Today marks the beginning of the second half of our read through the Bible. The Book of Proverbs has two major sections. The book begins with talks that a father gives to his sons, chapters 1-9. The rest of the book is a collection of wise sayings from a variety of authors on a wide range of subjects. Proverbs is a book of practical wisdom for life. Often as we walk the paths of life we come to crossroads, and we must make the decision about which way to go. This book reminds us that as we make choices there are rewards for wise behavior and punishments for foolish decisions. Proverbs offers principles that are generally true, but the principles are not promises. As you read you may think that this book contradicts itself in places, but wisdom reveals the circumstances to which piece of advice applies. For instance, we may apply the look before you leap saying sometimes and other times, we know that he who hesitates is lost is true. The wisdom of Proverbs is practical, but the sayings contain much more than just good advice. Real wisdom is based on a revenant, faith filled relationship with God, who is the source of all wisdom. Verse seven is really the heart and soul of this book. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” This statement is amplified in 9:10 where it reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
This book is commonly attributed to King Solomon, although sayings from Agur son of Jakeh, and Lemuel are included towards the end of the book. The Book of Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature along with Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Psalms. The writers of these books wrestled with some of the most difficult questions of life as they sought to understand life’s problems from God’s point of view. Wisdom was an important commodity in the ancient Near East. Every ruler had his council of wise men that he consulted when making important decisions. Joseph was considered a wise man in Egypt, and Daniel and his friends were honored for their wisdom while they served in Babylon. To the ancient Jew wisdom was much more than simply good advice or successful planning. Biblical wisdom begins with a right relationship with God. The wise person believes that there is a God, that He is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and that He put within His creation a divine order that if obeyed leads ultimately to success. Biblical wisdom has little if any relationship to a person’s IQ or education because it is a matter of moral and spiritual understanding. It has to do with character and values, and it means looking at the world through the grid of God’s truth.
The date for the writing of this book is not certain, but some scholars put the dates between 971-686 B.C. Solomon’s proverbs were written between 973-930 B.C., but the proverbs associated with Hezekiah’s men would have come much later, 729-686 B.C. There is no other information about Agur or Lemuel other than their names though some believe Lemuel was another name for Solomon. There are 375 proverbs of Solomon between verses 10:1-22:16. It is a large collection with no particular organization. Solomon began his reign as a man of great wisdom. But he ended his life practicing the greatest folly. In order to achieve his political goals and keep the kingdom at peace, Solomon allied himself to other nations by marrying hundreds of women, none of whom believed in the one true God, Yahweh. Eventually they turned him from worshiping the Lord to worshiping idols. In the end, Solomon did not obey the precepts he had written in his own book. American author Mark Twain said this about wisdom. “Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest!”
Because the Book of Proverbs is such a collection of bits and pieces of wisdom, I think I will look more at concepts as we read. Fear of the Lord is one of those concepts. Fear here implies respect, 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 toward humility and away from pride (3:7, 15:33, 16:18). With this attitude readers of Proverbs are more likely to listen to God than to their own independent judgement. Fear of the Lord recognizes God’s central place in the order of the world. God is 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 attitude. It is a way of living that takes into 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. Do we want wisdom? Then we must enter into a relationship with the One who has all wisdom.
I have written some about wisdom already but here are some more thoughts. Wisdom helps us know how to act and speak in different situations. It provides the ability to avoid problems as well as the skill to handle them when they arise. Wisdom goes beyond simple intelligence. Proverbs 30:24-28 notes that even animals such as ants, rock badgers, locusts, and lizards are wise. This is not because they have intelligence but because they know how to navigate life skillfully. The foundation of wisdom is God Himself. No wisdom exists apart from fear of the Lord. Wisdom is closely connected to righteousness, and it remains distant from evil. According to proverbs, wisdom is gained through observation and experience (6:6-8), from instruction based on tradition (22:17-21), in learning from mistakes (12:1), and lastly but most importantly, from Divine revelation (1:7). In 1 Corinthians 1-2 Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world, which he called foolishness, with the wisdom of Christ. Paul also says of Jesus, “In Him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Colossians 2:3.
Many times, in the Book of Proverbs we find the word instruction. The Hebrew word here can also be translated as discipline that is instructive and corrective in nature. The word emphasizes both the nourishing and chastening elements of raising up a child. Instruction has to do with both the reception of knowledge through hearing, and the application of that knowledge in daily life. In Proverbs discipline comes primarily through one’s father but we also see that it comes from the mother as well. Usually, the word refers to verbal instruction, but it can also refer to the rod of correction. The content of the instruction is frequently linked to wisdom, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. Outside of Proverbs, discipline and instruction is frequently linked to the Lord.
And so we begin. There will be proverbs you recognize and proverbs that will make you laugh. Check out 21:9! Some will cause you to pause and I hope and pray as you read, you will find some nuggets to tuck away.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W