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To Understand a Proverb

Proverbs is a book for real life. It is a handbook of wisdom and instruction designed for everyday situations. Sex, money, marriage, parenting, relationships – all of it is addressed in Proverbs. But before we are able to get wisdom, we need to know how to get wisdom, which is what verses 1-7 are all about. These verses answer a number of basic questions that prepare us to receive wisdom.

“Whose wisdom is this?”

In verse 1 we learn that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (save one) compiled these proverbs. Solomon was the king of Yahweh’s people Israel, which means that Proverbs doesn’t just contain common sense from a smart guy. This is heavenly wisdom, the guidance of God for the people of God.

“What is a proverb?”

Look at the direct objects in these verses: wisdom, instruction, words of insight, learning, guidance, saying, words of the wise, riddles. This is what a proverb is – all of these things. A proverb is a short, pithy statement that gives instruction for wise living. It’s compressed, concealed, concentrated wisdom.

“What is a proverb for?”

What does it do? In English, verses 2,3,4, and 6 all begin with the word “to”, as in, “in order to”. A proverb enables you 2) to know, to understand; 3) to receive instruction; 4) to give prudence; 6) to understand. Proverbs communicate, teach, train, give, and provide wisdom and knowledge.

“How do proverbs work?”

Look at verse 5: “Let the wise hear…” It begins with listening, but it is the kind of listening that results in changed behavior. Notice the related words: “receive” or “grasp” (vs. 3). “Obtain” or “acquire” vs. 5. You don’t understand a proverb simply by having it brush across your eyes or bounce through your ears. A proverb is not something you quote, it’s something you live. Proverbs do their work when they are heard by obedient ears.

“What does a proverb offer?”

What is the benefit of a proverb? You should love and study these sayings not just because they provide information or advice, but because receiving them will make you wise, righteous, just, and fair. You will be prudent, and you will exercise discretion (v. 3-4). Proverbs can turn a contentious home into a peaceful home; an angry woman into a gentle woman; a simple man into a wise man. Master these proverbs, and you will become a different person.

“Who is Proverbs for?”

First, in verse 4: Proverbs give prudence to the simple, the young. This refers to people who are inexperienced and immature. Proverbs is talking to anyone in this condition, not only those of a certain age. But Proverbs also addresses the wise (v.5). Those who are already mature and experienced are actually better equipped to receive these wise sayings and put them into practice. Proverbs makes simple people wise, and wise people wiser.

“Who can learn from a proverb?”

Verse 7 is the theme statement of Proverbs, showing up 14 times throughout the book: if you fear the Lord, you’re ready to begin getting wisdom. The fear of the Lord is an awe that bows before the greatness and glory of God, acknowledging that God knows what He’s talking about. Fools, however, are too proud to receive instruction, and they hate being told what to do and how to live. Verse 7 teaches that humility prepares you for wisdom, but pride prevents wisdom from ever reaching you.

When Wisdom Became a Man

The opening words of Proverbs move from considering “wisdom” as a concept (vs. 2) to considering “the wise” as a person (vs. 5). This movement is also what we see in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. First, wisdom is given in words, then it shows up as a person, Jesus Christ. This means that the question “What does wisdom look like?” is answered in the gospels. Watch Jesus. Imitate Jesus. Whatever Jesus says and does, however strange it might seem, live like that.

Fearing the Lord in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus means believing in Him as your Lord, and following in His steps as His disciple. The fool looks at the way of Jesus and only sees death, but those who fear the Lord see resurrection and life. Since wisdom became a man, following Jesus is the way of wisdom. So fear the Lord, and follow Him.

Posted on Tuesday, September 08, 2015 by CJ Bowen