This blog series is devoted to a careful analysis and explanation of the book of Proverbs. The majority of the material found within the book of Proverbs was written, under the direction of the Spirit of God, by King Solomon, the second Davidic king who ruled over a united Israel from 970-931 BC.
The account of how Solomon acquired his wisdom is found in 1 Kings 1:1-15. God gave Solomon a choice, and Solomon chose to have wisdom above riches or a long life. This request brought God great pleasure and therefore, God granted him wisdom so that he would know how to wisely rule over God’s people, the nation of Israel.
As a result of his God-given wisdom, Solomon became the wisest man in the east and his wisdom became legendary. First Kings 4:29–34 states:
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men—than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon.
Since the Holy Spirit supernaturally worked through Solomon to record many of his proverbs, and since we have an accurate account of those proverbs, we would be fools to disregard what Solomon wrote. If you had the choice of being a fool or being wise which would you choose? The choice is yours. The source of wisdom is God’s.
Assuming you would like to acquire the wisdom of Solomon, I invite you on this journey as we make our way through this remarkable book together.
I enjoy reading maps, especially those which have topographical information. These maps not only help me understand routes and directions, but the topographical information helps me to imagine the place I am considering.
So it is with books of the Bible – I like to have a map. A map for a book is called an outline. An outline shows the major headings of the book – it shows me where the author intends to lead his readers.
Here is a brief outline of the book of Proverbs.
1:1-9:18 The Prologue
10:1-22:16 Proverbs of Solomon
22:17-24:22 Thirty Sayings of the Wise
24:23-34 Further Sayings of the Wise
25:1-29:27 Hezekiah’s Collection of Solomon
30:1-14 Agur’s Oracle
30:15-33 Agur’s Numerical Sayings
31:1-9 Lemuel’s Mother to Her Son
31:10-31 Lemuel’s Mother on the Noble Wife
Having a brief overview of the book, let’s jump into…
The Prologue (1:1-9:18)
Interestingly, the first NINE chapters of Proverbs are considered the prologue. A prologue is merely an introduction of sorts. Therefore, it is unusual that one third of the entire book is devoted to an introduction. In this introduction we will find the author’s many invitations to and rationale for pursuing wisdom. The latter two-thirds of the book focuses upon his actual wise sayings.
The first seven verses of chapter one consist of…
The Title with Preamble (1:1-7)
As with many biblical books the book of Proverbs begins by identifying the author. In verse 1 Solomon is introduced to the reader…
The Inscription (1:1)
1:1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
The inscription tells us what we already have considered. The book was largely written by the man named Solomon. He was one of the sons of the first king of Israel, David.
David himself was known as a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Though David had sometimes failed miserably, there was no greater king than David and all successive kings were compared to him (2 Kings 14:3; 18:3; 22:2; etc.).
Once David died, Solomon became king in the place of his father (1 Kings 1-2). Following his inauguration, Solomon was divinely enabled to be king over Israel through the granting of wisdom.
Having introduced himself to the reader, Solomon listed for us the…
The Purpose of the Book (1:2-6)
1:2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
In verse 2, the phrase “to know” means to become conscious of or become aware of. The author recorded his proverbs so that the reader could internalize “wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom and knowledge are different. Knowledge often focuses upon the facts, whereas wisdom focuses upon the practical use of facts. Therefore, wisdom refers to the skill in living. Wisdom, skill in living, comes from assimilating “instruction.”
Furthermore, wisdom and instruction are only possible when the hearer is able “to perceive the words of understanding.” The word perceive refers to giving heed or paying attention to something. Therefore, wisdom and understanding come from giving heed to “words of understanding.” This last phrase refers to mental discernment, which describes the process of weighing and evaluating and choosing between options. As Lane points out, this is like teaching a child to discern or understand as opposed to mere blind obedience (15). He said:
“Proverbs will train people to discern lessons about life, such as distinguishing permanent values from immediate gratifications.” (EBCOT)
The purpose of Proverbs is to aid the reader in assimilating wisdom which comes through instruction. But this skill in living can only be received if the reader is willing to give heed, to pay attention to words of understanding. This will enable the reader to develop a strong sense of discernment.
Verse 2 functions as a caution. The reader is cautioned to have the right attitude – he must not merely hear instruction, he must be willing to pay attention to it. Successful living is dependent upon knowing how to make good moral and mental choices: knowing how to live, how to take correction and developing a spirit of discernment. While many people can acquire biblical knowledge about facts within, fewer people seem to be able to actually develop the ability to discern and make good moral choices based upon that knowledge. The author of Proverbs didn’t simply want to pass on facts, he wanted them to gain skills in living based upon God’s Word.
1:3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; 4 To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. 5 A wise [man] will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel:
In verse 3 the author touches upon that right attitude mentioned above. The reader must “receive” the instruction, which suggests taking or grasping with evident favour or approval. More accurately, the book was written in order to lead the reader to this attitude of grasping with approval. By receiving the instruction within, the reader will grasp with approval the instruction in “wisdom,” “justice” (what is right, i.e. righteousness), “judgment” (what is just), and “equity” (what is fair).
To be clear, this wisdom is from God, it is godly wisdom. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that people, in and of themselves, do not want God’s wisdom (Isaiah 53:6). People are sinners, and therefore, they are unable to adequately understand what is wise, right, just, or fair, because those qualities can only be rightly understood from a God-centered perspective. The Bible tells us all mankind has inherited the sin nature of Adam and therefore, are resistant and even hostile to God and His truth (Romans 3:10-12- 21). Therefore, man is dependent upon God for understanding how to wisely navigate through life (1 Corinthians 2:14; more of this later).
