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Proverbs 1:1 by Robert Dean
Proverbs, written primarily by Solomon but with other contributors, is a book of instruction, wisdom and poetry. We will study the meaning of Proverbs from the mind of the author, in historical context, and not through the erroneous wanderings of our own imaginations. Gifted by God with wisdom, and by the Holy Spirit with the preservation of these words, in the end, Solomon failed miserably. What ingredient do we add to knowledge and wisdom to obtain obedience and eternal value? Is wisdom the immediate gratification we get when we study this book? What is wisdom? Do knowledge and wisdom guarantee smooth sailing in life?
Duration:54 mins 59 secs

Introduction to Proverbs - A Guide for Skillful Living. Proverbs 1:1

 

Proverbs is a one-of-a-kind book, there is no other like it in the Scriptures. There are books in the Old Testament that are of a similar nature, and scholars classify these as "wisdom literature." There are some wisdom psalms. Proverbs is the ultimate wisdom book. Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are also classified as wisdom literature.

 

The concept of wisdom is one that is often misunderstood. Wisdom in our Greco-Roman heritage has a different connotation. It is the idea that comes from the Greek philosophers and it has the idea of intellectual acumen, the ability to utilize logic and rhetoric in an intellectual manner. Whereas the wisdom of the Middle Eastern culture was quite different, the wisdom of the Scripture was quite different; it has to do with the practical values of taking the instruction of God's Word and applying it in an artful, skillful and beautiful manner to one's life so that you produce within the scope of your life something that has value. So wisdom in a biblical sense is extremely practical. It is probably the word that most accurately reflects the farthest or most extensive way of applying Scripture.

 

As we go through the Proverbs we are going to be introduced to a lot of new terminology, words that are used in a somewhat synonymous manner but are not identical. In Proverbs 1:2ff we see words such as wisdom, instruction, understanding, prudence, and also the words knowledge, discretion, learning, understanding, and wise counsel. These are concepts and they relate to a process or a flow of learning that is described in the Proverbs, and we learn in different way and various stages to learning. Learning is always based upon certain foundational mental attitudes. If a person is not at the very core level of his being humble he cannot learn. If we approach life with the idea that we already know the answers, then that is an arrogant position. If we already think we know the answer then we are not going to listen who may know better. We will not be ready to submit to someone who has excelled, has studied and advanced in a particular field, and so we will not want to listen to their instruction of submit to their guidance. This is a basic flaw that affects every single human being because that is the basic orientation of our corruption known as the sin nature. We think we are already good enough, we think we are already know enough, and we think that our way is always the best way. But we run up against the fact that we are God's creatures. God is the one who made us; He designed us a certain way, and He has given us instruction in the Scripture as to how we can conform to His will and in His design. When we run against that plan, that will and that design we are, as it were, just trying to make things up on our own and trying to make reality something other than it is.

 

Psychiatrists have terms for that. One term is neurosis. A neurotic is somebody who is living on the basis of his own dreams and fantasy. Some wags have said that a neurotic is someone who is building a dream castle in the clouds and a psychotic is a person who has moved in. The psychiatrist is the landlord! But the neurotic is someone who says the world is not the way anybody else says it is, it is the way I want it to be. The result is, when you live upon those fantasies it creates calamities in your life. The psychotic is the one who is completely convinced that the world is not the way everybody else says but the way he thinks it is. That really leads to self-destruction. People are living as neurotics and psychotics because of their sin nature. That is the orientation of the sin nature, the Bible says: we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. We are constantly redefining the world, what God says it is, because we are at the core of our beings often in rebellion against God.

 

The only solution, God says, is to humble ourselves and orient to Him and His plan. That is why in verse seven of this introduction the writer of Proverbs states the foundational principle for acquiring wisdom and to be able to have a skilled approach to life: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge …" It doesn't matter how many facts you are aware of, it doesn't matter how much information you are able to control; information and facts are not knowledge. Knowledge, to be true knowledge, has to be grounded in a true conception of reality. And that only begins when we orient ourselves to the fact all reality is what it is because God created it that way, and He is the one who has defined it to be the way that it is.

