Solomon is known for his proverbs. Most proverbs are short, compact statements that express a truth about human behavior. Most of the proverbs use two contrasting phrases which compare two ideas, usually wisdom and foolishness (or folly). It is thought by many that Solomon wrote his proverbs in the middle of his life and the book of Proverbs is presented as the wisdom of a father that he is giving to his son.
During his reign Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs according to 1 Kings 4:32. Many of these were compiled during his reign. Other, chapters 25-29, are identified as being copied during the days of Hezekiah, hundreds of years later.
Proverbs is a book of wise sayings that make up a ‘textbook’ to teach wise and right living. Solomon defined his purpose this way:
“The proverbs of Solomon, King David’s son, from Israel: Their purpose is to teach wisdom and discipline, to help one understand wise sayings. They provide insightful instruction, which is righteous, just, and full of integrity. They make the naive mature, the young knowledgeable and discreet. The wise hear them and grow in wisdom; those with understanding gain guidance.” (Proverbs 1:1-5 CEB)
The book sets out what is right and what is wrong based on the fear of the Lord. Living obedient lives to God is set out in every aspect of life.
The book contains many themes but overall it is a contrast between the ideal life centred on wisdom and following God and the life of a foolish person who cares only for himself. This book looks at all mankind as divided into two groups: the wise (righteous) and the fools (wicked). The one overall theme of Proverbs would be ‘wisdom’.
Often people struggle to distinguish wisdom from knowledge. While the learning of information should give us greater knowledge, it might not necessarily bring us wisdom. Wisdom is being able to use the knowledge we have gained and apply it to the circumstances we face.
Solomon acknowledged as he began writing to his son that “’Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Much of the first nine chapters of Solomon teaching his son is instruction in wisdom. In chapters 8 and 9 wisdom is personified.
“Doesn’t Wisdom cry out and Understanding shout? Atop the heights along the path, at the crossroads she takes her stand. By the gate before the city, at the entrances she shouts:…” (Proverbs 8:1-3)
Wisdom appeals on the basis that she speaks truth and all that is right. The instruction she gives is better than silver, gold and pearls (Proverbs 8:6-11). If kings and rulers have wisdom they can govern by what is right (Proverbs 8:12-21).
Wisdom is said to be one of the oldest parts of God’s creation, coming into being “in ancient times, at the beginning, before the earth was” (Proverbs 8:23). Wisdom was with God as he created the earth and all that it contains (Proverbs 8:22-31).
If we want to live happy lives, we need to listen to the instruction of wisdom.
“Those who find me find life; they gain favor from the Lord. Those who offend me injure themselves; all those who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:35-36).
Although an ancient book, this is one which is still practical for God’s people today. We would do well to include Proverbs in our regular readings from God’s word. But we need to not just gain the knowledge it contains but apply it so that it becomes wisdom for our lives.
Readings for next week: Proverbs 5-11