Proverbs, in the words of one scholar, is “spirituality of the ordinary.” Proverbs instructs believers that worship encompasses all areas of life: home, business, government, personal relations, etc. Proverbs 1:7 summarizes the theme of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 1:2-7 expresses the purpose of Proverbs: to instruct in wisdom (2a), to assist in understanding wisdom sayings (2b), to provide moral instruction (v. 3), and to move the reader to maturity (v. 4). The early sections of Proverbs set forth Two Ways (wisdom and folly), personified as Two Women (wisdom and adulteress), and Two Destinies (Life and Destruction).
The opening chapter of Proverbs provides an overview of the nature and source of wisdom.
First, Solomon set forth the practical nature and value of wisdom (1:1-6). Proverbs contains four types of literature: proverbs, parables, wise words, and riddles (v. 4 HCSB). Broadly defined, the proverbial sayings of the book teach wisdom. Wisdom, however, is not merely accumulation of intellectual knowledge. By means of a contrast, Proverbs describes a wise life. Wisdom possesses four characteristics. First, wisdom is practical. Biblical wisdom is the skillful application of godly principles to life. Proverbs addresses two groups, the youth (simple, inexperienced in some translations) and the wise men as well. Second, wisdom involves insight to know the issues and “understand the times.” Third, wisdom involves discipline. Discipline entails an orderly pursuit of wisdom as well as correction—both divine correction and learning from personal mistakes. Finally, wisdom has radical implications for ethical living.
Second, Solomon proclaimed a relationship with God as the foundation of wisdom (1:7). The beginning and ending of Proverbs emphasizes the importance of “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7; 31:30). Deuteronomy 10:12-13, perhaps, provides the clearest description of the meaning of biblical fear of God: walking in His ways, loving Him, worshiping Him with the totality of our being, and obeying God’s commands. Fear is the beginning, source, and foundation of knowledge. Knowledge in this verse describes a personal intimate relationship with God. Fear also means turning from evil (Prov. 3:7; 8:13). In contrast, fools despise God’s wisdom and loving discipline. In Proverbs, the term “fool” does not attack a person’s IQ level. “Fools” in Hebrews describes the hardheaded and morally deficient. The theme verse of Proverbs, then, outlines the two polarities of human life—the way of wisdom and the way of folly—a primary theme of the entire book.
Third, Solomon claimed that wisdom comes to those who listen (1:8-9). These two verses issue a command and express a promise. The command is to listen. In the HCSB, the verb “listen” occurs 18 times, 11 times admonishing the importance of listening to parent’s instructions. Proverbs emphasizes the importance of knowing to whom one should listen. Instruction is only as valuable as the source. Some of the voices screaming for attention and demanding the act of listening in Proverbs include sinners (1:10), forbidden women (5:3), and Wisdom itself (8:1). Notice the strong emphasis within Proverbs that teachings focusing on skillful application of godly principles for life begin in the home, rather than the government, school system, or even church. The promise is a life of grace, victory, and shalom (well-being).
Fourth, Solomon warned against hardheaded folly of a life associated with sinners (1:10-19). Notice how he described the enticements of those disobedient to God. First, they use peer pressure to appeal to a sense of belonging or community as demonstrated by the pronouns “we” or “us.” Second, they appeal to quick success, thrill seeking, and getting rich quickly. Ultimately, their behavior is self-destructive. No bird understands the hunter’s trap (v. 17). Likewise, sinners do not understand they set the trap for their own destruction (v 18).
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