Verse 4 views the book’s purpose from the teacher’s point of view. The teacher wants to give “prudence to the simple.” The parallelism in this verse shows that the simple person is also the “young man;” which indicates that a simple person is one who lacks maturity, and therefore, may be gullible or naïve due to ignorance. The only remedy for a simple-minded person is God’s instruction. In order for the reader to become mature in his thinking, he must be taught and he must receive words of wisdom.
As Kidner points out the “fool” meets us in various names in the book of Proverbs. Here the fool is called a simple one: “the simple…is no half-wit; he is a person whose instability could be rectified, but who prefers not to accept discipline in the school of wisdom…” (39).
Waltke said: “Though intellectually flawed, [the simple] are the mildest sort of fools, for they are malleable, are capable of being shaped and improved by the educational process (1:4; 8:5; 12:25; 21:11), and still have hope of joining the company of the wise (cf. 1:22; 9:4). Both Wisdom and Folly compete for their allegiance (ch. 9)…Though the gullible are not said to be wicked or godless and not compared to the ‘fool,’ their gullibility is not without moral or religious significance or danger for themselves and their associates. Until they repent, they are grouped with morally culpable fools and mockers (1:22, 32: 8:5). Uncommitted, they naively trust every word (14:18); their ‘apostasy’…kills them (1:32). Only if they leave the community of their peers and set out on the way of insight, and learn cunning (8:5; 9:4, 6, 16), can they live (9:6). Their basic need is ‘shrewdness’…In short, though saveable, they are morally culpable apostates, lumped together with fools and mockers (1:22, 32; 8:5), and headed for death (1:32).”
In verse 5 we find that the author contrasts the “simple” with the “wise.” Here is a curious thing in the book of proverbs. It is the “wise” person who receives instruction in wisdom. Therefore, it is obvious that a wise person does not know everything, but a wise person is open to learning – he will hear and increase. Parallel to this is the man of understanding who attains “wise counsel.” The phrases “will hear” and “shall attain” suggest not only hearing instruction, but obeying the instruction.
Wise people (those who fear the Lord, v. 7) are those who can receive God’s instruction, they are God’s people, and they continue to grow and increase. Since “wise” people fear the Lord (v. 7) and receive His instruction, it is best to understand the wise as those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11-11, 14). The new birth takes a hostile sinner and turns him into a child of God (John 1:12; 3:1-6; 1 Peter 1:3). Since he is a child of God, he loves God and is receptive to God’s wisdom (1 Peter 1:14).
1:6 To understand a proverb, and an enigma; the words of the wise, and their riddles.
Verse 6 continues by saying that the book was written to help the wise person “understand a proverb and an enigma.” First, “understand” suggests that effort was exerted in order to gain such wisdom; wisdom is not automatic. Furthermore, wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, is hidden in the “proverb…an enigma…words, and…riddles.”
A “proverb” is a description via a comparison of sorts. One part of the proverb is understood in comparing it to the other part – the parts cannot be isolated but must be taken in complete units (there are often two sides to one parable, this is the parallelism to which I referred earlier). The “enigma” can refer to a “satire, a mocking-poem, or an alluding saying” (EBCOT). The “riddle” “may refer to what is obscure or indirect” (EBCOT).
It is obvious from these categories that the teachings of Proverbs are not laying on the surface. They require thoughtfulness and meditation on the part of the student. The book of Proverbs teaches the wise person how to understand truths which have an air of mystery about them. But the reward is worth the effort.
Having been introduced to the author’s purpose in writing, we come then to verse 7 which is a foundational statement – one that introduces a condition upon which the acquisition of wisdom is dependant.
The Foundation of the Book 1:7
1:7 The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge: [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The writer said that “the fear of the LORD” is the beginning of knowledge. In other words, the “fear of the LORD” is the prerequisite for true knowledge – those who want to have true knowledge must first have a fear of the Lord. Do you have a fear of the LORD? In order to answer that, we have to define what it is.
The “fear of the Lord” is a comprehensive word which describes trust in, love for and obedience to God (Lane, 17). But the “fear of the Lord” also involves seeing sin as God sees it (8:13), and therefore something which warns and keeps one from sinning (14:26-27; 16:6; 23:17). Therefore, it includes a spirit of humility and submission to God (15:23; 22:4).
It is something which fools do not have nor do they desire to have. Since fools reject God they also despise wisdom and instruction which has its source in God, which leads them into rebellion to God (sin). Kidner states: “knowledge, then, in its full sense, is a relationship, dependent on revelation and inseparable from character…” Fools do not have this relationship with God which is necessary to gain wisdom.
The “simple” person likewise lacks the fear of the Lord, but the book of Proverbs indicates that the “simple” is not beyond hope and that he might still gain it. The “simple” (v. 4) will become wise if he has the fear of the Lord. Those who do not gain the fear of the Lord move from being simple (simply untaught) to “fools” (disregard for God and His truth).
Since the fear of the Lord describes a relationship with God which is marked by love, trust, obedience, and humility, it should go without saying that the fear of the Lord has great rewards (2:5-9; 10:27; 14:26).
As mentioned above, the fear of the Lord is an attitude which certain people possess. Those who fear the Lord are those who have been redeemed (spiritually saved) by God. Because they have been brought into a saving relationship with God, they love God, they trust in Him, and they are obedient to Him. It is the redeemed, those who fear the Lord, who begin to see sin as God sees it, which causes them to be warned away from sin. These are the humble ones who are submissive to God and therefore, welcome His truth into their lives.
Since wisdom and the fear of the Lord are connected, it should not surprise us that following this verse we have many verses about wisdom and its benefits. We will explore these verses in future posts.