Shrewdness isn’t a character trait that is commonly praised in modern evangelicalism. It is, in our conception of Christianity, difficult for us to separate purity from naivety. I am constantly struck, however, how often the Bible seems to praise shrewdness.
I was struck by it this morning in reading 2 Samuel 20. The background of this passage is that David had been established as God’s anointed king over Israel. Most of Israel were attempting to overthrow king David under the influence of a man named Sheba. Joab, loyal to king David, led a group of men to besiege the city of Abel of Beth-maacah, a city where Sheba resided. A woman, who was described as “wise,” (v.16) and who was residing in the city being besieged, was able to summon Joab from the wall of the city to speak to him. She was able to determine from Joab that the cause of the conflict was Sheba, convince the people of Abel of Beth-macaah to kill Sheba, and, in turn, end the battle. A woman single-handedly ended a war and, perhaps, saved the peace of Israel through her wisdom! It struck me to contemplate how such wisdom is acquired.
There are many things can be said about acquiring biblical wisdom, but one thing struck me particularly this morning: wisdom is covenantal. God’s redemptive purposes can be understood in the framework of covenants, binding agreements between God and man. All genres of the Bible, including wisdom literature, can be understood with God’s covenants in mind (I was particularly helped in seeing this through an article by John Frame). Wisdom is covenant faithfulness applied to daily situations. It is a shrewdness of discernment that comes natural to the person immersed in God’s revelation. We see this is Proverbs 1:7 when it says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge” (see, again, Frame).
This unknown woman’s wisdom seems based on her covenantal faithfulness. Israel was Israel because of God’s redemptive covenants. They existed because of God’s covenant commitment to Abraham (Gen. 12 and 17) and his commitment to them as a people on Sinai (Ex. 19ff). At this point, it is even possible that the people of Israel were aware of God’s covenant with David to be a king with an eternal inheritance (2 Sam. 7).
What this woman perceived instinctually was a threat to the covenant. See her words in v.19: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?” Joab then revealed a piece of unkown information to her that Sheba was the cause of the turmoil. The solution to covenantal peace was that Sheba has to be eradicated. Her zeal for the Lord and his promises led her to pursue this course of action.
Our redemption is also rooted in God’s covenants that began with Abraham (Gal. 3:29). Our desire for wisdom must be grounded by faith, rooted in God’s Word, and driven by a desire to fulfill his commands. Wisdom is the natural outcome of such a pursuit.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in ethe seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like ia tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)