Chapter 8 – The Spirit of Wisdom

“God hath . . . given us the Spirit . . . of a sound mind.” 2 Tim. 1: 7. “Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them.” Nehemiah 9: 20.

The latter passage suggests the work of the Holy Sprit as the teacher and guide of God’s people through their history in the wilderness. The previous verses connect the passage with the history of Israel during the forty years of their wandering, and identifies the pillar of cloud and fire which led them through the wilderness as the Holy Spirit who is our Leader and Guide. The other passage from the Epistle to Timothy presents to us the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind.

It is interesting and instructive to trace the revelation of the divine Spirit in the Old Testament, as the Spirit of wisdom and guidance. Let us look at a few special examples.

1. The first is the case of Joseph, referred to in Genesis 41: 38-40. “And Pharaoh said unto his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?’ And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, ‘Forasmuch as God has shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” Here we get a glimpse of the secret that lay back of Joseph’s extraordinary life; it was the Spirit of God. Perhaps there never was a life that touched more closely the common life of suffering humanity. We see in him a true and noble nature exposed to the discipline of the keenest suffering; separated from home and friends; carried into captivity in a foreign land; misunderstood, traduced, unjustly condemned, and cast into a prison under the deepest and most unjust opprobrium and disgrace; and yet, so heroically standing true to God and righteousness, and so steadfastly trusting in the divine faithfulness and love, that he triumphed at length over all his difficulties, rose from the prison to a princedom of honor and influence, and from the very lowest place found a pathway to the highest position that it was possible for a mortal to attain. Was there ever a more extraordinary transformation, was there ever a more striking object lesson of the power of high and holy character?

But the passage we have quoted reveals the secret of it all. It was not the triumph of human character, but the result of a divine direction that led him through all his steps and lifted him above all his trials. It was a beautiful illustration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the practical affairs of human life, and the commonplace sphere through which the largest part of our existence here has to pass. The most beautiful fact about it all was, that even Pharaoh himself, the proud and ungodly king of Egypt, was the first to recognize this divine presence in Joseph’s life. Joseph did not have to advertise himself as one possessed of the Holy Spirit; but as the men of the world watched him, they themselves were compelled to say, “Can we find such a one as this in whom the Spirit of God is?”

It is so beautiful when even ungodly men are compelled to see and glorify God in our lives. There is no greater triumph of holy character than to compel the testimony of the men of the world to the power of God in us. This was the glory of Daniel’s life, that even his worst enemies had to say, “We can find nothing against this man, except it be as concerning the law of his God”; and the grandest testimony ever given to Jesus Christ by human lips was that of His judge, Pontius Pilate, when he was forced to say, “I bring Him forth to you that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.”

O, men of the world, O, young men, looking out upon the future and wanting to know the secret of the highest success, would that you might know that the same Spirit that guided Joseph’s steps, and led him through his painful pathway until from the dungeon of Pharaoh and the kitchen of Potiphar he reached the premiership of all Egypt, and indeed of all the world, is ready to be your Guide, your Teacher, your Wisdom, and the Source of all your strength, success, and happiness.

2. The next example is the case of Moses and Aaron: Exodus 4: 10-16. In this passage we have an account of God’s call to Moses to undertake the leadership of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and the special task of going to Pharaoh to demand the release of God’s people from their bondage. We find Moses shrinking from the task because he was slow of speech and asking God to send somebody else. God answers Moses by saying, “Who hath made man’s mouth, or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Still Moses was unsatisfied and unwilling, and then God became displeased with him and bade him call his brother, Aaron. “And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.”

Here we see God offering to be to Moses not only the wisdom to know what he ought to say, but the power of utterance to say it rightly. The faith of Moses, however, was not quite equal to the mighty promise. God, therefore, indulged him in his timidity and unbelief by sharing the commission with another, and giving him Aaron to be a voice and an utterance for him.

In accepting this compromise, Moses lost a great deal, for the same God that gave Aaron the power of utterance could just as well have given it to him. It was all of God from beginning to end, and Moses might just as well have had the whole blessing as the half. Indeed, as the sequel proved, the partnership of Aaron was perhaps a doubtful blessing, because the day came when this same Aaron became the tempter of Israel and the snare of Moses. It was he who made for the children of Israel the golden calf which they worshiped in idolatrous wickedness at the foot of Mt. Sinai, thereby bringing down upon their heads the anger and judgment of an offended God. So that, instead of being altogether a help to him, the prop that he leaned upon broke under his weight and pierced his own hand and heart.

