"He gives wisdom to the wise—and knowledge to the discerning." Daniel 2:21
These words may seem almost puzzling to some—if already wise, why should wisdom be given to such? Others may be discouraged, "if wisdom be given only to the wise—then I am cut off, for I am an ignoramus, a veritable dunce!" If by that you mean (as the world does) uneducated and unsophisticated, that may be quite true—possibly due in part to slackness in failing to improve your opportunities when young. But if you signify, "one who is conscious of spiritual dullness, having a felt lack of capacity to enter into Divine things," then such a consciousness is a hopeful sign. The word "wise" is used in Scripture in connection with two very different characters—those who are "wise in their own conceits" (Proverbs 26:12; Isaiah 5:21) and those who are so in the estimation of God. The former are fools in His sight; the latter are dunces in their own valuation. It is much to be thankful for—when we have been made aware of our spiritual ignorance and stupidity, if it induces us to cry with Job, "Teach me what I cannot see."
The setting and occasion of our opening text is as follows: Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, and its effects deeply impressed him, and he longed to discover its meaning. Accordingly he summoned before him the magicians and astrologers, demanding that they not only tell him his dream, but its interpretation also. The demand was unreasonable, preposterous, nevertheless death was to attend their failure—a sentence which extended also to Daniel and his fellows (Dan. 2:14). Whereupon Daniel went in and requested "that he would give him time," assuring him that "he would show the king the interpretation" (v. 16). Then Daniel acquainted his companions with the situation, and asked them to join him in desiring "mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret" (v. 18). Prayer was their sole recourse—and it was enough. Their petition was answered, "then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision," and he "blessed the God of heaven" (v. 19), saying "Blessed is the name of God forever and ever—for wisdom and might are His…He gives wisdom to the wise—and knowledge to the discerning."
Limiting ourselves first to the above, we learn WHO are the "wise"—and HOW their wisdom is manifested. This incident is indeed a striking one. At the time of its occurrence Daniel was but a young man, and so far as Scripture informs us—he had never previously received a prophetic "vision" from God! Yet such was his confidence in the Lord—that he tells the king, without any hesitation or qualification, that if allowed time, he would (not "might" or that he "hoped to") tell him both his dream and its signification. It should also be duly noted that Daniel and his fellows had no specific promise they could plead before God, no detail in His Word which exactly suited their present emergency, and therefore they fell back upon the general "desiring mercies" from Him. We may also point out that this happened at a time when Israel's spirituality was at an exceedingly low ebb, when the Divine judgments were heavy upon that nation, when many of her sons were in captivity in a heathen land. Nevertheless, Daniel had no fear that God would allow him to be confounded or put to confusion. In childlike assurance he bowed the knee before Him and obtained that which he sought.
No, my reader, God never puts to confusion, those who fully trust Him—He would not be God if He did. He has pledged Himself to honor those who honor Him, and as nothing more honors Him than genuine faith in Himself—He always rewards it wherever it is found. The trouble today is that the majority of professing Christians are so occupied with natural "means" that direct dealings with God is crowded out.
The wisdom of Daniel then appears, first, in his implicit confidence in the Lord's sufficiency—that it was a simple matter for Him to do what had baffled all the "wise men" of Babylon.
Second, the wisdom of Daniel appears in his counting upon God's "mercies"—he laid hold of that fact that He is of tender compassion, and this encouraged him in the hour of dire need.
Third, the wisdom of Daniel appears in spreading his case before Him, and expecting an answer; as is unmistakably clear from his confident language unto Nebuchadnezzar. It is the faith which expects from God—that is not disappointed. Such was the faith of Abraham, "I and the lad will go yonder and worship—and come back again [notwithstanding Isaac's being slain] to you" (Gen. 22:5 and cf. Heb. 11:19). Such was the faith of Elisha (2 Kings 4:3). Such was the faith of Paul (Acts 27:25).
And unto that "wise" man—God gave more "wisdom"—as He "gives more grace" unto the humble (James 4:5). And this striking and blessed incident has been recorded for our learning—to show us what spiritual wisdom is, how it acts, and what it obtains. Natural knowledge puffs up its possessor, and the more he has—the more self-sufficient he deems himself. But it is the very opposite with spiritual wisdom—the more God bestows of that upon His child—the more ignorant and stupid he feels himself to be—and the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit does he become. Then it is, that he really values that precious promise "If any of you lacks wisdom—let him ask of God—who gives to all liberally and upbraids not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). The truly "wise" person will not only greatly prize such a promise—but he will daily make use of it, mixing faith therewith, pleading it before the throne of grace, and obtaining answers of peace. As it is "when I am weak [in myself]—then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10), so it is when we (spiritually speaking) conduct ourselves as "babes" that God reveals unto us what is hidden from the worldly "wise and learned" (Matthew 11:25).
Let us now widen our scope, and take notice of some of the MARKS of the spiritually "wise."
"O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end" (Deut. 32:29). The "wise," then, are those who solemnly ponder their future, who are seriously concerned about where they will spend eternity; and therefore is it their prayer, "So teach us to number our days—that we may apply our hearts unto Wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). "Rebuke a wise man—and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8). It is the self-important fool who fails to see that the rebuke was designed for his good. "Give instruction to a wise man—and he will be yet wiser" (Proverbs 9:9), treasuring up the instruction and turning it to profit. "A wise man fears and departs from evil" (Proverbs 14:16), knowing that as it is dangerous to play with fire, so to dally with temptation. "The path of life leads upward for the wise" (Proverbs 15:24), his affections set upon things in Heaven, is what marks his course.
"The voice of the Lord calls out to the city—and it is wise to fear Your name" (Micah 6:9), which means that when God is speaking loudly in judgment (as He is today) the one endowed with spiritual wisdom will discern the intent of the Divine dispensations, and set his own house in order—this is clear from the remainder of the verse, "Pay attention to the rod—and the One who ordained it."
Another mark of the "wise" man—is that he dug deep and "built his house upon a rock" (Matthew 7:24), which signifies that he is a doer of the Word—and not a hearer only. The "wise" virgins were those who "took oil in their vessels with their lamps" (Matthew 25:4), who had grace in their hearts—as well as a Christian profession on their lips.
"Let no man deceive himself—if any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise" (1 Cor. 3:18), renounce proud reason—and come before God as a little child to be taught by Him.
The wise "redeem the time" (Eph. 5:16). "Who is a wise man and endowed with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good deportment, his works with meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13).