We are nearly at the end of our read through the Book of Proverbs. As I have done throughout this read in Proverbs, today I want to take a look at various thoughts about the book. As I have said before,Proverbs is considered wisdom literature. In the ancient world, wisdom was popular among intellectuals from Babylon to Egypt. Sages or wise persons would reflect on life and condense their wisdom into brief sayings. And we have readmany of them! Israel’s wisdom instructors would welcome a profound saying from Egypt or Mesopotamia. The sayings in Proverbs make no mention of the great events that shaped Israel’s history. In fact we see nothing about kings, kingdoms, specific challenges or enemies, nor great heros of the Bible. There is no history of Israel. The laws given to Moses are not repeated or even mentioned. And nothing is said about the religious life of Israel. Instead it is the kind of practical teachings and instruction that would have been done in families, schools, and even the royal palace. Truth be told, this sort of teaching should still be happening in homes today. Proverbs seems to contrast with the teachings of Israel that centered on the Torah, or Teaching found in the first five books of the Bible..Genesis through Deuteronomy. The Wisdom off Proverbsseems to have a more secular tone because it observes life as it is and instructs people how to make the best of it. Like all of our ‘How to Succeed’ books, collections of wisdom sayings offered instructions for successful living.
But, Proverbs does have a theological accent about it. One of the main points of emphasis is the “Fear of the Lord.” The writer of Proverbs sees this as the essential foundation for true wisdom. The good life builds on the foundation of Israel’s religion, and Israel’s wisdom aims to help people develop a balanced life with the proper relationships to self, others, society, and the Lord. The wisdom sayings of Proverbs probably came to be used with other wisdom teachings in schools, by tutors, and in the home. Those schools were open to young boys so the teaching often focused on helping these young men live successful, sensible, and faith filed lives. So, sometimes we see sexual imagery and advice and it is aimed towards males. This reflects a very patriarchal society…which we know. However, it is also clear that wisdom is to be honored and followed by all people, men and boys, girls and women.
In short, proverbs provide practical insights and instruction about right and daily living. They speak of wise dealings and the difference between wisdom and folly. The writer of Proverbs has much to say about people who work and especially those who do not. The emphasis is on teaching knowledge and good sense, or prudence, to the young so they grow up knowing the right way to live. Knowing about the fear of the Lord is essential to understanding wisdom. And here the word fear means primarily awe and respect. The wisdom we read in the Book of Proverbs is knowledge gained through life experiences rather than learning from books. This is uncomplicated and it makes the whole world a classroom. Those who are wise know and understand that a meaningful life includes treating others with fairness and justice, working hard, being loyal and humble, controlling one’s emotions, respecting parents and others in authority, and helping out the poor and needy. People who are wise make decisions that lead to health, wealth, and happiness. On the flip side of that, the foolish people make poor decisions that lead to discontent and punishment.
Some may look at Proverbs and think that they seem to over simplify the complexities of life. But in truth, life does not have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it. The Book of Proverbs divides people quite neatly into two group. First there are the wise who are righteous and second there are the foolish who are wicked and lost because they have rejected wisdom. Also, Proverbs assumes that people automatically get what they deserve. That means the wise will prosper and enjoy a long rich life, and the foolish will suffer and fail. But we know first hand that not all of the wise are rich and live long and prosperous lives. We also know people who are foolish and yet have rich lives and they live a long time. This is a sinful and broken world and that means sometimes good people suffer and the bad folks sometimes prosper.
Wisdom is celebrated in the prologue (chapters 1-9) for her special character. Wisdom is always described in feminine terms but there is no evidence that she was regarded as a goddesses in either Israel or Canaan. Instead, wisdom is portrayed as feminine because of the influence of similar descriptions of feminine goddesses in Egypt. Wisdom is not to be worshiped because she is connected directly to God, from the very beginning of creation (8:22-31). The Lord founded earth by wisdom (3:19-20). We need to keep this very positive, strong view of female wisdom in mind when we read in the Book of Proverbs about loose women, those who tempt youth to make poor choices. In fact, the reader of Proverbs is encouraged to stick with Wisdom as a sister or friend, so as to avoid the dangerous woman.
When we get to the New Testament, all of the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are said to be hidden in Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:2-3). Paul speaks of the message of the cross as being foolishness to those who think they are wise. (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Jesus said He became for us wisdom from God, and it is God’s Holy Spirit that helps us to understand thistrue wisdom from God. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). As Christians who are reading the Book of Proverbs, we are called to read with our eyes on the gospel message of Jesus Christ and His cross, and listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus. It is not ourgood works that make us right with God. And it is not our own wisdom that helps us move forward in life. We are made right by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W