 

This is what the fear of the Lord is. It is not fear in the sense of seeing some sort of horror movie and being scared emotionally, it is the idea of a healthy respect for God's authority, recognizing that to violate His standards and the way He created the world and live in contradiction to it will just lead ultimately to our own destruction and failure.

 

Unfortunately the cause and effect response and reaction in the spiritual and moral realm is something not seen as quickly as in the physical realm. If we put our hand on a hot stove we immediately get feedback that that is the wrong thing to do, and we don't want to do that again. But if we make decisions in the spiritual and moral realm it may be twenty or thirty years before we reap the consequences of those bad decisions. By then what has happened is we have ingrained mental and behavior patterns that to reverse course is extremely difficult—though not impossible because of God's grace.

 

As we look at the book of Proverbs we are going to see intensely practical guidance on the issues of life. Proverbs is a book of poetry. Forget anything you ever learned in any class on poetry because ninety-nine per cent of it—unless you were oriented to somebody who understood the interpretation of literature—was based on some sort of postmodern subjectivism that has no meaning in fact. In this whole concept of interpretation as it is taught and held by most secular theorists today meaning is not in the mind of the author, meaning is in the mind of the reader. But the author, if he had any kind of intelligence at all, was trying to communicate something. What matters is figuring out what they intended to communicate and not what we wish them to communicate. What we do in Bible study is try to determine what the author meant, and we use various principles to do that because God conformed Himself to basic techniques of writing and literature that were common in the culture to whom He was addressing.

 

Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings. It is not a narrative like we find in Genesis or 1 & 2 Kings or the Gospels, it is a collection of short pithy sayings that have boiled down key principles in relation to life. They are presented in either two-line disitiches, or sometimes three-line tristitches. It is a collection of wise sayings recorded by Solomon but they are what David his father taught. This is a training manual for parents ultimately, the parents of Israel for how they should train their children so that as they mature they will be wise in their approach to life. These principles are universalized, not just to the immediate families of David and Solomon but to all of the families in Israel and ultimately every family in the world.

 

The title is given to us in the very first verse: "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." Solomon is the author and we have this title based upon this first verse. Solomon was the third king of the united Israel, the son of David and Bathsheba, and the one who took Israel to its heights of glory in the ancient world before he became apostate, rejected God and brought them under divine discipline. No all of the proverbs in Proverbs were written by Solomon but he is the primary author.

 

The opening part is all of a contextual unit. From chapter ten on it is basically just unrelated saying from one verse or another. Some have two or three verses nut they are basically related. But the first nine chapters are all related around the theme of teaching wisdom. The second division is referred to as Solomon's proverbs. There are three hundred and seventy five proverbs in these chapters (10:1-22:16). This is followed by the third section: the thirty saying of the wise (22:17-24:22). From 24:23-34, further sayings of the wise. Then in the fifth divisions are more proverbs from Solomon (25:1-29:27)—137 of them. There are a little more than 500 proverbs from Solomon here but 1 Kings tells us that Solomon wrote over 3000 proverbs. So this is his collection of divinely-inspired portion here. Then in chapter 30 we have the sayings of Agur, the son of Jakeh. We don't know who he was but he was probably not an Israelite. He was possibly an Arabian prince. These were likely written before Solomon and were added to the collection. Then we have in addition to that the seventh division which are the sayings of Lemuel who, again, is not a Jewish king; probably an Arabian king, but scholars are not sure at all. That section is sometimes divided into two. The first ten verses are the sayings of Lemuel, and because the rest of the chapter is built on an acrostic and is the section that deals with the godly woman there are others who think that that might be a completely different section.

