When faced with complex problems, some people present solutions that work. The more difficult the problem, the more profound their answer. But where does this wisdom come from? Think of a wise person you’ve known. What about them makes them wise? And what is the source of their wisdom?
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.” Genesis 41:39
After years as a slave and then in prison, Joseph is released, washed up, and brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. By God’s power he explains that Pharaoh’s dreams are a forecast that Egypt will have seven years of plentiful harvests followed by seven years of great famine. Joseph then goes on to present a solution to this crisis: set up administrators that will collect and store twenty percent of the harvest during each of the plentiful years (twice the usual tax of ten percent), and then distribute that surplus during the famine years. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph’s wisdom that he immediately hires him as the man to implement the plan. In Pharaoh’s words, there is “no one so discerning and wise as you.”
There is an aid to Bible study called the Law of First Mention, which states that the first time a word is introduced in the Bible it often gives a clear and foundational example of the meaning of that word. Genesis 41 and the story of Joseph before Pharaoh gives the first mention of the word, “wise.” From this example one can learn several things about the “wise” man. First of all, we are told that his wisdom comes from God. Even Pharaoh acknowledges this fact. Next we see that the wise man presents practical solutions to problems. His or her wisdom is much more than the accumulation of facts. It isn’t theoretical and abstract; it applies to real-life situations. Finally, Joseph is dealing with a crisis, a life and death problem, and the wise person shines brightest when the trouble seems greatest.
Does all wisdom come from God? Someone has said that all truth is God’s truth, and that may apply to wisdom as well. I believe that there are wise persons who don’t know God, but I also believe that their incomplete knowledge of God limits their wisdom. One thing is certain: any wise person must believe in absolutes – principles, ideas and knowledge which cannot be denied – or there is no certain wisdom to be shared.
There is another type of wisdom called worldly wisdom, which the New Testament talks about. James calls it animal-like and demonic. Paul says the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. He also explained that men, in their worldly wisdom, did not know God, so God revealed himself to men by his word and through his son. Worldly wisdom seeks personal gain usually at the expense of others. Wise Joseph used his God-given wisdom to glorify God and save a multitude, including his own family, from starvation.