"Then answered one of the young men, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is skilful in playing, and a mighty man of valour, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person; and the Lord is with him" (1 Sam. 16:18).
In the previous chapter we took the phrase "and a comely person". Now we revert to the one which we left out, and the Revised Version says, "prudent in speech", with two marginal notes, "skilful in business", very much better and truer to the original word. The Authorised Version reads: "prudent in matters", and here that version seems to get really nearer the original than the others. That word 'matters' occurs many times in the Old Testament, and we can get to this aspect of David's life and character by just taking a glance at one of its early occurrences.
You will remember that when Moses seemed to be rather overwhelmed with all the problems and all the affairs that people were bringing to him for counsel and decision, his father-in-law hit upon a worldly-wise course of meeting the difficulty. He advised his son-in-law that he should no longer take it all on himself, but that he should select other men to deal with minor things. Then he said "every great matter they shall bring unto thee" (Ex. 18:22), and that is the same word here. A man prudent in matters, or skilful in matters. That is better than prudent in speech, but that may be included. So we get to the heart of this particular feature of David's life.
David was, therefore, a man of discretion, a man of good judgment, a man of intelligence, a man of wise counsel, and you will already see what an important feature of true sonship that is. If sonship according to the Word of God is the development of the children of God to full stature, then of course the whole question of intelligence, wisdom, good judgment and discretion becomes one of real importance, and if David's life really was realised in his son Solomon then it is all of a piece with this. Solomon is the synonym for wisdom. His fame and his kingdom rested upon his wisdom. He was the very embodiment of wisdom. The chief feature of his glory was his wisdom. They came from the ends of the earth, not to hear, but to see the wisdom of Solomon, and that is a very real distinction. To hear the wisdom of anyone is one thing, but to see it may be quite another. The Queen of Sheba came to see the wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom is always the practical aspect of things. We come to that again later.
Wisdom Indispensable to Government
Now then, the end must be brought to the beginning, and govern everything from the beginning. The end, we have seen, in the purpose of God is a company of sons in His Son in the place of government, to rule with Christ throughout the ages of the ages. And rulership or government demands (perhaps more than anything else) wisdom. It is indispensable to government, and if the object is to turn everything to the glory of God, that requires a lot of wisdom, intelligence and discretion. These are the things clearly bound up with David and the issue of his life in Solomon, and are but foreshadowings, in a very limited way, of David's greater Son, and of that House and that Kingdom of the Son of God's love into which we are called.
Now, if this is true (and do not take it as just some beautiful Bible theme, some subject or topic) there is no doubt that many of you do not feel that you dare aspire to anything so high, but I do want you to remember that it is from the lowly places that God has always taken His princes, kings and rulers, and that is something which holds good. You and I in ourselves might never allow ourselves to think in terms of reigning with Christ for ever and ever in this sense of government. Perhaps we have just superficially accepted the idea contained in the words: "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12). That means being in heaven in glory and sharing His reign in some way, being in it, subjects of His great Kingship and Kingdom. But we have never gone the next step, that we also are to govern with Him; we are to be kings with the King of kings. That is in principle our vocation throughout the ages to come. The government of this universe is going to rest with the sons of God.
If I were to diverge for a moment, I could show that to be just the meaning of everything that is in the Bible. It was to that government in the place of God's Son that Lucifer, Satan, aspired to take the kingdom and the throne, and he is still after it and fighting for it, although it is a losing battle. But he has gained the place around this world. He is in a sense the prince of this world. He does influence and affect the course of this world. This world does lie in the Wicked One. Things of this world are being very largely actuated by those evil forces which have taken the place of Christ in this world and this world system. But the Bible makes it perfectly clear that the day is coming when there will be no more place found for them in heaven, but their place will be taken from them and then it will be that the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the people of God, will occupy that position of government. And although it sounds a little fantastic and remote, it is true that if we come to sonship in very truth, we shall be doing then what the powers of evil are doing now in this world, but doing it on very different lines, to very different conclusions. But that is the heavenly calling, that is the eternal vocation of the church, and it is unto that that all our training as sons is leading, and in that training we have to be trained to rule. That calls for a great deal of intelligence and good judgment and discretion, so that we are now in the school of kings and rulers, and in this matter of being prudent in matters or skillful in business there are some things which have got to be settled before we shall get very far in our education. That is, before we shall advance in sonship, there are some things which are basically essential, and we have to get those settled right away.