 

In terms of the authors, there is Solomon, some are from David although they are not attested to be so—it is so because ultimately David is the one who instructed his son Solomon—and then there are Agur and Lemuel. So there are four authors, probably more, for these proverbs.

 

We see that Solomon is the most noted for wisdom in the Old Testament. He wrote over three thousand proverbs, according to 1 Kings 4:32, as well as 1005 hymns or psalms. He also asked God for wisdom and God granted him wisdom, and so he has a level of wisdom that goes beyond anyone else because of this supernatural endowment by God. And even though Solomon is known for his wisdom, even though he is the author of this incredible book teaching the right path versus the wrong path, even though he is especially endowed by God in the way of wisdom, what we see here in the life of Solomon is that with all of that he still chose to turn his back on God, and through a series of bad decisions because of the influence of his foreign wives that he married in opposition to God's Word, he ended up crashing in his spiritual life and ending his life a spiritual failure and leading the nation into idolatry. So it is not just what we know, how much we know, or how wise we are; it is our volition, our decisions, how consistently we decide to follow the Lord. 

 

We know that Solomon's wisdom was superior to all of the wise men of the east and of Egypt. This is seen in 1 Kings 4:30. We see, too, that Solomon was renowned for his wisdom. Everyone around the world knew of Solomon. Israel was the greatest kingdom on the earth and all of the travel routes in the ancient world intersected in Israel, and so the fame of Solomon spread throughout the world. 1 Kings 4:34 NASB "Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom." Then in 1 Kings 10:24 NASB "All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart." That, again, emphasizes the fact that the source of Solomon's wisdom was from God. 

Solomon's wisdom was exceeded only by the wisdom of Jesus Christ. Matthew 12:42 NASB "{The} Queen of {the} South [Queen of Sheba] will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." There is a recognition in this principle that if there is someone who knows and studies and teaches the Word of God then what we need to do is orient ourselves as much as we can geographically to that person. It is getting to a point in the history of this country where there are fewer and fewer good Bible teachers. Fortunately we have the Internet because there are many times when people cannot move across the country. But we live in a time when a lot of people just don't want to be inconvenienced to do that. Here we have the example from the Queen of Sheba from ancient times and what she did to go and learn true biblical wisdom, divine wisdom from Solomon. And this is a condemnation for every one of the young men who just don't want to get up and move across the country and go to Seminary—because they don't have the spiritual faith and trust and courage to move out.

 

The book's last section in Proverbs, chapters 25-29, was originally authored by Solomon but then the proverbs were then edited during the time of Hezekiah, according to Proverbs 25:1. Hezekiah was king at around 700 BC during the time of the Assyrian invasion and it was a time of spiritual renewal and revival in Israel. As part of that they went back and recovered much of the Mosaic Law and applied it, and probably during this time brought the book of Proverbs to its present organization. What we do know about the dating of Proverbs is that Solomon's portion was probably written during the early to middle part of his life, somewhere around 950 BC, but other passages were written at times that we are not aware of.

 

Hebrew poetry, especially in the wisdom literature, is didactic: a term from the Greek word didaskolos [didaskoloj] meaning teaching or instruction. It was designed to teach, to inform, to instruct and to prepare people for living according to God's Word. It is not based on the kind of rhyming that we have in English poetry, it is based on a type of parallelism. It is a sort of rhyming or reflecting of ideas, so that the ideas in the first line are simply restated with other words in the second line. The second line is a synonym of the first line.

 

But there are other ways that this is structured. The first is called synonymous parallelism. This is usually in a two-line distitch, which means two lines of poetry. The second line reinforces the thought that is in the first line with similar words and concepts. This is very helpful in helping us to understand the meaning of a word. If there is a word that has three or four meanings in one line and have a synonym that has tow or three meanings in the second line, part of those two words' meanings overlap. That is how we come to understand how a word is specifically used. An example of synonymous parallelism is found in the second verse of the book. Proverbs 1:2 NASB "To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding." The second line repeats the idea in a slightly different way using different words. Through parallelism the main idea of the first line is reflected and reinforced in the second line.

