IN PRAISE OF WISDOM Proverbs 1–9
“Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse” (Prov. 2:12).The wise person is not the individual of great intellectual achievement, but the person who makes appropriate choices in his or her daily life. To know what is right and to do it is wisdom for you and me, as it was for the ancient Hebrew.
Definition of Key Terms
The Hebrew root translated “wise” and “wisdom” (H-K-M) occurs over 300 times in the Old Testament. Together they portray a wise person as one who subjects himself to God and who applies divine guidelines when making everyday choices. In contrast, foolishness involves rejection of the divine guidelines, or another failure to apply them when making moral or other choices. Several parts of the Old Testament are classified as “Wisdom literature.” These include Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms 19, 37, 104, 107, 147–148. Wisdom literature does not state divine law, or record divine promises, but rather simply describes behavior that illustrates wise and foolish choices a person may make.
After summarizing the benefits of this book (1:1–7), these first chapters take the form of a father exhorting his son not to reject (vv. 8–33) but to embrace wisdom (2:1–4:27). He warned against adultery (5:1–23; 6:20–7:27) and folly (6:1–19), picturing wisdom and folly as two very different women (8:1–9:18).
Understanding the Text
“For attaining wisdom and discipline” Prov. 1:1–7. This introduction describes the purpose of the book, a major portion of which was written by Solomon. If we read carefully we can gain insights that will help us “acquire a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” “If sinners entice” Prov. 1:8–33. Parents of every era have worried about their children’s choices. We may feel that we have more to worry about today, with drugs, violence, sex, and satanism so prevalent in our society. Yet each new generation has faced similar moral challenges, and parents have expressed their concern. We can’t help but identify with the themes mentioned by the father of Proverbs 1–9, who warned his son against “giving in” to peer pressure and getting in with the wrong crowd (vv. 10–19). Like him we warn our children to think beyond the moment and be wise. In the end those who ignore wisdom and make sinful moral choices will be overtaken by calamity. Then it will be too late: “They will eat the fruit of their ways.” Only a person who listens to and follows the way of wisdom will “live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” Perhaps we can sense in these words some of the desperation we may sometimes feel. Too many young people think, “That can’t happen to me,” and foolishly take that first experimental step that draws them inexorably into a way of life that leads to destruction. This father realized, as you and I do, that we can’t make choices for our children. But we can point out the way of wisdom—and pray. “You will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path” Prov. 2:1–4:27. Paying attention to wisdom has lasting benefits, which are expressed in these verses. Each of the benefits is rooted in the fact that God Himself “holds victory in store for the upright” and “is a shield to those whose walk is blameless” (2:6–7). While it is possible to view consequences of a good moral life as a natural outcome, Proverbs affirms a supernatural element. God observes our choices, and He Himself “guards the course of the just.” How do we achieve these benefits? Several sayings from Proverbs 3 and 4 are rightly famous, and merit memorization. Here are just four: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (3:5–6). “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (vv. 9–10). “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (v. 27). “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (4:23). What makes a parent’s words authentic and compelling? Actually, it is his or her own life, the ability to guide another (4:11) along a path we ourselves have traveled. When we share truths that are authenticated by our own dedicated lives, our children will find it easier to “accept what I say” (v. 10). “In the end she is bitter as gall” Prov. 5:1–23; 6:20–27. Adultery is dealt with at length, perhaps because the sex drive is so strong in the young; perhaps because sexual temptation so vividly contrasts the prospect of an immediate reward with delayed consequences. Wisdom demands that in making any choice we consider distant as well as immediate consequences. When it comes to sexual sins, the desire for immediate satisfaction often pushes aside any thought of the future. In our sexually oriented society, the warning of Proverbs against adultery is especially appropriate, not just for the young, but for each of us. What are some of the points these passages make? While illicit sex seems to “drip honey,” the long-range consequences are “bitter as gall” (5:1–14). God has provided us with marriage to satisfy our sexual needs: we are to be captivated by our spouse. The wise man focuses on developing his relationship with his wife, so that their love will be totally satisfying (vv. 15–20). God knows our ways, and has ordained that evil deeds ensnare the wicked (vv. 21–23). Immorality has consequences. As walking on hot coals scorches the feet, so committing adultery brings disgrace (6:20–35). A person controlled by his or her hormones is like a beast; an ox led to the slaughter or a deer stepping into a noose, “little knowing it will cost him his life” (7:1–26). The thing that sets man above the animals is judgment: the ability to stand aside from instincts, and decide what to do on the basis of what is wise and what is right. The person who is drawn into sex sin acts like an animal, for he or she sets aside that human capacity and acts on the basis of passion alone. To commit adultery is not simply wrong, it is a denial of the Creator’s gifts which set man above all other living creatures. “Does not wisdom call out?” Prov. 8:1–9:14 These chapters picture wisdom and folly as two different women. The one quietly offering something more precious than all worldly riches and honor; the other raucously tempting those going by to pass through her doorway, only to tumble unexpectedly into the “depths of the grave.” The voice to which we respond as we live our daily lives demonstrates to all whether we are among the wise or among the foolish of men.
The Beginning of Knowledge(Prov. 1–2)
One of those fascinating phrases that dot the Scriptures launches the Book of Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” That phrase does not, of course, mean that it’s smart to be scared of God. After all, Adam and Eve were scared of God after the first sin. They ran away and tried to hide, which wasn’t smart at all! First off, they couldn’t really hide from God. And second, only by running to God rather than away from Him could they have found relief from their guilt. No, the “fear of the Lord” isn’t being scared at all. What it means here, and in most Old Testament texts, is simply to have respect for God; to be fully aware and in awe of the fact that He is living and present. This, the fact that we take God’s existence and His presence into account when thinking about any issue or making any decision, is “fear of the Lord.” And this, taking God’s existence and presence into account, is the beginning of knowledge. If we take God into account, we look to Him for guidance. And we find it, for “the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6). What a blessing to be among those who fear God and look to Him for wisdom. But what a challenge to realize that we are responsible to live wisely. We are called not simply to know the will of God, but to let wisdom “enter your heart” so that we will “walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous” (vv. 10, 20).
God’s wisdom is displayed in the way we live, not in what we say.