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What does it mean to not let the wise man glory in his wisdom (Jeremiah 9:23)?

not let the wise man glory in his wisdom

The Hebrews of Jeremiah’s day were much like people today. They tended to trust in their own wisdom, strength, wealth, and abilities. As good and desirable as these qualities and achievements might be, they will fail in the day of adversity. The only thing that matters—the one thing we should seek above all else—is knowing God through an intimate relationship with Him. For this reason, Jeremiah prophesied,
“‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, NKJV).

Jeremiah wrote to people who were facing destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The devastation to come, graphically described in Jeremiah 9:17–22, was a judgment from God on the sins of Judah (verses 7–9). The people would soon be asking, “Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?” (verse 12). Judah was tempted to ignore the warnings of doom and to glory in their wisdom, military prowess, and other things, all untrustworthy. The prophet counsels them that confidence in themselves is misplaced; their salvation could only come through a knowledge of God.

The verb translated as “glory” in this passage means “to boast, or to show off verbally.” God’s covenant people bragged about their human wisdom, strength, and riches. But no such resources would save them in the day of judgment. They were likely boasting about their outward religious accomplishments, too. But true spiritual circumcision had not reached their hearts (see Jeremiah 4:4 and 9:25–26). If they had genuinely come to know God in heart-to-heart intimacy, they would have embraced His ways and upheld His standards, exercising lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. They were like religious people today who depend on sacraments, pious rituals, and the performance of good deeds rather than surrendering their whole hearts and lives to Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 3:2–11, the apostle Paul delivers a similar warning against fleshly confidence. Like the wise man of ancient Israel glorying in his own wisdom, some people in the early church insisted that one “must be circumcised to be saved” (verse 2, NLT). Paul explained that those “who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised.” These believers “put no confidence in human effort” but instead “rely on what Christ Jesus has done” for them (verse 3, NLT).

Paul, a Benjamite Hebrew and highly educated Pharisee, had good reason to glory in his human wisdom and accomplishments, perhaps more than anyone (see Philippians 3:4–6). But, instead, Paul testified, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7–9). Paul wanted nothing more than “to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead” (Philippians 3:10, NLT).

Only in Jesus Christ did Paul have reason to boast or glory in his work for God (Romans 15:17). He told the Galatians, “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died” (Galatians 6:14, NLT). Citing Jeremiah 9:23–24, Paul urged the Corinthians, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31, NLT; see also 2 Corinthians 10:17)

Boasting originates from pride. We want others to know how smart, rich, powerful, successful, and self-reliant we are. The man who glories in his wisdom says, “I am wise enough on my own. I don’t need God.” Scripture warns, “Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:18–19, see also 1 Corinthians 1:20; Jeremiah 8:9).

God does not delight in our intelligence, influence, or affluence. He takes pleasure in followers who delight themselves in the Lord (Psalm 37:4), who trust in the Lord with their whole hearts and not on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), who seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33), and who obey Him by demonstrating loving compassion, justice, and righteousness in the world (Jeremiah 9:24).

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Questions about Jeremiah

What does it mean to not let the wise man glory in his wisdom (Jeremiah 9:23)?
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This page last updated: December 7, 2022