Verse 1 is the title of the whole book, which is attributed to Solomon, although not all of it came from his mouth or pen. However, the greater part is Solomon's and the remainder closely related to his thinking. No doubt the title was attached when the sayings were edited and published in the reign of Hezekiah (25:1). The same editor composed this little introduction to commend his collection of Proverbs to the public. It is possible he (or another) wrote the remainder of the Prologue up to the end of chapter 9, although it could have come from Solomon or a sage of any period, since it is an example of the way a parent instructs his children or a teacher his pupils.
He begins by defining his subject (wisdom) and his readers.
Wisdom is the overall term, which he defines by using three others.
1. Discipline. This is what we would call 'training' – not so much in skills as in character. The child or pupil is taught from an early age how to behave. As he regularly practises these lessons, so they begin to mould his character.
2. Understanding. This shows that the discipline is not blind obedience but teaching the child to discern for himself between right and wrong, the best and the less good (cf. Phil. 1:10), so that he will want to behave rightly.
3. Prudence. The fruit of the discipline and understanding is to produce a mature person able to relate to others. He is trained to treat them in a way that is right, just and fair. He learns how to get on with people, exemplified in Abigail (1 Sam. 25:3) and perfectly in Jesus (Isa. 52:13).
1. Consider the importance for the Christian of good relationships by referring to Ephesians 5:21-6:9.
2. What does title Christian use to cultivate the discipline and understanding that produces this sociability? (See Col. 3:15f).
As we saw in the Introduction (E) PROVERBS is educational. We are now told at whom this education is aimed.
1. The simple (v. 4). These are not the weak-minded but the untaught and immature. Basically they are the young, who have not yet had the opportunity to become wise. But it can apply to others, such as Israelites whose parents had neglected their education, or Gentile slaves and prisoners totally ignorant of God's law. Such needed knowledge of the right way to live, in order to acquire the discretion and prudence necessary for mixing in society and becoming good citizens. (See Introduction [G]).
2. The wise (v. 5). These have already been trained and are leading righteous lives. But they do not know everything and are not perfect. 'For,' says Charles Bridges, 'a truly wise man is one, not who has attained, but who knows that he has not attained and is pressing on to perfection.' Matthew Henry comments: 'This book not only makes the foolish wise but the wise better.' Such can add to their learning, receive guidance in more difficult areas and become skilful in handling more complex people. Perhaps it was for such that the writings of men other than Solomon were included in later parts of the book, described by the terms in verse 6 as 'enigmas and hard questions' (parables and riddles).
1. As well as young children, to whom does the term simple apply in the gospel age? See 1 Peter 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 3:1.
2. Do you think verses 5-6 encourage the mature Christian to explore non-Christian systems of thought and life? Consider this in relation to evangelism among, say, Muslims and Marxists.
The wisdom the Bible is interested in cannot be acquired merely from books, parents and teachers, even if those teachings are rigorously practised. Ultimately wisdom is what God is and we can only attain to it through personal knowledge of him. This is what the Old Testament calls fear, meaning trust, love and obedience. This is why the fool has no interest in things like character and relationships. He does not know God (Ps. 14:1). To him wisdom is boredom, and discipline irksome.
This is the first true 'proverb', and governs all the rest. It has that balance and contrast that make it ideal for memorization. It is not original but is found in David's writings (Ps. 111:10), and he may have learned it from the earliest book of wisdom – Job (28:28). It will recur in 9:10 and 15:33.
Learn this verse by heart and think how readily it can be adapted to personal faith in Christ as the only path to a life of righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).
Having been told what wisdom is and whom it is for, we now have its glories displayed before us, so that we see what it can do for us. But before we can go to the heart of it we need our interest aroused and our appetite whetted. We Christians will see more in it than did the people of Israel for whom it was originally composed. To us wisdom is the whole word of God, indeed it is Christ himself 'who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption' (1 Cor. 1:30).
PROVERBS is written primarily for the young – in years or godliness. The chief characteristic of youth is vulnerability; the young are ignorant of the ways of the world and lack the power of self-control. They need first to be protected from falling into disaster before they have hardly begun. So our book begins with warnings against those who are most likely to harm the young, and with advice on how to avoid falling into their net.
The first lesson is put into the mouth of the parents (v. 8). After all, as was said in the Introduction (E), Proverbs was basically an educational manual. This task was entrusted to the father and mother in whose hands was the instruction and teaching of their children. Refresh your mind on the purpose of education in old covenant Israel by re-reading the section 'Why it was written' on page 11.
Since this instruction is to begin with some rather harsh lessons, the first thing is to get the child to listen (v. 8). What is the best way of doing this? Not so much with the stick as the carrot, the offer of a reward rather than the threat of punishment, as God himself did in the Fifth Commandment with the promise of 'long life in the land' (Exod. 20:12). Here, however, the promise is of victory and power, for a garland was placed on the head of a general returning victorious from battle and a chain or necklace hung round the neck of a king on his coronation. So the son or child of God who heeds his heavenly Father's word will have victory and power in his personal life (Rev. 12:11).
Now we come to the actual lesson on protection from evil company (vv. 10-19). There are sinners out there – a strong word describing those for whom sin has become a way of life. Either these were not instructed by their parents or if they were they have 'forsaken' it (v. 8). They live not by honest labour but on the proceeds of crime. They form gangs and are on the look-out for new recruits (v. 10). Two things the youth needs to know about them.
1. The methods they use to entice him (vv. 11-14).
They make it sound easy (v. 11) and look tough (v. 12); they offer lucrative rewards (v. 13), not least a place in the gang (v. 14). The youth who has been finding parental control constricting 'pictures himself a person to be reckoned with instead of patronized and kept in his place, and above all accepted as one of the gang' (Kidner). An offer he can't refuse! How up-to-date it all is! There is nothing new about gangs of youths graduating into vice-rings and incorporated crime. Here is how it all begins – with a macho appeal and tempting offer to one who has been kept down and kept short. The task of today's parents is not so dissimilar to that facing parents in ancient Israel.
2. The ends to which they come (vv. 15-19). The criminals didn't include this in their advert! But the truth is that while there may be short-term gains the end result is disaster, which provides the parent with good arguments for his warning (v. 15):
(a) a course of crime, once embarked on, is unstoppable – it starts with mugging but may end with murder (v. 16); (b) the idea of keeping it secret is a myth (v. 17) – when birds see trappers laying snares they fly off, which is to say people soon get to know who the criminals are and take evasive action; (c) once their identity is known they are soon caught and what they did to others is done to them (v. 18).
The conclusion (v. 19) is that, instead of the riches he was originally offered (v. 13), he loses everything, perhaps even his life. The only way to avoid this is to avoid their company (v. 15).