Riddles and Dark Sayings
A wise man will hear and increase learning,
and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
We are now ready to close out the preamble to the Proverbs, and Solomon does that in a surprising way. Proverbs 1:5 tells us one of the primary purposes of this book, and of wisdom itself, is to allow to us “hear and increase learning (or, to receive teaching, insight, instruction)” and to “attain (or, get, buy, possess, no matter the costs) wise counsel (or, wise guidance, direction, or good advice).”
But we already know that. What we don’t know is why?
Why do we need wise counsel? What’s the purpose, the pay-off, for us in real time? What’s out there that is so important we’re supposed to learn, to understand, to have insight into? What about the last part of this passage? What about the “riddles and dark sayings”? Because it seems the “wise man” and the “man of understanding” will “hear and increase learning” and “attain wise counsel” for only one reason: “to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).
And what does that mean?
The Climax of the Definition of Wisdom
Remember, a truly wise man is not one who has already attained wisdom, but one who’s keenly aware that he hasn’t, and is desperately striving forward to be more like Christ, or to “press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). He’s one who’s not satisfied with the spiritual status quo and is not content with his Bible College Diploma signifying he has learned all there is to know about Christ and His Word. No, the wise man longs to dig deeper, to pray harder, to speak louder, to shine brighter, and to love more intensely than he thought humanly possible.
And to this “wise man”, to the “man of understanding”, comes one of the greatest blessings of all. He, by virtue of the wisdom given him by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, will learn to “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6). To him, the doors of the deeper truths of the things of God are opened and he is graciously invited to come and dine.
We know the meaning of proverb, but what’s an “enigma”? And what’s all this about the “words of the wise and their riddles”?
An enigma (mĕliytsah) is translated as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.” Admittedly, it’s a difficult word to translate in this Proverb. It can also mean “a riddle” or “a symbol or parable” or “a discourse requiring an interpretation” or simply as “a figurative and involved discourse” and is closely related to the phrase “riddles” or “dark sayings.” Therefore, when rendered together, it means something obscure in meaning, or some truth that is difficult to uncover and understand.
How do we know this? By looking at the meaning of “riddles” or “dark sayings.” The word translated here is hiydah and means “difficult questions, perplexing sayings, a statement with a double meaning, or dark and obscure utterances.” They seem to be speaking about truths that are not laying on the surface for everyone to see. They’re more hidden, like buried treasure, that only the diligent, or wise, will know to dig for and value when found.
And according to the Proverbs, this is the climax, the zenith, the pinnacle of wisdom. It doesn’t get any better than being able to understand the mysterious, puzzling, profoundly deep things of God that change us forever. After all, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” says the Lord (Isa. 55:4). And maybe, just maybe, we can catch a fleeting glimpse of just how high His thoughts are. What an incredible blessing! Tell me what compares to having the “mind of Christ”? (1 Cor. 2:16).
Ears to Hear
Jesus hinted of this when He used the cryptic phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” before speaking profound truth to only those who were able to receive it— and not to everyone. These words were not FPC, or “For Public Consumption.” They were only for those who understood the implications of what the Lord was saying. We would call those the wise, those who could understand His parables, His stories with their hidden meaning, and the mysterious, deep, dark sayings of the Lord.
Let’s look at a few of these.
When talking about John the Baptist, Jesus said he was the greatest man who ever lived and the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 11:11-13). And then He threw the crowd a curve. He said, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:14). Note the if in His statement. Not everyone was willing to receive John as coming in the spirit of Elijah. Why? Because according to Malachi in the last two verses of the Old Testament, Elijah was to come as the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ (Mal. 4:5-6). But John was the forerunner of Jesus. So if they received what Jesus said about John, they would have to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Holy One of Israel.
But not everyone was willing to do that. Therefore, the truth He uttered was not for everyone, but only for a few. For the chosen, the elect, the ones with believing hearts. Hence Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him (not everyone else) hear” (Matt. 11:15).
And again, when Jesus preached arguably His most powerful and far reaching parable about the sower and the seeds, He ended it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Why? Because this parable deals with true salvation and the deception of non-saving faith. It paints a vivid picture of those who are holding on to traditions or the teachings of men and are enamored with Christ for a short while, compared to what true salvation looks like. And it always involves fruit, and not mere profession (Matt. 7:15-20). It’s an utterly profound teaching that not everyone would receive, let alone understand. It’s for the few, the chosen, the elect, the ones “who have ears to hear.”