The Need for Teachableness
And the first thing is this: the absolute necessity of teachableness. In all the qualities of David, that one is outstanding. David was among the most teachable of men. If Solomon, the full fruit of David's life, is going to be the greatest teacher - and he is referred to as the wise man - all his proverbs and his songs, the product of his wisdom, came from the teachableness of his father. This is an indispensable thing in anyone who is coming to spiritual government. Of all people who are hopeless in this realm, the self-sufficient are the most hopeless. The person who knows it all, or thinks he or she knows it all, and can do it, is the person who is going to be left in God's contempt apart.
Some of you may have felt at times that God can make no use of you because you lack certain qualifications. You do not have natural gifts, nor training, education, status, nor any of those things which men regard as necessary for a qualified person. Therefore you have felt that you must be, so to speak, on the shelf in God's workshop, of little use, with very little prospect. Now, do not believe that. If in God's great, universal workshop there were things on the shelf which God had put there and left there and was taking no notice of, they were just in His contempt. Apart they would be the things which thought they could do it, that they knew all about it. There is so much in the Scripture which is the very inheritance of the people who think nothing of themselves.
God has so many promises for the meek. "The meek will He guide in justice; and the meek will He teach His way" (Ps. 25:9). There you are. This is the way of sonship, and meekness is just that you have no opinion of yourself and that you have no self-sufficiency whatsoever. You do not think that you know, and you do not think that you can do it. There are many people who are too clever for the Lord. The Lord is not looking for cleverness at all. Indeed, He overlooks cleverness. See Christ's premium upon teachableness. Mary stands out as the great vessel of glory in this. "Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). She was the one who was teachable, the one who was conscious, on the one hand, of her own need of being taught, and on the other hand of how much the Lord had to teach her, what He had to give, and the Lord puts a premium upon teachableness, He puts His seal upon that. It is a tremendous thing to Him. So this is the beginning of sonship towards this great end. You lay this to heart.
The fact remains that the Lord can never get anywhere with anybody until He has prepared them for it, and the Lord's preparations for everything further are in the direction of a newly created and deepened sense of need. However much there has been, He brings us to the place where quite honestly we know that that, great as it has been, is not sufficient for the new situation. We cannot just trade upon the past. We must have something fresh from the Lord for the new situation, and we are down on our faces as though we had never had anything or known anything. The Lord moves on that way, and teaches us wonderful lessons.
The Need for Adjustability
The second thing which comes alongside of teachableness is adjustability, that we are amenable to discipline, to correction, and are quite ready and prepared to adjust when the Lord corrects. There are many who are not prepared to be corrected, especially if the Lord does His correcting through some person here. And do not forget that the Lord does not send angels from heaven to correct us. His angels are the people around us in this matter, and very often the people from whom we would not be prepared to take correction. The Lord tests us on this matter so often by the means that He uses for our correction. If only a glorious angel could come and tell us where we are wrong, of course, it would be easy, not difficult at all. If only the Lord Himself would come straight to us and speak into our ears and tell us about it, well then, we should not have such difficulty, but it is a very different thing when the Lord comes by other means; then, so often, any kind of correction, being put right, having our faults, mistakes and lack of wisdom pointed out to us, leads us to go off in a huff. We sulk for days until the thing wears itself out and we get into a better mood, but that is a poor way of growing. Adjustability is a very important thing, that we can be corrected, we can be put right. We should be ready and only too glad if people will show us where we are wrong and thank them for doing so. That is the way of spiritual growth.
This comes out in David so clearly. It is possible to do a right thing with a right motive in a wrong way, and to come to trouble. But very few people who have sought to do the right thing with the right motive, and have come into difficulty, are prepared to think the thing out, to examine the matter, and find out why. They just turn inside of themselves on this ground that their motive was quite pure and good. They were actuated by a right motive, and the thing that they did was not wrong; it was right. Then self-pity arises, and then this sulkiness results with a long bad time. You know what I am thinking about: David with the ark. Yes, his motive was right, his heart was right before the Lord. He had to find a place for the ark of the covenant, a place for the Lord; that was a right thing to do, and the motive was without question. But David tumbled into trouble on that, and the trouble was exceedingly serious. The whole thing was set back in a tragedy of judgment and death. No doubt David was bewildered and stunned. Yes, for the moment he felt badly towards the Lord.
