Purpose and Theme
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
King Solomon ruled the nation of Israel for 40 years. He brought peace and wealth to the nation. Solomon’s workmen built palaces, and the great temple. The people of Israel learned arts, sciences and music. It was a golden era for Israel. They were flourishing and they had peace with their neighbours.
When he was young, Solomon obeyed God. He asked God for wisdom, and God gave it to him (1 Kings 3:9, 12). Other rulers, including the queen of Sheba, visited Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13). She asked him many questions. His answers showed great knowledge of many subjects. He taught about plants, animals and fish. Solomon became more and more famous.
Solomon learned and wrote many proverbs. He collected 3000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:29-34). The Book of Proverbs contains some of them. It’s a small selection. Perhaps his greatest hits! Solomon also appears to have written Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.
The wise person honours God, and God protects him. A foolish person refuses to obey God. There are many dangers for such a person. The Book of Proverbs explains these dangers.
Solomon tells us about four types of person. Each will benefit from Solomon’s wise words.
The simple person
To use the term simple today could be potentially offensive as it would suggest that they are stupid. Here it simply means someone who has not learned or been educated in wisdom. This person is in danger. Evil people can easily lead simple people to do evil things. In one sense we are all simple by God’s standards.
The Book of Proverbs is poetry. There are a variety of styles. Sometimes, one line has the same meaning as the next. Sometimes lines contrast with each other. In other places, the meaning develops from line to line. The poems are largely memory tools that parents and grandparents would teach their sons and daughters. When children committed these proverbs and poems to memory they would be able to recall them when they faced a moral dilemma or a decision that challenged their knowledge or experience.
The wise person
A wise person loves wisdom. ‘He loves God’s law. He is always thinking about it.’ (Psalm 1:2). He always wants to learn more. He is never too tired to think about wisdom.
He still makes mistakes. ‘Show a wise man how he is wrong! He will love you for your correction.’ (Proverbs 9:8). He even wants you to teach him. ‘Teach a wise man and he will become still wiser.’ (Proverbs 9:9).
The intelligent person
Like the wise person, the intelligent person wants to learn. He will ask for advice. He is trying to understand God’s ways. As he studies, he will know more. He will even understand the complexities of wisdom.
Verse 7 addresses the underpinning fact of wisdom and the foundation of it. Without this we are doomed to failure, we will stray off the path. The anchor of everything is the fear of the Lord. The reverence and respect for God. If we lack this it will become about “us” and that will lead only to a dark place.
A fool intends to do evil things. A simple person does evil things, because he does not know wisdom. But a fool does evil things, because he hates wisdom.
Fools also need to be shown God’s way, but this is difficult. Jesus said, ‘Do not give your pearls to pigs’ (Matthew 7:6). Wisdom is a pearl. Sometimes we must allow a fool to be foolish and trust that through their error and suffering that God will open the door to wisdom for them.
Prologue: Exhortations to Embrace Wisdom
Warning Against the Invitation of Sinful Men
8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
9 They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.
In Solomon’s time, both parents educated their children. Straight off the mark, at the beginning of the first chapter we see that a father is addressing his adolescent son about the issue of peer pressure.
He talks about the pursuit of wisdom. There are no short cuts or easy routes for quick gain. Solomon says the that the son will do well to listen to his parents.
In Solomon’s story, a band of thieves hatch a plan. The thieves ask a young man to join them. Together, they will attack someone else. They will steal from him, and kill him. They will all become wealthy. The young man is naïve to the true plot. The thieves also intend to kill him and keep the plunder for themselves.
The young man in the story thought that he would become wealthy. In reality, he lost everything.
Solomon warns us not to make the same mistake.
This is appropriate story as a reminder of how I lived in these last year’s (2010-2015). In some delusional way I thought I would gain something from it but instead I almost lost everything and would have lost everything if it hadn’t have been for the grace of God and his people.
I can remember particularly towards the end of my wandering as it intensified. I felt the intense conflict and the power of the delusion. The idea of being a fugitive and living some kind of rock and roll lifestyle had a glamorous appeal but then I saw moments of the ugly reality of the story and the hurt, destruction and devastation I was causing as well as the damage to self.
If as Proverbs suggests… the idea of wisdom and the cause and effect of wisdom was indeed wired into the fabric of the universe then this would be a no win ticket. The effect that my actions had caused became reality in August 2015.
One year on (July 2016) and I am amazed at what God has done. There is still barely a new foundation in place but we have weathered the hurricane.
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
The woman called Wisdom
In his second story, Solomon tells us about a woman. This woman’s name is Wisdom.
The woman is upset, and she is angry. This is why she shouts. Her children are not obeying her. They refuse her advice.
She walks through the streets and she complains to everyone. She even goes to the city gate. In ancient times, judges were at the city gate. She wants to obtain a judgement against her children. They are simple, evil and foolish (verse 22). They deserve punishment (verse 26).
We read in Verses 27-33 that she obtains judgement. Their punishment is severe. This is because they refused wisdom. Their punishment is sudden, like a storm. It is powerful, like the wind. (Verse 27).
Wisdom begins when we respect God (verse 7). If we respect God, then God will take care of us.
At the heart of this story is God’s desire for us to embrace applied wisdom. To embrace what is right and true. Our hearts are intrinsically wayward. We want to be God, the master of our fate, the captain of our own destiny. God invites us to surrender to his terms rather than define our own terms. He respects us enough to allow us to choose but here we are shown that by defining our own terms we are headed for oblivion. This is not a threat. It is a fact since this is the design of the universe in which we live and to be against the grain of the universal law how can we possibly survive?
In addiction recovery circles there is a phrase “Life on life’s terms” and that’s exactly what is being presented to us in the Proverbs.