11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. 13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. 16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her. 19 The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. 20 By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
This passage is the third parental lecture of the book.
The first segment of the lecture is a pair of parallels, the first pair is exhortation and the second pair is encouragement.
despise not the chastening of the LORD || neither be weary of his correction
For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth || even as a father [correcteth] the son in whom he delighteth.
Life can be full of troubles. They are not always God chastening us (see the book of Job) but sometimes they are brought upon us to discipline us. These verses should encourage us in times of trouble, because even then God is showing his love for us. It is not the sort of love that ignores our mistakes, but the kind of love that - in essence - gives us a good spanking so that we get back to what we should be doing. It's not pleasant to receive a spanking, or the LORD's correction, but we are told not to get frustrated by it.
It's interesting to note that the author just assumes and takes for granted that fathers are going to be disciplining their sons, if they love their sons. I have heard more than a few people who hate their own sons and yours speak out against corporal discipline. I say they "hate" your sons, and this may seem a bit strong. After all, many are simply those who have been led astray by the spirit of this age, which sees physical discipline (such as spanking) as an evil.
Nevertheless, when one despises parental discipline (whether God's discipline of his children or a man's godly discipline of his children) one is despising the God who gives or authorizes it. It may well be a sincere desire to be kind to the children, but it is actually worse for the children.
Why is the discipline a good thing? Because it teaches and instructs. It gives wisdom and understanding. Thus, it is not pleasant itself, but it leads to true happiness. The lecture explains with a parallel:
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom || and [happy is] the man that getteth understanding
This parallel of the happiness of the man who finds/gets wisdom/understanding is explained in extreme terms to show that it is the best and highest happiness, using five parallels to describe the blessings that flow from wisdom, and a sixth parallel to associate wisdom and the divine.
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver || and the gain thereof than fine gold
This is a figure of speech, of course. The metaphor is that it is better to have wisdom than to have silver of gold. There are no precious metals more valuable than wisdom. Wisdom here is being treated as though it were money or products.
She is more precious than rubies || and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
This is similar to the previous metaphor (in the first half of the parallel), and perhaps we could have included it in the previous parallel. That, however, was more related specifically to commercial comparisons.
In this parallel, the comparison is being taken to a loftier height. Rubies would be one of the most (or perhaps the most) expensive and precious gem stones in the ancient world. We may think of diamonds as the most expensive jewel stones today, but while they were known in ancient Israel, rubies received the primary attention.
And in case someone might not care so much for rubies, the second half of the parallel cleans out and exhausts the rest of the possibilities. "All the things you can desire" are incomparably less valuable than wisdom.
Just in case one might think these "things" are material things, the lecture continues:
Length of days is in her right hand || and in her left hand riches and honour.
The idea of this metaphor is that wisdom has, as accessories, long life, riches, and honor. If you get wisdom, those things are included with it. And that's not all!
Her ways are ways of pleasantness || and all her paths are peace
The idea conveyed by these metaphors is that being associated with Wisdom leads to pleasantness and peace. This is good, since a long life without peace can be worse than a short but peaceful life. Likewise, riches without pleasantness is just unsatisfying.
This metaphor is of "ways" and "paths" conveys a sense of affiliation. If you go in the "way of Wisdom" you are hanging out with Wisdom, following Wisdom, and being guided by Wisdom. Recall that a similar metaphor is used twice in Psalm 1:
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1:6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
In this case, of course, the metaphor is negative. The "counsel of the ungodly" is the opposite of wisdom. Being the place of the wicked ("sitting in the seat of the scorner") is a similar metaphor. Here, instead, we should follow Wisdom and be her friend.
The encouragement continues:
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her || and happy is every one that retaineth her.
Recall the "tree of life" in the garden of Eden. It was by eating of the tree of life, that one could live forever. So too, when we obtain wisdom, we will live for ever. This life forever will be in happiness and righteousness, not in sin and misery, as in the present life we now live, where we receive the discipline referenced above.
We should "lay hold upon" (i.e. grab) Wisdom and retain (i.e. not let go of) her. What is this "Wisdom"? It is the Messiah - the Logos - it is Jesus, as we now know in the New Testament era. This can be seen in a veiled way through the next two parallels, which show the divine connection that Wisdom has:
The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth || by understanding hath he established the heavens.
Recall that John explains that "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3) Jesus is the true Wisdom.
1 Corinthians 1:24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Of course, there is a sort of double-meaning. Jesus is the Logos - but the World was made by God speaking, saying "Let there be light" etc. Even so, Jesus is the Wisdom, but the world was wisely made. This same double meaning is seen in providence and the relationship of the Power of God, Jesus, to it:
By his knowledge the depths are broken up || and the clouds drop down the dew.
This expression "depths are broken up" is interesting. I would refer this to the Mid-Atlantic rift, but I'm not sure that's what it means. It may simply refer to all rift-producing earthquakes. It may even, especially in contrast to the second half of the parallel, refer to springs/geysers.
Supporting this view is the similar expression in Genesis 7:11
Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
Regardless of which reference is intended, the point is that God, in his Wisdom, not only created the world but provides for it. God provides water for all that needs water:
Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
The whole world is governed by God - He is both the Creator and the Provider.
1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
The divine Wisdom (the ever-wise Son of God) is what made and governs the world, so we should seek wisdom and not let go of it. Be wise: seek the only wise God! (Romans 16:27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.)