Proverbs 1:1-7

Proverbs 1:1-7

Hubbard gives a good overview of Proverbs: “The bulk of Proverbs divides into two major kinds of literature: instructive speeches, chapters 1-9; wisdom sayings, chapters 10-31. The speeches had as their main purpose to state every possible reason why wisdom should be valued and folly despised.” (43) Wisdom will beseech the reader to consider her ways. That will be the theme of chapters 1-9.

 

1:1 — The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

Solomon was the last king of all Israel (966-926 BC). God has specially gifted Solomon for this task and these are his proverbs in addition to ones he collected into his book that were penned by other writers (30:1; 31:1). Hezekiah also played a role in conserving these proverbs (25:1, “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”). We have all read of Solomon’s gift of wisdom. The following is a summary account of the fame of his wisdom (1K. 4:29-34):

29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.

A proverb is a pithy wise saying about various things. It communicates lessons on life. These proverbs are ultimately rooted in God (see above; v. 7) and as a result, they can only make full sense in terms of God.

1:2 — To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,

These verses give us the purpose of this book. Each verse begins with “to” or “in order to” (Dl) except in v. 5. These proverbs were collected to know wisdom, etc. “To know” here means something more than mere mental knowledge acquisition. Given 2:1-4, it means personal internalization of wisdom and experiencing it in one’s life. Wisdom “is the broadest, most inclusive term available to depict the combination of observation, obedience, careful planning, prudent conduct, and sensitivity to God’s will that Israel’s wise treasured and taught…” (Hubbard, 45)

This wisdom cannot be possessed without instruction, which is “the means of gaining it.” (Bridges, 2) This word “instruction” is used more than thirty times and the meaning includes correction and discipline.

The person also cannot gain wisdom and instruction without an ability to understand. So Solomon says, “to understand words of insight” (NJKV, “to perceive the words of instruction”).  Wisdom and instruction need to be understood, perceived, or apprehended. It is the ability “to discern the differences at stake in the choices being weighed.” (Hubbard)

1:3 — to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity

The goal cannot be accomplished without accepting or receiving the instruction of wisdom or “instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity.” The verb means to “take, grasp, seize (manually)” or “to take away with one,” etc. This “wise dealing” or “instruction in wisdom” is qualified as “in righteousness, justice, and equity.” It reveals the ethical nature of wisdom (because not all wisdom is good).  Adam and Eve thought disobedience would make them wise (“the tree was to be desired to make one wise” Gen. 3:6). That kind of craftiness, shrewdness, wisdom from below is not to be desired.

1:4 — to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth-

The purpose of the book is to give prudence (hm’_r>[') to the simple, young, or naïve (‘to be inexperienced, be naïve”).[1] “The opposite of the simpleminded person is not the wise but the prudent person, and this is the characteristic that the wisdom of Proverbs seeks to provide to the naïve reader: The simpleminded person is in a much better place than a fool… or a mocker…. [because] they are teachable.” (Longman) The contrast seems to be between being gullible and being shrewd.

The young needs knowledge and discretion (“caginess” Waltke, i.e. caution). That will be imparted by these proverbs. The youth are often considered naïve, gullible, simpleminded, etc. They are the target audience though not exclusively.

1:5 — Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,

Even the wise may still learn. “For a truly wise man is one, not who has attained, but who knows that he ‘has not attained,’ and is pressing onward to perfection.” (Bridges) The wise person “already participates in the wisdom program, but the introduction reminds the reader that even such an advance person can benefit from reflection on the instructions to follow.” (Longman) “Since by nature the wises hear and obey, each new hearing of the proverbs increases their corpus of knowledge…” (Waltke)

KJV has “wise counsel”; it means “accurate guidance” or more literally, “sound steering of the right course.” (Hubbard) In hearing and receiving the proverbs, the instructions, the man of understanding will be able to rightly steer through life. He will see which way to go. It will be like having wise counselors always at his side guiding him. So this book is not just for the simple; it is for everyone. None of us are too wise for it! A child likes its simple and concrete advices; an adult is drawn to its profound simplicity and its realistic estimation of life.

1:6 — to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.

Wisdom calls everyone to understand “a proverb, a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” “Riddles are teasing questions that are clear enough to give clues to their solution and cryptic enough to throw the careless off track…” (Hubbard)

Riddles and sayings of the wise are not teachings per se. They demand insight and decision. “Ps. 78:1-2 labels that psalm’s recitation of Israel’s history not only as ‘teaching’ but also as ‘proverb’ and ‘riddle’ because it asks its audience to make an intuitive critical judgment of their own behavior in light of that history.” (Waltke) That is, when we give our attention to these things, we will begin to penetrate the seeming riddles and enigmas of these statements; the difficult sayings, the perplexing truths, etc. will begin to make sense to us.

This means, after we begin to understand and incorporate these truths, these proverbs, these words of the wise, etc. will begin to work their way in and through our lives.

1:7 — The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

After giving us the purpose, the preamble, we are now given the foundation for the rest of the book. It is the “quintessential expression of the basic spiritual grammar for understanding the book.” (Waltke)

The fear of the Lord is “foundational to knowledge, which here functions as a close synonym to wisdom. In this way, the book acknowledges the radically relational and theocentric nature of knowledge/wisdom.” (Longman) The “beginning” means something is the principal thing, the chief thing. God is the foundation of all knowledge, all wisdom. In Prov. 20:12, we read, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.” Fearing God “is the first thought that makes all other thoughts fall into place” (Longman).

The opposite of this is found in fools. Fools do not fear God and as a result lack wisdom. They lack wisdom because they “despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom and instruction are the two things first offered to us in v. 2. Fools “willfully make the corrupt moral choice to refuse the sage’s moral teachings.” (Waltke)

Have we not noticed this? The one who needs wisdom resists it while the one who is wise wants more. True wisdom begins and ends in God.


[1] The “young” or naïve person was anyone up to the age of thirty. He was fully accountable at the age of twenty (cf. Num. 1:3, 18; 14:29; 26:2, 4) but was unable to serve in the temple until thirty years old (Num. 4:3). cf. Waltke, 178.

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