The Man of Understanding

Batman_'66_-_Adam_West_as_Batman_2Like a revolving door, Solomon introduces characters and whisks them away just as fast.

If its been a while since you picked up the book of Proverbs, Solomon  introduces characters and whisks them away just as fast.  There is a Wisdom character who calls from the rooftops.   There is a perverse man, who’s dishonest scales favor his gain.  There is the wife, who’s identity is made known through her qualities.  The fool is on who shuns knowledge and is the antithesis of what a man is supposed to be.  Then there is the man of understanding.

Understanding is really the point of the book.  He begins the book: “The proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight…” (Proverbs 1.1-2)  The stage is set for the hero of the book, but he doesn’t arrive until chapter 10.  First the stage is set then the idea is primed.

Then he rolls out his dominant thought for preachers; his lead for journalists; his “I can” statement for teachers.  Every statement made in the book, every saying, can be explained in the short phrase: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9.10)

So he makes his purpose clear and then he makes his clarifying statement, but that’s not enough for Solomon.  He needs a figure to encapsulate them.  He needs a character to display what “knowledge of the Holy One” looks like.  He needs…he needs…he needs a hero.

Hero’s don’t just fly in and save the day.  They don’t just fight the bad guy and save the princess.  They don’t just burst on the scene and make everything right.  They do these things of course, but they do so much more.  They stand for something.  They stand for principles.  They represent justice and integrity.  They embody courage and honor.  Hero’s are living/breathing examples of all the qualities that society teaches its youth to embrace.  Solomon’s book needs a hero and one arrives in chapter 10.

He was hinted at near the beginning of the book.  In his preface Solomon wrote: “let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning (literally “the man of understanding”) get guidance.”(Proverbs 1.5)  The man of understanding (hb. ish tebuna) seeks understanding from the parables and riddles of the wise and add to his understanding.  Batman’s (or should I say Bruce Wayne’s) parents were killed in the streets of Gotham.  It was his raison d’etre, his most important thing, that motivated him to become the “Caped Crusader” and fight crime.  The man of understanding too was on a mission, but his wouldn’t begin until chapter 10 when he would reappear and there are a few qualities that he would embody.

The Man of Understanding has a steady thought.  Solomon writes: “A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.” (Proverbs 10.23)  The Man of Understanding is not swayed by theory or new discovery, but provides an unwavering thought process to the situations that he encounters.  My favorite hero of all time is Indiana Jones.  With minimal resources, a satchel, a revolver, and his trusty bullwhip; Indiana can navigate any situation.  Partially it is because of his ability to out think his adversaries.  He always has a plan.  And if the first plan falls through, then he makes another one.  His steady thought enables him to be the hero.  And its not just theory.  The first use of the word tebuna is found in Exodus 31: “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—'”  It was not just that Bezalel understood what needed to be done, but he was able to apply it and do it.  I can give you all the theory and science behind a diesel engine, but put a wrench in my hand and it all goes south pretty quick.  I have knowledge of the engine, but I don’t understand it.

The Man of Understanding is a steady presence.  The second reason my favorite hero is Indiana Jones, is his steady presence.  If they hadn’t been filming in the desert, he probably never would have broken a sweat.  There was no situation that he couldn’t handle and no issue too big for him.  He never even lost his hat (except for that moment in Last Crusade where the tank went over the cliff)!  Tin Cup says: “When a defining moment comes along, either you define the moment or the moment defines you.”  My life has been defined by moments not the other way around.  There have been multiple times when the situation overwhelmed me.  In three areas, the Man of Understanding, overcomes situations.

  1. His tongue.  “Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding (ish tebuna) holds their tongue.”(Proverbs 11.12)  Words slip, gossip takes place, lying happens, half-truths are spread, and exaggeration is common; these are all excuses that we make in order to downplay the fact that we cant control our tongue.  The Man of Understanding, our hero, controls what comes out of his mouth no matter the situation.  A disobedient dog, a stuck bolt in an engine, a hard headed horse, or a rebellious child, the words that come out are seasoned with Understanding.
  2. His heart.  The words we use and the words we say, flow from our heart as Luke reminds us (Luke 6.45).  Our words are usually directly tied to our temper.  The Man of Understanding is even-tempered.  “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17.27)  The connection is made about our here…temper drives words.  How often does our temper control us instead of the other way around.
  3. His surroundings.  The temperature of the room.  When you enter the room does it rise or fall?  Indiana is always the coolest guy in the room.  When you enter a room, does the tension rise or fall?  “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment (ish tebuna) and knowledge maintains order.” (Proverbs 28.2)  Order comes with the Man of Understanding.

The Man of Understanding walks a steady path.  The Man of Understanding walks with consistency.  Hero’s stay the course.  Despite what they are facing, he continues to walk.  “Folly brings joy to one who has no sense, but whoever has understanding (ish tebuna) keeps a straight course.” (Proverbs 15.21)  Are there some people who you avoid because you never know what kind of mood they are in? or how they are going to react to a situation? or what they are going to do?  Are you one of those people?  I really don’t want that kind of reputation and I certainly don’t want to develop that kind of character.  Hero’s have a consistency to their image and their character.  People know what to expect.  Chi Mcbride once says: “A hero is anyone who runs toward something that everyone else is running away from.”  The reason they run forward, is because there is no other option.  Bullfighters have to make the decision, before they ever enter the arena, that their safety comes last.  Firefighters don’t have a decision to make when they see a fire, they have already made it.  The World Trade Center fell 16 years ago.  Without hesitation the Emergency Responders, ran through the doors and up flights of stairs.  They knew their job and never strayed off course. The Man of Understanding is cut from the same cloth. He walks a straight and steady path.  Our hero understands that this way of living brings wisdom and life.  His steadiness is directly related to his purposes.  The deepest beliefs he has.  I have written elsewhere about Proverbs 20.5: “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight (ish tebuna) draws them out.” Needless to say, what we believe in our core will show up in our course.

The Hero of the book of Proverbs, the Man of Understanding, is the character rolled out as an example of who we as men are to become.  Growing into the Man of Understanding, begins with a check of the heart and a life of discipline.  I want to be a hero, but hero’s carry with them scars.  In these area’s, I’ve got some surgery to do.