The Following thought for the day was written by Brother Richard Morgan and provides insight and encouragement for those seeking to serve the God of Israel.

The Paradox of Prudence!

Three times in Proverbs 14 we’re told to be prudent:

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,
but the folly of fools is deceiving. (v8)

The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (v15)

The simple inherit folly,
but the prudent are crowned with knowledge. (v18)

If you look at the first two examples, we can see that prudence is having the ability to foresee problems before they arise. A prudent person will think ahead, weighing up the pros and cons of different courses of action, and then take the wise approach. The third example tells us that a prudent person will have learned through experience the right courses of action. The simple person, on the other hand, doesn’t think ahead, acts impulsively, and reaps the reward of their foolishness.

All good, sound, spiritual advice. But there’s a twist in the tale. The Hebrew word for prudent is arum which just so happens to be one of the most famous words in Scripture. It’s the exact same Hebrew word used to describe the serpent of Genesis 3:1 – “subtle” (KJV) or “crafty” (ESV.)

The outstanding characteristic of the serpent was his prudence, so let’s analyze what Genesis says about him considering what Proverbs says about arum.

First, consider the word serpent itself, in Hebrew nachash. Why was he so named? Nachash is related to the word nahash, which has the idea of divination. A diviner, in the ancient Near East, would use omens to determine the future. Some expositors, noticing this, have nicknamed the serpent “the prognosticator,” another word for a diviner. We have prognosticators in our world today. For instance, a meteorologist is a prognosticator because he looks at signs – an incoming low-pressure system for instance – and makes a prediction based on that sign – rain is coming.

In what sense was the serpent a diviner or prognosticator? Think about things from his point of view. There’s a tree with juicy fruit, and it’s called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What does he divine from these signs? First, you don’t die from eating fruit – that’s ridiculous. Perhaps the serpent had eaten some of the fruit himself from the tree and he was perfectly fine. Fruit is good, not something that kills you. Also, it’s called the Tree of the Knowledge and Good and Evil for crying out loud. That’s a good thing too! If it can impart that kind of knowledge, it’s a good thing to eat the fruit!

Putting two and two together the serpent arrives at his conclusion: God is wrong. He tells Adam and Eve that they won’t surely die, and furthermore they will be like God knowing good and evil. So, eat the fruit! Eve listened and the rest is history.

It all makes perfect, logical sense. The serpent was prudent. He analyzed the situation and made an educated assessment of what would happen if they ate the fruit.

The problem is, he was completely wrong.

Now we have a conundrum on our hands. If arum is such a positive quality, as Proverbs 14 (and other passages in Proverbs) suggests, then how come the very first example of it in action produces sin and death? If the serpent represents the thinking of the flesh, and his main characteristic was prudence, then can I trust what my prudent divination of any given situation tells me?

As if to anticipate our question, in the middle of those three verses in Proverbs 14 we have the following:

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. (v12)

There are a lot of things that seem right to us. What the serpent said wasn’t obviously wrong. On one level, and especially without hindsight, it made perfect logical sense. We can fool ourselves too when we tell ourselves things like, “listen to your gut”  “be true to yourself” or “the ends justify the means.” We can make anything sound perfectly logical and sensible if we put our crafty minds to work.

The irony, of course, is when we listen to the particular prudence of the serpent mind, we end up being the simple of those verses in Proverbs, like those who believe everything (v15.) Lots of things can make sense to us. In fact, research tells us that we tend to believe what we read. People who put reading materials together usually are advocating something they believe in, and they will write it in such a way to persuade. Critical thinking doesn’t seem to be a human strength, and so we end up believing lots of things that aren’t true. Often, we want to believe things too, especially if they come from a trusted source like one of our friends or someone we look up to.

The bottom line, though, is that while prudence can be a positive quality as we make decisions through life, when it comes to eternal matters, we must learn the lesson that what seems right – because of the signs we read and the prognostication we make – doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right. A lot of things that the word of God counsel us about don’t make logical sense to the serpent mind. Denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Christ, doesn’t seem like it’s going to help you get ahead in the world.

What we need to do is develop true, godly prudence. The kind of prudence based on the eternal perspective, so that when we see the signs telling us which way to go we can analyze them using the mind of the spirit and make a godly prognostication. We can be so easily fooled when we convince ourselves through pure animal logic that the way of the flesh is right. It might seem that way, but it ends in death.