 

Proverbs 11:25 is another example: "The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters [synonym for being generous] will himself be watered." The person who is generous will also be a recipient of generosity.

 

Proverbs 12:28 NASB "In the way of righteousness is life, And in {its} pathway [parallel to "way"] there is no death."

 

The second form is synthetic parallelism. This is when the second line adds or develops the idea that is stated in the first line. Example: Proverbs 4:23 NASB "Watch over your heart [guard your thinking] with all diligence, For from it {flow} the springs of life." The second line explains why the first line is so important.

 

The third form is antithetic parallelism. This is opposites: the thought of the first line is then contrasted in the second line. Proverbs 10:1 NASB "… A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish son is a grief to his mother." This doesn't mean that a wise son only makes a father happy or that a foolish son only makes the mother sad. Father and mother here are representing the totality of the parents. It is saying that a wise son, a son that is positive to the Word and applies the Word, is the one who is going to make the parents happy, but the one that is foolish, the one who makes bad decisions, who fails spiritually, is going to bring grief and sorrows to parents.

 

Proverbs 14:34 NASB "Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to {any} people." What happens in the perversion of the world is that sin, licentiousness and antinomianism under the guise of freedom, is thought by many to exalt a nation. It's let everybody do their own thing and do whatever they want to. But the Scripture says that the only way to exalt or strengthen a nation is through righteousness and that sin brings reproach. It is only a perversion that twists that.

 

Proverbs 15:1 NASB "A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger." So when you get into conflict, an argumentative and tense situation with somebody the issue is to reply softly and quietly without getting emotionally upset, and that calms down things and turns away wrath. In contrast, if you get upset and get insulting with the other person then that just aggravates the circumstances and increases the anger.

Another important thing to understand about Proverbs is that this is a book about handling problems—how to face and handle problems. That is one reason that it is a good practice for people to read through the Proverbs on a monthly basis. Read a chapter a day—31 chapters. (Read some other passages as well, Psalms, etc.)

 

There are basically four ways people handle their problems in life. The first way is to basically ignore the problem and hope that it goes away. We just don't want to face some problem. We don't want to deal with the emotions that are going to come up, we don't want to deal with ugliness in life, we don't want to face some of the bad decisions that are made—especially in relations with spouses or children; we would just rather look the other way and hope that somehow we are going to get past it. Often Christians do this and rationalize it as trusting God. We say we are going to put it in God's hands, we put the blindfolds on and we ignore it. Often what we need to do is trust God and face it. Trusting God doesn't mean putting it in God's hands and turning a blind eye to reality. Often we have to confront problems and issues in our own life and confront things in other people's life before things get much worse. So often the idea of trusting God isn't the idea of denial.

 

We all know that after a while when we have been avoiding problems that it gets to the point where we can't ignore it. Reality has a way of asserting itself in our lives in ways that are not very pleasant so we try to do as little as we can to cover it up and camouflage it and just move forward. We don't want to pull some problems out into the daylight because it is embarrassing and difficult, we feel somewhat impotent in addressing it, we don't know what to do, and so we just try to minimize it as best we can.

 

The third way in which we try to handle problems is we just take a run at it, not a very strong run, and we give up very quickly. Some problems that we have in life are problems that need to be addressed over a long period because it took a long period for those things to develop and to impact us. We have to have perseverance and endurance in order to face those on the basis of the Word of God.

 

The fourth way—and this is the rare way. Only the spiritually mature, courageous person does it this way. That is, face the problem openly an honestly until the problem is resolved, using God's problem-solving devices. It may not mean that the problem goes away but it means that the way in which we face it and handle it in our own lives is going to enable us to grow and mature through that particular problem. Much of Proverbs is addressing the wise course of action when we face certain problems. 

