The Hebrew title for this book is “The Proverbs of Solomon.” The book contains 513 of the most important Proverbs of Solomon of the over 3,000 that Solomon wrote. (1 Kings 4:32) There are some other Proverbs in the book written by others who were probably influenced by Solomon. The meaning of the word Proverb” is “to be like.” Therefore, Proverbs is a book of comparisons between common, concrete images and life’s most profound truths. A Proverb is a moral statement that highlights and teach fundamental realities of life. Solomon at a young age sought wisdom from God (2 Chronicles 1:8-12) and offered “Pithy sayings” with the design to make men contemplate the fear of God and to live by His wisdom. The sum of this wisdom is personified in the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
These Proverbs come from Ancient Israel’s anthology of wise sayings, advice, instructions, and warnings. The structure of the book is arranged as a Manuel for a young man who is launching a career. Though the book is an anthology for Israel it is certainly worth reading for all people. There are but a few references to the specific ideals and institutions, as the covenant and Israel’s redemptive history, (The Exodus) and the formal religious institutions. (Sacrifice and atonement) The Proverbs are a supplement to Israel’s formal religion with practical advice.
The Proverbs come in various settings and social contexts. Some of the Proverbs are in the backdrop of royal courts addressing matters as how to approach the king. Some have a family setting and fit into an agricultural setting. Others pertain to the world of commerce, trade, and business. The Proverbs offer wisdom and guidance in the spheres of life in these various settings and contexts. Yet, the Proverbs are timeless and are a benefit to for application of the readers of today.
There are two major sections that these Proverbs fit into. There is the opening discourses (1:1-9:18) and the wise sayings. (10:1-31:31) This first discourse is a father speaking to his son with a figure named wisdom adding her perspective. (1:20-33; 8:1-9:13)
The second discourse contains several collections of wise sayings. A wide range of topics are covered and the most frequently mentioned are wealth and poverty, planning, laziness, prostitutes, hard work, relationships, pride and humility.
Verses 1-7 Title, Introduction, and Motto
The intended title of Proverbs was to connect the whole book to the name of King Solomon. But as we read through the book it becomes clear that Solomon is not the sole author of the book. The writer’s purpose for the book of Proverbs is for the moral guidance and intellectual growth of the youth and a source of inspiration for the spiritually mature.
“To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding.” Knowing what is right is both a prerequisite and motive for doing what is right. Doing what is right does not come by natural instinct, it is something that has to be learned by proper instruction of right and wrong. There are several connotations and associations to the word wisdom and noted in the introduction to the book. Here it means knowledge of God’s moral law. When we couple instruction with wisdom it has a meaning of discipline, or chastisement, and here it refers to the discipline one must submit to in learning the laws of God. At the root of the word understand is to separate or divide. Understanding then is the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff or good from evil.
As we look at the word receive we discern it is a reminder of what we know as a gift from the past. If we ignore the past we have subjected ourselves to repeat the errors of the past. Here in Proverbs the teacher is introducing us to the lessons from the past. It is an effort to keep us from committing the errors of the past human experience in each generation. We see a list of areas in which we are to receive instruction. “Wise dealing” in the context of these writings is good common sense in the conduct of human affairs in life. The question then is how does one show good common sense? The answer is by the practice of righteousness, justice and equity. Righteousness can be understood as a personal conduct of right, as God has given us the right. Justice is a right conduct in respect to others and their right. Equity is a combination of personal morality and social justice. It means that we live in fair play towards others.
Now we see a second set of purposes in the writer’s book. Prudence is being savvy as being wise to the ways and wiles of evil that we do not become misled. This is the education that is given to the simple, the inexperienced but teachable people. In Proverbs we see several words that are translated as simple, or as a fool. Each use has a different meaning and some are derogatory and others merely naïve youth. The writer of Proverbs is talking of the youth who are unexperienced and therefore able to be influenced either by what is good or evil. We must remember that to not teach the youth is to expose them to what is evil. Discretion ties in with the word prudence. Discrimination is the ability to chart the course of one’s life by knowing where the shoals lie.
There is another reason for the writings of Proverbs. They are written not only for the eyes, mind, and heart of the unexperienced youth but are also profitable for the wise. The wise can increase their learning and hone their skills in the management of good seamanship, which means good navigation in the boat of their life.
This increase in ability and skill will increase one’s ability to understand the riddle of Proverbs. The figures or parables that the wise speak which offer truer and deeper meaning.
At last we see the motto of the entire book of Proverbs. It is a summary of the writer’s philosophy of wisdom. “Fear” means awe or reverence. “Beginning” is the starting point or can be the most important part. True knowledge starts with and is dependent upon reverence of the Lord. In contrast is our consideration of “fools.” These are the dull, swinish, thick skulled, and without sensitivity. We see a harsh description of this kind of person in Proverbs 26:11. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly.” Wisdom in the Old Testament endorses reverence for the Lord as essential to the living of the good life.
