What kind of spouse should I marry? What career path should I pursue? How should I spend my money? How do I deal with a ‘fool?’ How can I ever parent my children without losing it?
Where do we look for wisdom? Is it to be found in a fortune cookie? As we turn instead to the Book of Proverbs, God coaches us through the wisdom we need for everyday life as a believer. In it, God doesn’t come to us bringing simplistic moralism but as our ‘counsellor’ to bring practical wisdom to change our hearts.
Although it’s described in 1v1 as, ‘The proverbs of Solomon’, the book of Proverbs is a composite work bringing together the writings and sayings of a number of the ‘wise’. The main contributor is however Solomon. I Kings 3 tell us of his request for wisdom from God which he was given in abundance. Wisdom that prospered his people and became famous over the ancient world. ‘And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore’ – 1 Kings 4v29. What’s recorded here in Proverbs however is not the sum total of his wisdom sayings as we also read of Solomon that, ‘He also spoke 3000 proverbs’ – I Kings 4v32.
The chapters are not given to particular themes with sayings of topics recurring throughout the book. We can however divide this book, into 7 main sections……..
Prologue: the book’s purpose – 1:1-7
What follows is a series of extended teachings on wisdom.
Wisdom’s instructions (1v8-9v18)
The next sections contain short, sharp, pithy sayings we refer to traditionally as ‘proverbs’
Solomon’s proverbs (10v1-22v16)
Proverbs of the wise men (22v17-24v34)
More proverbs of Solomon (Ch. 25-29)
The words of Agur (Ch. 30)
The words of Lemuel (Ch. 31)
Solomon writes as a middle-aged man who passes on to the next generation what he has learnt and the mistakes he’s made that they should avoid. He’s writing with the purpose of education and he encourages his readers to go after wisdom that will enable them to live to please God. So he observes life and writes down his reflections. It’s important to realize these reflections are in the form of ‘proverbs’ rather than ‘promises’. We need to read this book in this way to avoid big problems in our understanding.
We also need to read it in the form of ‘poetry’ rather than ‘prose’. Poetry not focused on rhyme but on rhythm. A key element in this form is ‘parallelism’ where the thought of the first line can either be repeated in the second line or contrasted in the second line.
The rapid fire information on so many topics in Proverbs can leave us struggling as we read. To make sense of it all we need to keep the one overriding theme, ‘Wisdom’ in mind. Wisdom, more than mere knowledge, but in how we live to please God. This wisdom comes from God as we submit to his authority revealed in His Word. How are we to live wisely as Christians in a world of ‘folly?’ This involves a new relationship with God, with others, and with ourself. The New Testament counterpart to ‘Proverbs’, where James calls us, ‘If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him’ – James 1v5
Paul also describes about becoming a Christian in terms of, ‘Being made wise for salvation’ – 2 Timothy 3v15. We see this occur as by God’s grace we’re changed from a life of self-centred rebellion against God’s authority to a life of submission to his reign.
Who will we dine with? With wisdom or folly? With Jesus as the personification of wisdom as Paul speaks of Christ as, ‘In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ Colossians 2v3.
God’s wisdom is the wisdom of the cross which Jesus revealed supremely in His death and resurrection, ‘But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ 1Corinthians 1v23-24.
This book helps answer the question of how we are to live out our faith in a corrupt world and grow as believers. ‘True wisdom is walking further with Jesus than we’ve ever gone before, further than we’ve ever dreamed of’ – Ray Ortlund. The book of Proverbs teaches us shrewdness or prudence in the common things of daily life. It teaches us how to show tact in handling our often challenging relationships and those people we may need to avoid. The book of Proverbs equips us for everyday life and shows us the path to become a street-wise Christian. Proverbs is not about ‘speculative’ wisdom but ‘practical’ wisdom as we negotiate an often confusing and puzzling world.
Supremely Proverbs also describes Jesus, “Who is our model, our Redeemer, our strength. And since Jesus enables by grace, even as he redeems by grace, wise living is within reach” – Dan Doriani
As we embark on this new study together, may God empower us by His grace to embark on this path of ‘Walking in wisdom’.