“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” Psalm 111:10
The psalmist here states that before wisdom comes the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
What is Wisdom?
The word wisdom in the Hebrew language is Chokmah, a word which occurs 141 times in the Bible. Chokmah is comprehensive in its meaning.
- technical knowledge (Exodus 28:3; 35:26)
- practical, worldly wisdom (I Kings 4:30; Isaiah 47:10)
- ideal human wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:2)
- wisdom as an attribute of God (Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15)
Wisdom is distinguished from knowledge in that wisdom has to do with character and conduct, whereas knowledge is primarily intellectual enlightenment. Knowledge may be an accumulation of unrelated and unorganized facts without the ability to apply these facts to personal life. Wisdom is the faculty of being able to make a practical use of facts.
What is Understanding?
An intermediate step may be conceived of in the term understanding. Understanding implies the ability to evaluate and organize facts which is an essential framework for wisdom.
The word understanding as found in Psalm 111:10 originates from a Hebrew word which means, intelligence; success; discretion; knowledge; policy; sense; wisdom.
So while understanding has to do with the ability or power to acquire and interpret knowledge, while it has to do with the mental faculties, intelligence, and the ability to comprehend according to the Holy Scriptures, it is intimately connected to wisdom, which makes a practical use of facts, for it has to do with character and conduct.
So we read again, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (Psalm 111:10).
Therefore, divine understanding cannot be separated from obedience. Obedience to God’s revealed will demonstrates that a person has true understanding.
But what about those who do not know God or those who profess to believe in Him but disobey Him? Are they without understanding?
Jeremiah said, “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom … But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord … ” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24).
The man who knows not God or the man who professes to know Him but does not obey has understanding, but it is not true or divine understanding; it is that understanding that allows man to glory or that uplifts himself instead of his Creator.
Paul says of such men that while they possess understanding yet their understanding is darkened. “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17, 18).
What Causes Complete Blindness?
Jesus taught, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:22, 23)!
The “light” of the body is that insight that places relative value on the things of time and eternity. When Jesus used the word “eye,” He was addressing the eye of the soul that gives a man heavenly vision, and that enables him to behold that which is invisible to the natural eyesight. Such eyesight is a guide to the soul in the same way that physical eyesight is a guide to the body. Hebrews 11:27 reads, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” And 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
Ellen White, commenting on the words of Jesus, points out, “But when the eye is blinded by the love of self, there is only darkness. ‘If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness’ (Matthew 6:23).” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 91.
The apostle John tells us also what causes spiritual blindness, “But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (I John 2: 11).
The word darkness is derived from a root word which means shadiness or more specifically darkness of error.
Even among Christians are many whose understanding is darkened because of a failure to obey God.
As a reminder, “Disobedience has closed the door to a vast amount of knowledge that might have been gained from the Scriptures. Understanding means obedience to God’s commandments. The Scriptures are not to be adapted to meet the prejudice and jealousy of men. They can be understood only by those who are humbly seeking for a knowledge of the truth that they may obey it.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 112.
Who causes the understanding of human beings to become darkened?
“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4).
Who is the “god of this world”?
The devil claims to be the god of this world – “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8, 9; I John 5:19).
He is “the god of this world” because the world is largely under his control. He rules in the hearts of most of its inhabitants – “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1, 2).
Satan is also called by other titles:
- “Prince of this world.” (See John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.)
- “Prince of the power of the air.” (Ephesians 2:2.)
Therefore it is he who darkens people’s minds by way of all manner of sinful practices. Satan’s principal work is to blind or darken men’s minds.
Summary of how Satan darkens human beings’ minds
- By keeping them from the study of God’s word.
- By deranging the power of the mind through excesses.
- By wholly occupying the mind with things of this life.
- By appealing to pride and self-exaltation.
Keep in mind – the battle between Christ and Satan is a battle for the minds of men (see Romans 7:23, 25).
Twelve Ways the Understanding Becomes Darkened!
- Sin darkens the understanding – “The enlightening of the understanding must become a part of the experience. Sin has darkened the reasoning powers, and hell is triumphing.” Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, 22. “Blindness of the heart is a terrible barrier to the discerning of truth. … Sin is the disease of the soul, in consequence of which the understanding fails to do its appointed work on the heart and memory.” Elder Daniels and the Fresno Church, Pamphlet 28, 6, 7.
- Failure to heed the call to repentance – “During the preceding months of the Baptist’s ministry, many had refused to heed the call to repentance. Thus they had hardened their hearts and darkened their understanding.” The Desire of Ages, 136.
- By rejecting former messages – “Those who rejected the first message could not be benefited by the second; neither were they benefited by the midnight cry, which was to prepare them to enter with Jesus by faith into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. And by rejecting the two former messages, they have so darkened their understanding that they can see no light in the third angel’s message, which shows the way into the most holy place.” Early Writings, 260, 261.