Verses 8-19 Warning About Choosing Companions
We now see the first teaching poem of the book of Proverbs, in chapters 1-9. In this first poem there are several warnings for the youth in their choice of companions. First we see an exhortation for the reader to pay attention to the teaching of the parents. The raising of the youth began with the parents and then moved to wise teachers. The youth are admonished to not reject their instruction. They are not to think of their teachers as a burden but rather as an adornment, a garland or a crown of flowers for their head and a pendent around their neck.
The youth also find stern warnings about becoming involved with criminals. These warning are relevant in the upbringing of children in the society of today, as well in the society of the day of the writer. One cannot assume that if the child’s parents are godly and of a good home that the child would not fall into a bad companionship. “If sinners entice you” is a common way the innocent can fall into evil company. We can see this type of situation playing out all the time in today’s society. It must be noticed that the criminal elements in society have little regard for life and property of their victims. Some even relish the thought of killing and there is little respect for life. The crimes they commit is wanton and often without a cause or reason. The enticement of the innocent is a promise of easy wealth, you will see the brotherhood of blood. It is a gang like mentality. That is the significance of all having one purse.
In this we see the admonition of the parent to not be involved in this kind of folly. The youth are told “do not walk’ which is both literal and figurative and means to not have a habitual association with them or become a companion to them. The picture of going further with them on their path is further carried in the vision of a bunch of hoodlums rampaging through the streets of the city. Moving about as fast as they can in search of adventure which will cost some innocent person his life, property, or both.
What these fools do not realize is that they are running headlong into their own destruction. They do not have the sense of a bird who watches for the net that is set before them. In reality the fools are setting a trap for themselves and fail to see it. It will be their own lives and blood that will be lost as the price of their crimes against the innocent. In truth they are ambushing themselves. In summary, this is the way of all violence. Those who live by the sword perish by the sword.
Verses 20-33 As a Prophetess
In these verses we first see wisdom given the personality traits of a lady. It most cases it appears as a figure of speech the signing of ladylike qualities of a women but later in chapter 8:22-31 the writer expresses wisdom as having personhood being part of but separate from the Godhead. Here wisdom is pictured as a female messenger giving an urgent word which is imperative for her to deliver. She “cries aloud,” shouting to all who are within the sound of her voice, whether they are in the streets, the marketplace, the walls of the city, or at the city gates. In all of these places she would have the advantage to be heard by large groups of people.
Her message is clear, “How long?” There are three audiences that she is speaking to, the “simple ones” the naïve and inexperienced; the “scoffers,” arrogant people who think they know it all and cannot be taught anything; “fools,” the thick, dull-witted persons of verse seven. The voice of wisdom pleads, but their deaf ears will not hear. These people “refuse to listen.” She has reached out her hand in earnest effort to touch their lives, but they refused to heed. They have refused advice and reproof. How common is this behavior amongst men. Now they are left to endure the consequences which they have brought upon themselves. String words are used to speak of the retribution that is coming to those who will need not heed the Word of God.
The foolish will suffer “panic” when the storm comes upon them as a “calamity” of a whirlwind. “Distress and anguish” are frightful predictions for the foolish. The worst of which is that there will be no comfort from wisdom. Now they will be faced with the calling from the other side. Wisdom called them to repent and they ignored her, and now they will beg for her help and she will not answer them. They will now have to eat “the fruit of their way.” The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) They will be “sated with their own devices.” Their stomachs will be filled by their own wickedness. That is retribution! To be sick not only of sin, but also sick of the consequences of their sin! Those who sin in actuality destroy themselves, but those who listen to the voice of wisdom shall be saved from the dread of evil.
Fear of the Lord
The main theme of Proverbs can be summed up in just ten words that appear near the beginning of the Book. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7) Fear implies, awe, and at times knee-knocking terror. It also acknowledges that everything, including knowledge and wisdom, comes from total dependence on God. The fear of the Lord leads people towards humility and away from pride. (3:7; 15:33) With such an attitude, readers of Proverbs are more apt to listen to God than to their own independent judgment.
Fear of the Lord recognizes God’s central place in order of the world. God is the Creator and Master of all things. This is why Psalm 14:1 labels those who reject God as “fools.” Those who fear the Lord receive wisdom because they begin to understand that everything is under God’s rule and in His service. This is more than just an attitude; it is a way of living that takes in to account God’s power and authority and our ultimate accountability to Him.
Wisdom is closely connected with a proper relationship with God – both require choices in line with God’s character. (See 14:2; Job 28:28; Ecclesiastes 12:13) Do you want wisdom? Then you must enter into a relationship with the one who has all wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1-2; Colossians 2:3)