We see these cryptic, mysterious, dark sayings of Jesus when He spoke about life in the Kingdom (Matt. 13:9). He also used these words after confronting the Pharisees regarding their religious and spiritual hypocrisy (Mark 7:16). And when He told His disciples the true costs of discipleship: “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33), He ended that teaching with the same puzzling words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:35). But puzzling to whom? Obviously not those who have ears to hear. No, it’s the others, the masses, the everyone else.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus ends each of His seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the same way: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). If there was ever a book of the Bible full of enigmas, riddles, and dark sayings, it would be the Revelation. Wouldn’t you agree?
Back to the Dark Sayings
Which brings us back to the Proverbs.
We have been given, as a great and precious gift, the privilege of being able to understand and comprehend the deeper things of God, the sometimes confusing, puzzling, and mysterious aspects of His being. He has granted us, as mere mortals, insights into the Eternal. And these great insights, the things “many prophets and righteous men desired to see, and did not see” (Matt. 13:17) have been given to each of us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the Sovereign One Himself. With wisdom, the very wisdom of God, we can now “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).
All we have to do is use what is now ours. As Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.” In other words, I do the work. I put in the time. I stay focused and committed until I find the answer. And the same can be said regarding wisdom and the child of God.
Just as long as we use what is now ours to use.
Do Not Forsake Your Inheritance
One of the most tragic stories in all of Scripture is the account of Esau trading his blessed inheritance for a bowl of stew— for one meager can of Dinty Moore stew (Gen. 25:33-34). How could he do such a thing? Same way we do. How could he have been so short-sighted, foolish, and just plain stupid? Same way we are. And we do it all the time.
Solomon has told us one of the blessings of wisdom, of knowing the Lord in an intimate, personal way, is that by virtue of God’s wisdom imparted to us, we become wise. That only makes sense. And one of the blessings of being a wise man is to be able to understand and discern the wondrous and mysterious things in the Word of God that reveal God Himself to us. And that’s our inheritance, to have the indescribable privilege of calling Him “Abba, Father” and of Him seeing us as His children, His sons, as part of His family (Rom. 8:15). But there’s more. Our blessed inheritance means we are also heirs— “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
What compares with that? And what would you trade for your inheritance?
If you say ” absolutely nothing”! Great. But our lives and our affections often tell a different story. For we do what we want to do and serve who we want to serve. Jesus put it this way, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). And if we treasure our life in the here-and-now and what this fallen world thinks of us or promises to give us, then our hearts have drifted far from the inheritance that’s ours and the Kingdom which is our home. Wisdom no longer is our desire and the “dark sayings” of the Lord remain dark, hidden, and concealed by a veil of our own apathy. How sad. How utterly sad and heartbreaking.
We have a promise and an inheritance. So beware lest you fall into the same trap as Esau and forfeit everything for eternity because we wanted something that tastes good right now.
The spiritual life with Christ is a marathon, not a sprint. Be committed for the long haul and strive, with all you are, to be a wise man that understands what others call “riddles, an enigma, and dark sayings.”
And be this kind of man, even if you stand alone.
The promise sounds appealing, wonderful in fact. But where do we begin? What’s the first step? It’s one thing to talk about the blessings of wisdom and then dangle them out in front of us like a carrot before a horse. But it’s quite another to provide us with a roadmap, a guide book of some sort, maybe an instruction manual to point us in the right direction. Otherwise, you leave us hanging, frustrated by seeing the goal and having no clue how to get there.
But there’s good news. For the Proverbs state the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and then contrasts that with “but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). We just need to figure out exactly what the “fear of the Lord” means and we should be on our way.
After all, as Julie Andrews sang in the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
And for us, that beginning is the “fear of the Lord.”
1. When was the last time God spoke to you and revealed something He had previously kept hidden from you?
2. Do you know why He kept that part of Himself from you? Was it Him? Or was the reason something in you?
3. Do you believe it’s actually possible to have the kind of relationship with the Father that He would be pleased to share His heart with you? Does your faith stretch that far? Or, do you think that is just an unobtainable goal?
4. If you answered, yes, to the last question, what do you plan to do about it? Are you willing to put in the time and effort to have that kind of relationship with the Lord? Do you know how to begin? Do you know, right now, of anyone who God does share His heart with?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?
Next Step Challenge
Take your Bible and look up every time the Lord spoke the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” and write them down. Then, spend some time reading them in context and see what the Lord is trying to say when He spoke those words.
Do you understand His message and the implications of what He is teaching? Do His words have any impact in your life right now? Is there something He is trying to say to you when you read His words?
Do you have ears to hear? And, if so, do you hear what He is saying to you right now?