- By the use of alcoholic/strong drink – Satan “tempts men to the use of wine and strong drink, by which the understanding is darkened, the senses confused, and the image of God defaced.” Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, 187.
- Impure thoughts, actions and willful disobedience – “Impurity in thought or practice obscures spiritual vision, so that the soul can not contemplate and be charmed with the character of God. The world is full of disobedience, and the understanding of men has become so darkened by a sinful course of action that righteousness is not clearly discerned, and is not therefore appreciated above unrighteousness.” The Signs of the Times, October 3, 1895.
- By cherishing doubt – “There are those who walk amid perpetual doubts. They feed on doubts, enjoy doubts, talk doubts, and question everything that it is for their interest to believe. To those who thus trifle with the plain testimonies of God’s word, and who refuse to believe because it is inconvenient and unpopular to do so, the light will finally become darkness; truth will appear to the darkened understanding as error, and error will be accepted as truth. When thus shrouded in error, they will find it perfectly natural and convenient to believe what is false, and will become strong in their faith.” The Review and Herald, January 5, 1886.
- Because of continual transgression – “It was the love of God toward the children of men that moved Him to proclaim His law from Sinai. Because the understanding of men had become darkened by continual transgression, God, in his infinite mercy, condescended to bestow upon them the living oracles in all their original purity.” The Signs of the Times, December 2, 1880.
- Allowing the Devil access to our minds – “When the Pharisees expressed their discontent because of the class of people with whom He mingled, Jesus set the matter before them in the parable of the lost sheep. But their understanding was darkened; for Satan had power over their minds, and they arrayed themselves in opposition to Jesus.” Ibid., November 20, 1893.
- Because of the false theories of Satan – “The idols of the heathen stood between them and their God, obscuring God from their vision. Thus it is today. By the cunning deception of Satan false theories are made a power to rob God. Man’s spiritual understanding is darkened by Satan’s sophistry.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 221.
- By defects of character – “By some the truth has been preached for a lifetime, but the understanding, darkened by defects of character which are not overcome, prevents them from discovering truth in its matchless loveliness.” Ibid., vol. 20, 180.
- By exalting one’s idea above God’s will – “Those who exalt their own ideas above the plainly specified will of God are saying, as did Pharaoh, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice’ (Exodus 5:1)? Every rejection of light hardens the heart and darkens the understanding; and thus people find it more and more difficult to distinguish between right and wrong, and they become bolder in resisting the will of God.” Christ Triumphant, 109.
- Because of deliberately stifling one’s convictions of duty – “He who deliberately stifles his convictions of duty because it interferes with his inclinations, will finally lose the power to distinguish between truth and error. The understanding becomes darkened, the conscience callous, the heart hardened, and the soul is separated from God. Where the message of divine truth is spurned or slighted, there the church will be enshrouded in darkness; faith and love grow cold, and estrangement and dissension enter. Church-members center their interests and energies in worldly pursuits, and sinners become hardened in their impenitence.” The Great Controversy, 1888, 379.
Who Is It that Enlightens the Understanding of Human Beings?
“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17, 18).
In commenting on these verses, God’s messenger records, “The ministry of the divine Spirit in enlightening the understanding and opening to the mind the deep things of God’s holy word, was the blessing which Paul thus besought for the Ephesian church.” The Great Controversy, 9.
The apostle John wrote, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13, 14).
God’s Servant wrote, “The work of the Holy Spirit is to enlighten the darkened understanding, to melt the selfish, stony heart, to subdue the rebellious transgressor, and save him from the corrupting influences of the world.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 441.
What Should Be Our Attitude Concerning Being Enlightened?
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
“You should cultivate a spirit of entire submission to the will of God, earnestly, humbly seeking to know His ways and to follow the leadings of His Spirit. You must not lean to your own understanding. You should have deep distrust of your own wisdom and supposed prudence.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 361, 360.
“It is unsafe for men to lean to their own understanding; therefore they should daily seek strength and wisdom from above. God should be in all their thoughts; then all the wiles and subtleties of the old serpent cannot betray them into sinful neglect of duty. They will meet the adversary with the simple weapon that Christ used, ‘It is written,’ or will repulse him with, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan’ (Matthew 16:23).” Ibid., vol. 5, 409.
Why Is It Unsafe for Man to Lean to His Own Understanding?
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17, 18).
In The General Conference Bulletin, April 1, 1899, we are also given the answer, “Through the power and work of Satan, the world has mistaken and forgotten God, and is living in sin. Man’s influence works against God. His knowledge of God and His word is perverted. His understanding is darkened.”
Today, Jesus wants to do for you and I what He did for the disciples.
“And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44, 45).
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.