The lesson is a very practical one for us. The same Spirit that called and commissioned Moses for his great undertaking is promised to us as our enduement of power for the service to which He sends us. He is able to be to us a “mouth and wisdom, which all our adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist.” But if we look to our own strength or weakness, or lean upon the strength and wisdom of others, we, like Moses, shall find that our earthly reliance will become a snare, and we shall be taught by painful experience the wretchedness of “the man who trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm,” and the safety and happiness of depending only upon God for all our resources of wisdom and strength for the work for which He sends us.

3. The next example of the Spirit of wisdom we find in Numbers 6: 11-17, and also verses 24-29. This passage is similar to the last in its general significance. We find Moses feeling the heavy pressure of the responsibility that rested upon him as the leader of the people. Their unbelief and rebellion were continually grieving and breaking his heart, and at last he breaks out with a discouraged and petulant complaint against God, “Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? . . . that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? . . . I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” God took him up immediately, as He is always ready to take us at our word.

It is a very serious thing to speak hasty words to God and words of discouragement and distrust. It is a very sad and solemn thing to ask God to relieve us of any trust that He has put upon our shoulders. It is very easy to miss our crown and our life service by petulance and unbelief. “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, . . . and I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bearest not thyself alone.’” And a little later it is added, “The Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.”

Now, at the first sight, all this looks like a very great increase of help and power to Moses; instead of bearing the burdens of the people alone he gets seventy men to help him, men of wisdom and experience, men possessing the same Spirit which was upon him. But when we look more closely at it we notice that these men did not receive any additional power whatever, but only a portion of the same Spirit which was already upon Moses. In other words, God took a little of the power that Moses already had and distributed it among a number of persons, so that instead of one person having the power, seventy-one persons now had it; but there was no more power among the seventy-one than there had been upon the one. All the wisdom of God and all the strength of God had been given to Moses personally, and God had no more to give to the seventy elders. It was spread out a little more and over a wider surface. Nay, before the story was ended, these seventy elders became as great a trial to the heart of Moses as Aaron, his brother. Indeed, they were the beginning of the famous Council of Seventy, who afterwards were called the Sanhedrin or Council of the Seventy Elders, the very Council of Seventy who afterwards condemned to death and became guilty of the crucifixion of the Son of God Himself. These, the seventy elders for whom Moses in his unbelief asked, instead of being a real help, became, perhaps, a hindrance.

What is the lesson for us? That the Spirit of God is our All-Sufficiency for every work to which He sends us, and that He is able to work as well by few as by many, by one as by one thousand. Our trust should not be in numbers or in human wisdom, but in the strength of God Himself, whether that strength is given without human instrumentalities, or through the sympathy and help of multitudes. Men may help us in the work of God, but only as God sends them and fills them with His own power.

A little later in this narrative we have the account of two of the elders, namely, Eldad and Medad, verses 26-29, who were found prophesying beyond the limits of their special appointment. Moses’ friends were disposed to rebuke them and restrain them, but Moses in his large-hearted wisdom recognized the fact that God’s gifts often overrun all ordinary channels and that the Holy Spirit cannot be confined by our ideas of propriety. He let them alone, as we should do with our brethren when we see them working for God and witnessing for the truth, even outside the pale of our conventional forms and organizations. God’s power is greater than our petty programs, and if a man is but honoring Christ and witnessing for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us not try to bring him into our particular set or make him pronounce our petty Shibboleth.

4. The next example of this divine enduement is Joshua, Numbers 27: 18. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.”

In this passage we see Joshua already possessing the Spirit before Moses ordains him to a special charge, showing that personal preparation must always come before public ordination. It is not the act of ordination that gives a man the Spirit, but it is the possession of the Spirit that entitles a man to public ordination. God must make a minister first by his own direct enabling. When God has given him the Spirit, it is the part of man to recognize what God has done and to set apart the truly consecrated instrument for special service.

There is another passage, Deuteronomy 34: 9, which shows how the act or ordination may be followed in a truly consecrated person by added blessing and deeper fullness of the Spirit. “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him.” Here we see that after Moses laid his hands upon Joshua there was added fullness of blessing. There are two stages, therefore, in Joshua’s spiritual history: first, he has the Spirit before he was called to his great trust; and then, his call to the trust brought him a higher fullness of the Spirit. Would we be honored with special service for God? Let us be filled with the Spirit continually, and ready at His hand for whatever ministry He needs us, and we shall be more likely to be called. Have we been called to special service? Then let us throw ourselves upon Him for larger measures of His grace and, like Joshua, be filled with the Spirit.

