seem to degrade rather than propogate the seeking of wisdom as a lifestyle. The words, “We must separate ourselves from all those things which would divert us from or retard us in the pursuit, retire out of the noise of this world’s vanities…” seem very self-centric and very upity. If we were to replace the words world’s vanities, with a milder set like things of this world, it seems that this life portrayed, the life of this righteous, wisdom seeker, is…boring.
Basically, Henry’s words, however eloquent they may be, encourage us to grab a stack of books and hide in a hole. They say that all there is in life is the understanding of the Word of God, and that life should be lived for that single purpose. Perhaps Henry, who was called to the study of scripture and the interpretation thereof, may have been tainted by his own lifestyle to think slightly closed-minded about life’s ultimate purpose. Not to discredit the pursuit of knowledge for the better understanding of The Word.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
—2 Timothy 2:15
The Word itself clearly encourages the study of The Word. But, the passage isn’t so much about gaining wisdom, within context. Proverbs 18:2-9 is a caution against becoming a fool.
A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.
The successive verses, leading up to verse 9 are exclusively about “The Fool”. Therefore, being that the first verse alone is a about seeking knowledge, and the next 8 are about the effects of a fool’s life, we can see the focus of this passage is not on the first verse.
So, where does the magi come in? Well, he already has. Magi, simply put, means “Wise Men”, it’s the plural form of Maguš, (wise man), from the root Mago, the Latin word for wise. Really, the magi have been in the post from the beginning. Have you? Are you so over-absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge that you neglect the other tasks of being a Christian? Or are you a fool: mindlessly disregarding knowledge if it’s amassment becomes too difficult. Do not neglect the seeking of wisdom, but within moderation, study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist