Proverbs 1 – Wisdom’s Beginning and Call
A. Wisdom’s beginning.
1. (1) The proverbs of Solomon.
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
a. The proverbs of Solomon: The Book of Proverbs is a collection of practical life wisdom given mostly in short, memorable statements. Though part of a larger body of wisdom literature that includes Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, the Book of Proverbs is unique.
i. It is unique in its structure, being mostly a collection of individual statements without much context or organization by topic.
ii. It is unique in its theology, being concerned with practical life wisdom more than ideas about God and His work of salvation.
iii. Proverbs is also unique in its connection with the secular literature of its time. Neighboring kingdoms had their own collections of wisdom literature, and in some places, there are significant similarities to these writings.
iv. As Ross notes, “The genre of wisdom literature was common in the ancient world, and a copious amount of material comes from ancient Egypt.” Some of these works are titled:
· Instruction of Ptah-hotep.
· Teaching of Amenemope.
· Instruction of Ani.
· Instruction of Shuruppak.
· Counsels of Wisdom.
· Words of Ahiqar.
v. There are several sections of Proverbs (22:17-23:14, 22:23, 22:26-27 are examples) that seem to be borrowed from The Teaching of Amenemope, an ancient Egyptian writing. There is debate as to whom borrowed whom, but most scholars believe Amenemope is earlier.
vi. “If Proverbs is the borrower here, the borrowing is not slavish but free and creative. Egyptian jewels, as at the Exodus, have been re-set to their advantage by Israelite workmen and put to finer use.” (Kidner)
b. The proverbs: Proverbs teach wisdom through short points and principles but should not be regarded as “laws” or even universal promises.
i. “Proverbs are wonderfully successful at being what they are: proverbs. They are not failed prophecies or systematic theologies. Proverbs by design lays out pointed observations, meant to be memorized and pondered, not always intended to be applied ‘across the board’ to every situation without qualification.” (Phillips)
ii. “Naturally [proverbs] generalize, as a proverb must, and may therefore be charged with making life too tidy to be true. But nobody objects to this in secular sayings, for the very form demands a sweeping statement and looks for a hearer with his wits about him. We need no telling that a maxim like ‘Many hands make light work’ is not the last word on the subject, since ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’” (Kidner)
iii. “Proverbs itself makes this clear. A proverb is not a magical formula, bringing wisdom and blessing by incantation: ‘Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools’ (Prov. 26:7).” (Phillips)
iv. Proverbs rarely quotes other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the torah or law. “An analogy to this is American folk wisdom which, although often dominated by Christian morality and presuppositions, contains few allusions to the Bible or Christian theology.” (Garrett)
c. The proverbs of Solomon: Solomon was the king of Israel famous for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 3:3-13 Solomon asked God for wisdom to lead God’s people, and then 1 Kings presented a remarkable demonstration of his wisdom (1 Kings 3:16-28).
i. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. (1 Kings 4:32-34)
ii. The opening the proverbs of Solomon should not be taken to mean that Solomon was the author of all these proverbs. There are a few other authors specifically mentioned. Yet, it may well be that Solomon collected all these other proverbs and set them in his book. Whether Solomon was the collector or some unnamed later person, we can’t know for certain.
iii. “The book tells us that it is the work of several authors. Three of these are named (Solomon, Agur and Lemuel), others are mentioned collectively as ‘Wise Men’, and at least one section of the book (the last) is anonymous.” (Kidner)
iv. Yet, the prominence of Solomon in these wonderful statements of wisdom gives the reader pause. We know that this remarkably wise man did not finish his life in wisdom.
2. (2-6) The purpose of the Book of Proverbs.
To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and discretion—
A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an enigma,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
a. To know wisdom and instruction: In the opening of his collection of proverbs, Solomon explained the purpose of these sayings of wisdom. They were and are to give the attentive reader wisdom, instruction, perception, and understanding.
i. To know wisdom: “We’re living in the ‘information age,’ but we certainly aren’t living in the ‘age of wisdom.’ Many people who are wizards with their computers seem to be amateurs when it comes to making a success out of their lives.” (Wiersbe)
b. To perceive the words of understanding: The reference to sight (as also in Proverbs 3:21) implies that these words of wisdom could be and were read.
i. “In Sumer and in ancient Egypt, schoolboys wrote down the instruction literature, and in ancient Israel most children were literate (Deut. 6:9; 11:20; Judg. 8:14). With the invention of the alphabet in the first half of the second millennium, any person of average intelligence could learn to read and probably to write within a few weeks. The earliest extant text in Hebrew (ca. 900 B.C.) is a child’s text recounting the agricultural calendar. A. Millard says that ancient Hebrew written documents demonstrate that readers and writers were not rare and that few Israelites would have been unaware of writing.” (Waltke)
c. To know wisdom: It is helpful to remember the difference between wisdom and knowledge. One may have knowledge without wisdom. Knowledge is the collection of facts; wisdom is the right use of what we know for daily living. Knowledge can tell one how financial systems work; wisdom manages a budget properly.
i. “It is probably a safe bet to say that most people today are not much interested in wisdom. They are interested in making money and in having a good time. Some are interested in knowing something, in getting an education. Almost everyone wants to be well liked. But wisdom? The pursuit of wisdom is not a popular ideal.” (Boice on Psalm 111)
d. To receive the instruction of wisdom: Proverbs is something of a school of wisdom. We come to it open hearts and minds, receiving its teaching. If we do, it will show as justice, judgment, and equity flow from our lives.
i. “And herein, as one well observeth, the poorest idiot being a sound Christian, goeth beyond the profoundest clerks that are not sanctified, that he hath his own heart instead of a commentary to help him to understand even the most needful points of the Scripture.” (Trapp)
e. To give prudence to the simple: The simple one is uneducated and needs instruction. The wisdom of this book will make the young, inexperienced one know what to do and how to do it in life. It will give the young man knowledge and discretion.
i. One characteristic of the simple is that they are gullible. The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
ii. Simple: “The word indicates the person whose mind is dangerously open. He is gullible, he is naïve. He may have opinions, but he lacks deeply thought-through and field-tested convictions.” (Phillips)
ii. “The son and the gullible (1:4 and 5) stand on the threshold of full adulthood. The time is at hand when the son and the gullible (vv. 4–5) must make a decisive stand for the godly parents’ and sages’ world-and-life views and values. Two conflicting worldviews make their appeal, ‘of Wisdom/Folly, Good/Pseudo-Good, Life/Death,’ and one must choose between them, for there is no third way.” (Waltke)
f. A wise man will hear and increase learning: The Book of Proverbs is not only for the simple and inexperienced. Even a wise man will find much to help and guide him, if he will only hear. Even a man of understanding can attain wise counsel from Proverbs.
i. “Proverbs is not simply for the naive and the gullible; everyone can grow by its teachings. Discerning people can obtain guidance from this book so that they might continue in the right way.” (Ross)
g. To understand a proverb and an enigma: The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs can also help us to solve difficult problems and some of the riddles of life.
3. (7) The foundation of all wisdom.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
a. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: The Book of Proverbs focuses on practical life wisdom more than theological ideas. Yet it is founded on a vital theological principle – that true knowledge and wisdom flow from the fear of the LORD.
i. This fear of the LORD is not a cowering, begging fear. It is the proper reverence that the creature owes to the Creator and that the redeemed owes to the Redeemer. It is the proper respect and honoring of God. Several writers give their definition of the fear of the LORD:
· “But what is the fear of the LORD? It is that affectionate reverence by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.” (Bridges)
· “A worshipping submission to the God of the covenant.” (Kidner)
· “‘The fear of the Lord’ ultimately expresses reverential submission to the Lord’s will and thus characterizes a true worshiper.” (Ross)
· “The fear of the Lord signifies that religious reverence which every intelligent being owes to his Creator.” (Clarke)
ii. God should be regarded with respect, reverence, and awe. This proper attitude of the creature toward the Creator is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom cannot advance further until this starting point is established.
iii. If true wisdom can be simply gained by human effort, energy, and ingenuity (like the rare and precious metals of the earth), then the fear of the LORD is not essential to obtaining wisdom. But if it comes from God’s revelation, then right relationship with Him is the key to wisdom.
iv. “What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the LORD is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.” (Waltke)
b. The beginning of knowledge: Solomon probably meant knowledge here mostly in the sense of wisdom. The idea that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom is also found at Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, and Ecclesiastes 12:13.
i. Beginning has the sense of “the first and controlling principle, rather than a stage which one leaves behind; cf. Eccl. 12:13.” (Kidner)
ii. “The fundamental fact, then, is that in all knowledge, all understanding of life, all interpretation thereof, the fear of Jehovah is the principal thing, the chief part, the central light, apart from which the mind of man gropes in darkness, and misses the way.” (Morgan)
iii. “The fall of man was a choosing of what bid fair ‘to make one wise’ (Gen. 3:6) but flouted the first principle of wisdom, the fear of the Lord.” (Kidner)
B. Instruction to a son.
1. (8-9) Appeal to hear and receive the wisdom of parents.
My son, hear the instruction of your father,
And do not forsake the law of your mother;
For they will be a graceful ornament on your head,
And chains about your neck.
a. My son, hear the instruction of your father: This is a warm and appropriate scene. A father speaks to his son, encouraging him to receive the wisdom of his parents. It is often the nature of the young to be slow to receive the wisdom of their older generation.
i. The mention of a son reminds us of another tragedy or irony regarding the life of Solomon. The man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines left record of only one son, Rehoboam – and he was a fool.
ii. Because both the father and the mother are mentioned, we know that teaching the children wisdom is the responsibility of both parents.
iii. The mention of instruction shows that Solomon understood that children are not to be taught only or even primarily through bodily punishment (such as a spanking). Children are regarded as capable of thought, learning, and obedience beyond blind submission.
b. They will be graceful ornament on your head: The idea is that the instruction and law given from parent to child will adorn the life of their children, if they will only receive it. Like a crown on your head or chains about the neck, such wisdom will be a reward to a younger generation.
2. (10-14) The enticement of sinners.
My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait to shed blood;
Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
And whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
We shall find all kinds of precious possessions,
We shall fill our houses with spoil;
Cast in your lot among us,
Let us all have one purse”—
a. My son, if sinners entice you: Solomon first warned his son about the danger of bad company. The actions of some people clearly reveal them to be sinners, more than in the general sense in which we are all sinners. These are those whom the young must resist their enticements.
i. Significantly, this first instruction and warning in the book of Proverbs speaks to the company we keep and the friendships we make. There are few more powerful forces and influences upon our life than the friends we choose. It has been said, show me your friends and I can see your future. It speaks to the great need for God’s people to be more careful and wise in their choice of friends.
ii. Do not consent: “They can do thee no harm unless thy will join in with them…Not even the devil himself can lead a man into sin till he consents. Were it not so, how could God judge the world?” (Clarke)
b. Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood: When the wicked plot their evil actions, the wise son will not consent. He will distance himself from them, no matter what the promised or potential gain may be (we shall fill our houses with spoil).
i. Part of their enticement was simply the sense of belonging: come with us. “Apparently in ancient Israel, no less than in the modern world, the comradeship, easy money, and feeling of empowerment offered by gangs was a strong temptation to the young man who felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of the life he confronted every day.” (Garrett)
ii. Solomon described the words of sinners in terms of their real meaning and effect, and not what they actually said. Surely such sinners would appeal to riches and quick gain, and not merely invite this one to shed blood. Solomon tells us to hear what people mean with such promises of quick and easy riches, not only what they say.
3. (15-19) The end that will come upon the plotters of violence.
My son, do not walk in the way with them,
Keep your foot from their path;
For their feet run to evil,
And they make haste to shed blood.
Surely, in vain the net is spread
In the sight of any bird;
But they lie in wait for their own blood,
They lurk secretly for their own lives.
So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain;
It takes away the life of its owners.
a. Do not walk in the way with them: The guidance from father to son was simple and clear. Stay away from the wicked and all their plotting, for their feet run to evil.
i. In vain the net is spread in the sight of the bird: “The bird does not see any connection between the net and what is scattered on it; he just sees food that is free for the taking. In the process he is trapped and killed. In the same way, the gang cannot see the connection between their acts of robbery and the fate that entraps them.” (Garrett)
ii. Tragically, Solomon’s company with sinners – in the form of his wives given to idolatry – became a trap he himself was caught in.
b. They lie in wait for their own blood: Ultimately, the gain promised by the wicked can never be fulfilled. They say, let us lie in wait to shed blood (Proverbs 1:11), but in fact they are the hunted. They seek to take the life and livelihood of others, but it takes away the life of its owners.
C. Wisdom calls to the simple ones.
1. (20-21) Wisdom’s public call.
Wisdom calls aloud outside;
She raises her voice in the open squares.
She cries out in the chief concourses,
At the openings of the gates in the city
She speaks her words:
a. Wisdom calls aloud outside: Solomon presents wisdom as a person, a woman who offers her guidance and help to the world. Her cry is aloud, but often ignored.
i. “And this wisdom is said to cry with a loud voice, to intimate both God’s earnestness in inviting sinners to repentance, and their inexcusableness if they do not hear such loud cries.” (Poole)
ii. “The greatest tragedy is that there’s so much noise that people can’t hear the things they really need to hear. God is trying to get through to them with the voice of wisdom, but all they hear are the confused communications clutter, foolish voices that lead them farther away from the truth.” (Wiersbe)
b. Outside… in the open squares… the chief concourses… the gates in the city: Wisdom presents herself to everyone in every place. She offers her help to anyone who will give attention to her words.
i. “Here the open proclamation…to make it clear that the offer of wisdom is to the man in the street, and for the business of living, not to an élite for the pursuit of scholarship.” (Kidner)
2. (22-27) An appeal to the simple ones.
“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.
Turn at my rebuke;
Surely I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,
Because you disdained all my counsel,
And would have none of my rebuke,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your terror comes,
When your terror comes like a storm,
And your destruction comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.
a. How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity: Wisdom begins her appeal by addressing those who most need her help – the simple ones, those who are untrained in the ways of wisdom.
i. She challenged those without wisdom to give account for their lack, asking “How long?” How many more weeks, months, or years will the simple ones reject or neglect wisdom’s help?
ii. “If the call has been extended for some time—‘How long?’ (v. 22; see also Isa 65:2)—then this warning is given for a prolonged refusal. Because wisdom has been continually rejected, wisdom will laugh at the calamity of those who have rejected it.” (Ross)
iii. The problem with these simple ones was that they loved their simplicity. They preferred their foolish ignorance than the effort and correction required by the love and pursuit of wisdom.
b. For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge: This scorn describes those who boastfully reject and despise God’s wisdom. They love their simplicity and scorn, and they hate knowledge.
i. “Scorners think they know everything (21:24) and laugh at the things that are really important. While the simple one has a blank look on his face, the scorner wears a sneer.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “Fools are people who are ignorant of truth because they’re dull and stubborn. Their problem isn’t a low IQ or poor education; their problem is a lack of spiritual desire to seek and find God’s wisdom.” (Wiersbe)
iii. We can see a downward progression. You started gullible, then became a fool, and ended up a scorner (mocker).
c. Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you: The embrace of wisdom begins with a turn. One must be willing to change direction from the pursuit of foolishness and turn towards God and His wisdom. This response to wisdom’s rebuke invites wisdom to pour itself out.
i. It seems that the description here is of the spirit of wisdom, not specifically the Holy Spirit. The two concepts do not contradict each other, but they are also not exactly the same.
d. Because I have called and you refused: This is the rebuke that wisdom offered. She promised that if she were rejected, she would laugh at your calamity. Rejected wisdom has nothing to offer the fool when destruction comes like a whirlwind.
i. “Wisdom does not laugh at disaster, but at the triumph of what is right over what is wrong when your disaster happens.” (Waltke)
3. (28-33) The consequences of wisdom rejected.
“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
They would have none of my counsel
And despised my every rebuke.
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way,
And be filled to the full with their own fancies.
For the turning away of the simple will slay them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them;
But whoever listens to me will dwell safely,
And will be secure, without fear of evil.”
a. They will call on me, but I will not answer: When wisdom is rejected, she has no alternative plan for the fool. In the time of crisis, the fool cannot expect to beg for and receive instant wisdom (they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me).
b. And did not choose the fear of the LORD: Since this fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7, Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, and Ecclesiastes 12:13), to reject this respect of God is to reject wisdom.
c. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way: The consequences of rejecting wisdom cannot be avoided. The end result of this love of foolishness and scorn will be death (will slay them) and destruction (will destroy them).
i. “Eat as they baked, drink as they brewed. They that sow the wind of iniquity, shall reap the whirlwind of misery.” (Trapp)
ii. Turning away: “The eleven other occurrences of turning away are all in Hosea or Jeremiah, always with reference to Israel’s apostasy, faithlessness, and backsliding from God and from the Mosaic covenant.” (Waltke)
iii. Their own way: “The reason for the sinner’s ruin is placed again at his own door. He is wayward since he turns away from wisdom’s beckoning voice. He despises the only cure.” (Bridges)
iv. “If, elsewhere in the book, fool and scorner appear to be fixed types, it is their fault, not their fate: they are eating of the fruit of their own way.” (Kidner)
d. But whoever listens to me will dwell safely: Those who do listen to wisdom’s call will be secure, without fear of evil. Their fear of the LORD resulted in their having no fear of evil.
i. “And as a wicked man’s mind is oft full of anxiety in the midst of all his outward prosperity and glory, so the mind of a good man is filled with peace and joy, even when his outward man is exposed to many troubles.” (Poole)
ii. Without fear of evil: “Death shall lose its terrors, and become the Father’s servant, ushering you into His presence. Pain and suffering shall but cast into relief the stars of Divine promise. Poverty will have no pangs, and no storms, no alarms.” (Meyer)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission