1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV
The Hebrew Bible takes the title for this book from the opening line: “The Proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King in Israel.” But that is somewhat of a misnomer because many of the proverbs contained within the book were not actually written by Solomon. Many of the proverbs bear his name and authorship, while others are the work of others, such as Agur (Proverbs 30), King Lemuel (Proverbs 31), and various unnamed “wise men.” If anything, Solomon played the dual role of contributor and editor, collecting and compiling the 31 proverbs into their current form. It seems that many of the wisdom sayings found in the book that bears his name were composed long before Solomon was born. Some of them can be traced to earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian books of wisdom.
This collection of wisdom sayings was intended to provide the people of Israel with time-tested maxims that they could use to manage their lives and relationships.
“The Book of Proverbs is about godly wisdom, how to get it and how to use it. It’s about priorities and principles, not get-rich-quick schemes or success formulas. It tells you, not how to make a living, but how to be skillful in the lost art of making a life.” – Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful
Throughout the book, the topic of wisdom is elevated to a place of prominence and ever personified as a woman calling out to anyone who would avail himself of the gifts she has to offer.
Listen as Wisdom calls out!
Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
she takes her stand at the crossroads.
By the gates at the entrance to the town,
on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
“I call to you, to all of you!
I raise my voice to all people.
You simple people, use good judgment.
You foolish people, show some understanding.
Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you.” – Proverbs 8:1-6 NLT
In the first seven proverbs, the messages they contain are written from the perspective of a loving father addressing his young son.
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction… – Proverbs 1:8 ESV
My child, listen to what I say,
and treasure my commands. – Proverbs 2:1 NLT
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments… – Proverbs 3:1 ESV
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching. – Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV
“In its basic form, the proverb is an ancient saying that takes wisdom and endows it with youthful vigor. In a few, piquant phrases the proverb capsulizes a practical idea or truth in such a way as to lift the common-place to a new level of mental consciousness. It reweaves the threadbare idea and shows the ordinary to be quite extraordinary.
“Fundamental to the proverbial form [genre] is the fact that it bears a truth that has been tested by time.” – C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Testament
Solomon had an affinity for this topic because he had been endowed by God with wisdom greater than that of any man who had ever lived.
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 ESV
And not only was Solomon wise, but he was also extremely wealthy and powerful. He had been born the privileged son of the powerful and popular King David. As the son of the king and the successor to his father’s throne, Solomon had been raised in the palace and surrounded by luxury. As he would later confess, his life was one of excess and unmitigated success.
I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 ESV
After ascending to his father’s throne, Solomon became a man conflicted by his unparalleled wisdom and his insatiable desire to find meaning in life. He had everything and, yet, he remained unfulfilled. He would later admit, “I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them” (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV), but this led him to lament, “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV).
Solomon grew to recognize that wisdom alone was insufficient. Wisdom unapplied was not only useless but futile. It led to frustration and a life of fruitlessness. So, Solomon went about collecting the wisdom of the ages and compiled it into a concise compendium designed to provide insight and meaning for life.
Solomon makes it perfectly clear why he took the time to pen the Proverbs.
Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and knowledge, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young…” – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT
It sounds as if Solomon is putting together a self-help manual aimed at teaching people how to get smarter so that they can be more successful in life. But then he qualifies his purpose statement with a non-negotiable requirement. It all begins with a healthy fear of God. The Proverbs are not just a collection of wise and pithy statements designed to increase our wisdom and improve our lives, but they are a reminder to make God the focus of our lives. He is the sole source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He alone gives insight to the simple and knowledge and discernment to the young.
The wisdom described in the Proverbs is a byproduct of a relationship with God. It cannot be achieved any other way. Ignoring God will leave us ignorant. When Solomon says that fools despise wisdom and discipline, he is describing those who reject God. By turning their back on God and refusing to live according to His terms, they reject the very things they need to succeed in this life. They miss out on the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding He alone can provide. But it all begins with a fear of God. The NET Bible describes the fear of the Lord this way: “The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).”
The fear of the Lord is marked by an understanding of who God is – His holiness, righteousness, wrath, justice, power, sovereignty, love, grace, and mercy. To fear God is to show Him reverence and awe. It is an acknowledgment of His majesty and might. It is a recognition of His holiness and hatred of sin. A healthy fear of God prevents us from taking God for granted and treating Him with contempt.
Solomon describes those who refuse to fear God as simpleminded, mockers, and fools. “They hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 1:29 NLT). To refuse to fear God is to refuse all that God has to offer – including wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Those who reject God “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes” (Proverbs 1:31 NLT). No one plans to live his life as a fool. Every person on the planet wants to live wisely and successfully. But unless they seek God and start with Him, they will never achieve their goal. “For simpletons turn away from me – to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:32-33 NLT). Wisdom is an attribute of God. He is all-knowing, all-wise. All that there is to know and understand is found in Him. Find Him and You will discover all you need to live a disciplined and successful life.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.