This was the secret of Joshua’s wondrous life. While Moses was divinely endued for his great task by the Spirit of wisdom, and Joseph was fitted for his practical life by the Spirit of righteousness, discretion, and courage, Joshua needed just as distinct and divine an enabling for his mighty undertaking. He was to be the military leader of Israel’s great campaign, the warrior captain of the Lord’s triumphant host, and he needed peculiar equipment for his mighty task. He was sent against the mightiest nations of antiquity, the powerful Hittite kings, who, as we learn from the records of the post, were the rivals of the Egyptians themselves in military prowess. He was sent with an army of undisciplined men to attack the mightiest strongholds of powerful nations. Before his victorious legions in a few short years their mightiest citadels fell, and no less than thirty-one powerful sovereigns were brought into subjection.

No grander military campaign was ever fought, and the very highest qualities of wisdom, strategy, courage, faith, and perseverance were needed for this mighty undertaking. All these were given by the Holy Spirit; and all these the Holy Spirit can still give to the soldier of Christ and the servant of God for conflict, leadership, service in the grander undertakings of these last days when Christ is marshaling His hosts for the conflict of the ages and the coming of the King.

5. We have yet one more example of the practical gifts of the Holy Spirit. In some respects it is the most remarkable and encouraging of all. We find the record in Exodus 35: 30-35. It is the story of Bezaleel and Aholiab, who were specially skilled as mechanics and artisans to prepare the skilled work for the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the children of Israel, “See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel . . . and hath filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, and in the cutting of stones to set them, and in the carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And He hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he and Aholiab . . . Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.”

Here we have a list of almost all kinds of mechanical and artistic work. It is work of the most practical kind and of the very highest style of decorative art, the work of the jeweler, the carver, the embroiderer, the sculptor. All this is the result not of education, nor of careful training, but of direct divine inspiration. Here were people who had come from the brickfields of Egypt, a race of slaves without the advantages of culture, and yet God divinely enabled them in the hour of need, to devise and execute the most elaborate and ornamental designs for the most perfect and beautiful edifice which ever was constructed by the hands of man.

What a lesson for the toiling artisan, for the hard-working Christian, for the man of business, in the practical affairs of our work-a-day life. Here we have the divine Presence revealed as not only for the pulpit, the prayer meeting and the closet of prayer, but just as available for the factory, for the workshop, for the business office, for the schoolroom, and even for the kitchen. Here is a Holy Spirit who is just as much at home amid the toiling hours and heavy pressures of Monday and Saturday, as in the holy worship and the religious occupations of the Sabbath. Here is a divine sufficiency, not only for our spiritual experiences and our religious duties, so-called, but for everything that fills up our common life.

Oh, how it helps and comforts us in the plod of life to know that we have a Christ who spent the first thirty years of His life in the carpenter shop at Nazareth, swinging the hammer, covered with sweat and grimy dust, physically weary as we often are, and able to understand all our experiences of drudgery and labor, One who still loves to share our common tasks and equip us for our difficult undertakings of hand and brain!

Yes, humble sister, He will help you at the washboard and the kitchen sink as gladly as at the hour of prayer. Yes, busy mechanic, He will go with you and help you to swing the hammer, or handle the saw, or hold the plow in the toil of life; and you shall be a better mechanic, a more skillful workman, and a more successful man, because you take His wisdom for the common affairs of life. The God we serve is not only the God of the Sabbath, and of the world of sentiment and feeling; but He is the God of Providence, the God of Nature, the Author and Director of the whole mechanism of human life. There is no place nor time where He is not able and willing to walk by our side, to work through our hands and brains, and to unite Himself in loving and all-sufficient partnership with all our needs and tasks and trials, and to prove Himself our all-sufficiency for all things.

Such then is the Old Testament picture of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind. In Joseph we see Him in the trials of human life. In Moses we see Him qualifying a great leader for his high commission, and able to sustain him through the most trying emergencies and pressures. In Joshua we see Him able to equip a mighty warrior for his conflicts and campaigns and to crown his career with splendid victory, and in Bezaleel and Aholiab we see Him coming down to the level of our secular callings and our commonplace duties, and fitting us for all the tasks and toils of life.

Blessed Holy Spirit—our Wisdom and our Guide! Let us enlarge the sphere of His operations, let us take Him into partnership in all the length and breadth of our human life, and let us prove to the world that,

“We need not bid for cloistered cell,
Our neighbor and our work farewell.
The daily round, the common task,
Will furnish all we need to ask.
Room to deny ourselves a road
To bring us daily more of God.”