 

As we look at the opening introduction the writer of Proverbs is telling us why we need to study the Proverbs. This is laid out through a series of purpose prepositions and verbs in the first seven verses. Each verse, except for verse five, starts with a preposition of purpose in the Hebrew. The first verse says that our purpose is to know wisdom and instruction, and to perceive the words of understanding.

 

There are some introductory ideas here that are very important. We are to know two different things: wisdom and instruction. The word "wisdom" implies learning. Wisdom comes from instruction. But this is a particular kind of instruction. The word to know is the Hebrew word which means to be conscious of or aware of, to perceive certain things, to learn them and to make them part of our thinking and our decision-making process. We are to know; we are to go through a learning process. We have to do a little bit of learning about what is the learning process we have to go through. We have to go through this process so that something becomes internalized in our souls. Wisdom is the end result. Wisdom is the skillful application of divine principles to life. It is not just knowing what those principles are but being able to utilize them and apply them in a skillful manner, in a manner that produces something of spiritual beauty and value that will last into eternity. It is beyond simple application.

 

Illustration: We all know and have observed, and maybe experienced in our own lives, going through certain developments as young children. Maybe our parents made us take piano lessons or voice lessons, or we played in some form of athletics, and maybe we had a measure of skill and talent. We could pretty much understand what the coach or instructor was telling us, and we could do it. Maybe we had a certain skill level at it. But then there were others who were gifted at it and they just went on. These were the ones who maybe went on to make that part of their profession. Those people would have the kind of wisdom or skill that we are looking at here. It is not just learning to do five things. Many people go home and do those five things. But taking those five things and making them such an internalized part of our thinking causes it to begin to work itself out in our life in an exceptional way. It produces a life of value.

 

That takes time. Beauty isn't created in a few days going to Bible class once a week and writing down a few notes. You have to immerse yourself in the Word so that the Word becomes immersed in you and then works itself out in your life. That is wisdom.

 

"Instruction" is the second word in this line. This is the Hebrew word musar, and interesting word because it is not only receiving instruction, but it has the idea of enforced discipline, the idea of correction and rebuke. It has the idea of straightening out someone who is doing something wrong and chastising them. Wisdom is the idea of skillful living and instruction is the idea of a disciplined education, which involves correction and rebuke. In other words, biblical teaching and instruction involves failure and correction for failure. You don't have a soccer team that achieves anything where nobody keeps score. You don't learn anything in competition by having a baseball team where everybody wins and nobody strikes out. Everybody is a winner may look good in some human viewpoint psychological analysis but you are not going to learn anything, you are not going to develop character, and that is also a part of the idea in this word. It is not just learning facts but it is relating it to character development. So we have to learn. We have to experience failure and correction and that produces character development, and there is this moral aspect to instruction.

 

So the first thing that we look at here is that the purpose for studying Proverbs is so that we know wisdom and that we can have a disciplined education from God's Word—learning how to think as God would have us to think. This begins with the fear of the Lord. We have to submit to the authority of the Lord. That means that we have to face the fact that we are limited and that we are under condemnation as sinful creatures, but that God has provided the perfect solution in Jesus Christ, and that we have to submit ourselves to the authority of God and say, I can't ever do anything that would make me good enough for God. Whatever my failures are they have been paid for, though, by Jesus Christ on the cross, the sin has been dealt with, and the only solution is to trust in Him. That is the starting point of wisdom. Once we have salvation we are a new creature in Christ, the Scripture says. There is a whole new aspect to learning and acquiring wisdom, and it is done under the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit. This is the starting point, and the issue for us is: do we have the courage to say: I really want to pursue wisdom and to learn what that means, and to apply it across the board in every area? It takes courage, it takes stamina, it takes endurance; but above all, it takes coming to Bible class, coming to church, studying the Word on a daily basis because we have to educate our minds according those eternal principles of God's Word. And that is what is inherent in Proverbs.