A Series on Proverbs
My plan over the next few months is to read through Proverbs and blog about it, giving my observations along the way. Before I get started, here are some of my presuppositions about reading.
- We read the verses of a biblical book in their literary context: first asking how they fit with verses immediately around them, then within the book, then within the testament they’re in (Old or New), and then within the whole of Scripture. Verses are never to be read out of context–they’re not tweets.
- We also read the text in its historical context by finding out as much about the life and times of the author and audience as possible. This was God’s word to them before it became God’s word to us.
- The purpose of reading is more than information, but transformation. Information often precedes transformation, though–as God’s word pierces our hearts like a two-edged sword, we respond with godly sorrow and repentance when needed.
There is so much more we could say…
But now on to Proverbs.
We can tell a lot about a biblical book by its introduction. Like my brother can identify a vehicle make and model by looking at its front lights, so we can identify where we’ll be heading by reading the first several verses. That’s Proverbs 1:1-7.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
6for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (TNIV).
What do you notice? Here’s what I see.
- v. 1: The book is titled as the proverbs of Solomon even though later on we’ll read of proverbs from others. Solomon is known for his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34), though apparently only some of his 3,000 spoken proverbs (1 Kings 4:32) made it into this book.
- These proverbs are “for” five specific things.
- 1. For gaining wisdom and instruction (v. 2a). This presumes that at least some of the intended audience has little or none. This also seems to be a broader category which is then specified more fully in the next verses. Gaining wisdom means
- 2. For understanding words of insight (v. 2b). Ironically, only in reading or hearing these words of insight can someone begin to have understanding.
- 3. For receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair (v. 3). The second line further defines what is meant by “prudent behavior.” Ultimately, whatever wisdom is gained will be shown by one’s actions.
- 4. For giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young (v. 4). As we go throughout Proverbs, we’ll see several types of people, the simple and young being two of them. These are two of the main groups being addressed, though verse 5 shows that the wise are a secondary audience.
- 5. For understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise (v. 6).
- So, in reading this book we are shooting for more than mere knowledge about the best way to live, though we’ll find that. We also ought not assume that we are to be labeled among the wise right off the bat. Maybe we’ll find that we need to gain wisdom, too.
- Verse 7 offers us a contrast: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. This is not fear like what we feel about tornadoes or heights. This is awe and wonder at the holiness and majesty of God. It is understanding our rightful place in the relationship–we are not God, and there is no other God worthy of our wise living or worship. By contrast, fools “despise” wisdom and knowledge. It’s not that they don’t have it–they loathe it. They don’t want anything to do with it.
- The fear of the LORD suggests that although wisdom was considered universal by the ancient Hebrews, it also began with God. If a proverb was wise for an Israelite, it would be wise for an Egyptian or Assyrian, too. Spending less than you earn is wise no matter who you are. The provocative question becomes, then, whether or not a person today can be considered “wise” without the fear of the LORD. Is that possible?
What do you think? What else do you notice?