But David was not of that kind who would nurse his grievance and develop this disease of self-pity. He went back to his Bible, such Bible as he had, and said, 'Now then, there must be some reason for this; I feel bad about it, the Lord does not seem to have been quite fair to me, but nevertheless the Lord is right; I am going to find out the reason for this.' That leads a long way, and when he set his heart upon getting to know the why of this, he discovered in the Word the key to the whole situation, as you know, and adjusted at once. He forsook the ground of his personal grievance. He forsook that ground where he was saying, 'But my motive was quite pure, you know, and it was not a wrong thing that I did. I meant it for the Lord, and I am quite sure that that is the thing the Lord wants.' No, he forsook that ground, came on to the ground of the Lord, and adjusted. He was alright after that. He learned a great deal for his kingship through that. It is no small thing, in the matter of wisdom, to be able to see that it is not enough to have a right and good motive, and it is not enough to do something for the Lord which you are quite sure that the Lord wants done. There is always the extra thing: that what the Lord wants done, He wants done in His own way. The Lord is not arbitrary. He is not just awkward, saying, 'No, this is the way in which I want it done.' The Lord's ways always have spiritual principles in them upon which His whole kingdom stands. The very throne of God rests upon spiritual principles, and so He has to keep to His principles. That leads us a long way. The knowledge of principles is the knowledge that is necessary for government. Well, let us leave that for a moment.
Discrimination Between Knowledge and Wisdom
There is a discrimination that has to be made, and here it is that this wisdom, this prudence in matters, has its place. This is discrimination between knowledge and wisdom. We are not just talking about a passion for knowledge. Knowledge may resolve itself into a mass of information, but wisdom is always the practical value of knowledge; how to use it, how to apply it for good. That is wisdom. It is possible for us here to have a vast amount of spiritual information, information as to what is in the Word of God, to know it all in our heads or notebooks, and yet for it to be of very little practical value in its outworking. Wisdom is a matter of how you are going to turn it to account for the glory of God, how you are going to use it.
There is all the difference between an animal and a man in this very thing - or there ought to be. Take an animal, maybe a dog, maybe a horse. It tries to do certain things or go to certain places, and with a powerful voice you shout at it, you strike home with your voice and your word. The poor creature shrinks. Perhaps you take a whip and you whip him for it. After you have done that a few times, the creature knows that he may or he may not do certain things, and he does not do them. He may just on an impulse begin to move in that direction, and then remember the whip and come back. He has learned not to do certain things or go to certain places. A lot of Christians are like that. They think they have learned something because they have suffered in certain directions for doing certain things, and they have not learned at all. What they have come to is to be afraid of doing that because of the consequences. That may be some kind of education, but it is only the education of an animal. That dog or that horse has never sat down to ask: 'Now, why may I not do that? Why may I not go there? What is it that causes my master to take that attitude? I believe he is a rational, reasonable being; I believe he knows better than I do. He must have some reason for that, he does not just thrash me for the sake of doing it. He has a reason, I must know it.' An animal never does that. He just refrains because of this external application of law. He never refrains by inward revelation of principle, of meaning. There is the difference between that kind of knowledge, which is, after all, objective, although it may have got into us through suffering in a way, and this knowing of the mind of the Lord about this. Why? What is the principle in this? What is the reason for this in God's heart?
It may be that many of you here today are smarting under the correction of the Lord. You have suffered, and you will not do it again for that reason, but I am asking you, have you wrung the meaning of this thing out? Have you got into the heart of God over this thing? Are you in possession of God's reason for His act? Do you know why that must not be? There is a difference. Wisdom is coming into possession of the Why, not just knowing the act. That is intelligence, that is discretion. Wisdom is much deeper than knowledge, and wisdom always goes for the reason, is never satisfied with just knowing that it must or must not be. It will ask, "Why? Why must it not be, why must it be? Until I know that, I have not sufficient strength to do it from the heart. I will just be doing it, or refraining from doing it, by law, because I know if I do or do not, I am breaking some law, and I shall be punished for it in the way of suffering. Oh no, this must come from the heart, and if only I can get the heart of God in this thing, then I can do it from my heart." That is wisdom. We are not to be governed by God's acts; we are to be governed by God's meanings.
Well, David learned the Why of God's ways with him. He got to the heart of God concerning the ark and the numbering of Israel. God had very severe ways, but David wrung the meaning out of them, and we are in the good of that. This coming kingdom, this coming reign to which we are called in Christ, demands men like that, who stand possessed of spiritual understanding of the ways of the Lord. We are in the school for that. Then we go on.
Constructiveness the Essence of Intelligence
The essence of true intelligence is constructiveness. Some people seem to think that criticism is superior intelligence. If they can put their finger upon the faults and talk about the flaws of others and keep all the wrong things in view, they think that they are very wise, intelligent and understanding. But notice that the whole effect of such people is destructive. If you look at the Word of God throughout, you will find that wisdom is always related to constructiveness. If Solomon is outstanding in the Old Testament, well, look at what he built, and it was for that purpose that God gave him the wisdom. If the Lord Jesus is over the whole Bible the great example of wisdom, look at what He has built. If Paul, the apostle, is a wise master-builder, see what he has built. Wisdom is always shown in its building value. Any child, even a silly child, can take things to pieces, but it requires intelligence to put them together again. Building is wisdom's outworking.
