Proverbs 3:18

Proverbs 3:18 "She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her."
Christian Church Buffalo NY
Throughout this chapter and throughout the entire book of Proverbs, Solomon gave his son and his readers every reason to OBTAIN wisdom.  In this eighteenth verse of the third chapter, he described her as a tree of life.  When Solomon gave wisdom this description, he wasn’t using creative language – he was using sacred language.  To the Jewish reader, this description would’ve been intriguing.  Nowhere in the Pentateuch was anything likened unto the tree of life.  Up until this third chapter of Proverbs, the tree of life was something only found in the lost paradise of Eden. It was a tree that bare eternal fruit able to keep a person alive for ever and it was something that only Adam and Eve ever saw.

To most today, the tree of life has become a tree of mysticism and mythology.  To the early Hebrew reader however, it was sacred and held in high religious regard.  The Creator gave this tree to mankind but took it back after man’s great fall in the Garden of Eden.  It has been Jewish tradition to place the pre-fall and pre-flood Garden of Eden and its tree of life in Jerusalem, the place of Solomon’s seat.  This reference and description would’ve gotten the attention of all who read it.  According to Solomon, wisdom was as important to a person’s soul as the tree of life was to a person’s body.  Without the tree of life, a person would eventually lose their life.  Without wisdom, a person would eventually lose their soul.  The qualities of the tree of life were incomparable to any other treasure of this world.  The qualities of wisdom are equally incomparable to any other treasure of this world.  The connotation and imagery were undeniably powerful for Solomon’s Jewish readers – wisdom bares fruit that gives and preserves life.

Because of the comparison to the tree of life in the first half of the verse, it can be easy to overlook the more important latter half of the verse.  Solomon does more than attribute happiness to the person who has wisdom – he reveals an important truth about wisdom.  Here in verse eighteen, we learn that wisdom is something that must be retained.  It doesn’t read, “happy is every one that OBTAINETH wisdom” – it reads, “happy is every one that RETAINETH wisdom.”  Wisdom isn’t something that comes without conditions.  It isn’t something that we get and then possess indefinitely.  It is something that needs to be RETAINED and maintained.  It is something that needs to be protected and preserved.  Wisdom is a virtue that can be lost – it can be squandered – it can be given up. 

Unlike Biblical salvation in Paul’s writings, wisdom in Solomon’s writings is not likened unto a gift that is freely and permanently received.  In Solomon’s writings, wisdom is likened a virtuous woman who needs to be chosen and cherished.  Unlike Biblical salvation in the New Testament, wisdom in the Old Testament can be forsaken and forfeited.  Speaking of wisdom in Proverbs 4:6, Solomon wrote, Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.”  In this verse, he clearly implied that wisdom comes with conditions: ignore her and she’ll ignore you; forsake her and she’ll forsake you; love her and she’ll love you.  According to the inspired author, the benefits of wisdom are conditional.

The romantic imagery chosen to portray wisdom throughout Proverbs was most definitely intentional.  The relationship between the heart of man and wisdom is similar to the relationship between a man and a woman.  It takes more than a wedding to make a marriage – it takes years of hard work.  While seasoned couples may understand this, many young couples don’t realize this unavoidable truth.  Plenty of inexperienced couples work hard on making the wedding ceremony perfect and assume that the marriage is the easy part.  In reality, the opposite is true – the wedding ceremony is easy compared to the marriage.  Even though promises of unconditional love and faithfulness are exchanged on the wedding day, husbands still need to work hard to retain their wives and wives need to work hard to retain their husbands.  Every day, men lose their wives because they didn’t do the work necessary to keep their wives.  Every day, women lose their husbands because they didn’t do the things necessary to keep their husbands.

Marriage is more than obtaining a romantic companion – it is retaining a lifelong companion.  To benefit from marriage, a man or a woman must stay married.  Marriage may start at the wedding altar but it is made in the days, weeks, months and years after leaving the altar.  Getting married is only the beginning of marriage – staying married is the life of marriage and this requires a lot of hard work.  Even if a spouse keeps his or her promise to remain married, either one can be “lost” within the marriage.  There are countless spouses who are legally married but are emotionally single and there are just as many who are legally married but physically single.  A man is not benefiting from marriage if he does not retain his wife’s body, soul and spirit.  A woman is not enjoying marriage if she does not retain her husband’s body, soul and spirit.

A couple retains its marriage by spending quality time together.  A man keeps his wife’s heart by loving her.  A woman keeps a man’s heart by respecting him.  Long walks, doing the dishes together, traveling together, recreating together, having thoughtful conversations are all opportunities to retain the heart of your spouse.  A couple retains one another by listening carefully to each other, by taking each other seriously, by doing special things that make each other feel important, by not doing those things that they know bother the other person, by investing in each other and by trusting each other.  Failure to do these things in a marriage will quickly and easily lead to losing each other.

As it is in marriage, so it is with wisdom.  She must be retained if she is to bring any benefit to a soul.  It’s not good enough to find her as Solomon did that night in Gibeon.  It’s not good enough to OBTAIN her as Solomon did that next morning on his way to Jerusalem.  It’s not good enough to have a wedding ceremony with wisdom – she must be maintained and RETAINED.  Wisdom will leave a person if she is ignored.  She will leave a soul if she is forsaken.  She will depart if she is not valued or not appreciated.  Hours of time should be dedicated to keeping wisdom.  Hours of effort should be committed to retaining her.  She should be respected, appreciated and taken seriously.  When she speaks, her words should be held in high esteem.  When she counsels, she should feel as though her word means something special.

Like marriage, wisdom needs to be RETAINED.  Like teeth that have been repositioned with braces, wisdom needs to be RETAINED.  Like a wall that has been built into the landscape, wisdom needs to be RETAINED or else her words will all be in vain.  A man who is given wisdom is not indefinitely wise.  A woman who becomes wise isn’t automatically and unconditionally wise for the balance of her life.  Like any skill or virtue, wisdom must be maintained in order to remain wise.  Sadly, Solomon himself proved this proverb to be true in tragic fashion.  History records him OBTAINING wisdom but it doesn’t record him RETAINING wisdom.  At some point, he took her for granted.  At some point, he stopped maintaining his wisdom.  At some point, her word didn’t mean that much to him as he felt he was just fine without her.  As a result, he lost her and he made some decisions that stole his happiness.  Solomon’s foolish decisions led to an excess of women and an absence of happiness as his wives turned his romantic heart from a God that loved him.

The key to happiness is found in the passage as it starts with finding wisdom and ends with retaining wisdom.
Verse 13 “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom.”
Verse 18 “Happy is every one that RETAINETH her.”
People who never find wisdom are unhappy and those who lose wisdom are downright miserable.  

Obtain wisdom and RETAIN wisdom – it’ll be a tree of life to your soul and it’ll bring happiness to your life!

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