Look at Corinth. Here we have an outstanding example. The apostle opened his first letter to the Corinthians with an introduction on the matter of worldly wisdom. In effect he was saying to the Corinthians, 'You have a passion for what you call wisdom, you are just set upon wisdom. The wisdom of the whole Greek world has captivated you, and you think so highly of it; with you, wisdom is the thing.' You know how the apostle deals with that. "Christ crucified... the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24), a very different conception of wisdom. But then the whole letter springs out of that, and if ever there was an assembly, a company of people who were lacking in spiritual wisdom, that was the Corinthian assembly. Spiritual intelligence seemed to have little or no place there at all. The letter is one of instruction in the most elementary things, things that you would almost take for granted where Christians are concerned. You are amazed that a Christian should not know better than that. There you have the example of the lack of wisdom, discretion, good judgment, calling for instruction, as Paul puts it, as to babes. You must follow through that letter to see what wisdom really is, and over against it what folly really is.
The letter is just full of all sorts of things that Christians ought to know; they ought almost to be taken for granted. I am not going to follow through, but you see the very situation there in that assembly was a point in this matter of spiritual intelligence. A lot of people were sick. I do not know whether they had doctors in their assembly, but I think any doctors there were being kept pretty busy. Paul says, "For this cause many among you are weak and sickly" (1 Cor. 11:30). Now, of course, all people who are sick are not sick for the same reason. The fact is that inside this assembly, a lot of people were going down with illness, and there were a number of deaths, one person was dying after another. What was the attitude of the church? 'Well, these are things common to man; I suppose sickness and death are the common lot of all. Well, everybody has to die sooner or later; this is just things happening, it is a bad time we are going through perhaps, in this matter' - but that is about all there was to it. Spiritual intelligence would have said, 'What is the meaning of this? We are just not going to accept this as events; we are the Lord's people, we have the Lord, we want to know what the Lord means by this', but they did not. And the apostle had to point it out and say, "For this cause (or reason) many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep." There is a cause, but there was no sufficient spiritual intelligence to get beyond the happenings to the cause, to get to the Lord for the meaning of this.
It brings us back to this point: spiritual intelligence does not just take events, happenings, but goes to the Lord, and says, 'Now then Lord, what do You mean by this? We must know what You have in mind in this; is this thing for Your glory, Lord? If not, then we stand against it; if You are going to get glory out of this, alright, we will stand with You, but we are not just accepting these incidents, we want to know what You mean by them.'
And how many other things like that there were at Corinth. The whole letter is just full of instruction on what spiritual intelligence means, what spiritual discrimination means, and Paul is here operating as the wise master-builder. It is to these people that he speaks of himself as such, a wise master-builder (1 Cor. 3:10). A feature of building, spiritual building, the building of the church, the building of an assembly, is this faculty of discrimination. Look at all the things to be discriminated in that letter to the Corinthians. They were not discriminating between spiritual gifts and spiritual graces, and Paul sought to make it very clear that grace is much more than gifts. 'You are glorying in and gloating over your gifts, but there is something very much more important than that; it is grace.' Wisdom can discriminate between such things. "The things that differ" was the phrase Paul used to the Philippians (1:10). The question is always arising. What does all this amount to? What does it all lead to? There may be the gift of tongues, but where is it leading, what is it resulting in, what is the upshot of it all? Why confusion here, disorder here, anything but the glory of God? And wisdom judges everything from the standpoint of God's glory. Remember that.
In a word, wisdom's great value is found in defeating the enemy. The book of Judges is constructed upon that. The Lord raised up judges, and they are supposed to be the people with discretion, discrimination, good judgment, counsel for the Lord's people and their business. Therefore their wisdom and spiritual intelligence was to defeat the enemy. That is an abiding principle. Wisdom finds its inclusive value in defeating the enemy. And what is the enemy's object through anything at Corinth, whether it be the disgraceful behaviour at the Lord's Table, or the women coming into the assembly of the Lord's people where the Lord was, just as they would anywhere else without a sign of subjection (a head-covering), or any of the many other objections? It is the devil taking glory from God, it is the devil seeking to act against that ultimate thing, "Unto Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus" - to take that glory out of the church. And wisdom operates to defeat the devil in his ultimate object of taking the glory from God. So that wisdom, let me repeat, is always actuated by this question: How does this minister to the glory of God? And nothing else matters.
May the Lord take His word, instruct us by it, and bring us under His hand to be men and women prudent in matters.