1:1. The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
The book of wisdom begins by identifying its primary author – Solomon, son of David, third king of the nation of Israel. With the hindsight provided by history, we stand amazed that a man like Solomon would write a book of Wisdom Literature. So many issues would seem to mitigate against his authoring a book on wisdom. Exhibit A: his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). One justly wonders where the wisdom is in that! Yet, later iniquity does not cancel out previous insight.
A closer examination reveals the source of Solomon’s wisdom. After his father David died, God personally invited Solomon, ‘Ask what you wish me to give you’ (1 Kings 3:5b). Solomon’s response was gratefulness for God’s faithfulness to his father (v. 6) and humility (vv. 7-8). Then, the new king made his request, ‘So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil’ (v. 9). God was pleased (v. 10) and promised ‘I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you’ (v. 12).
The writer of 1 Kings went on to list Solomon’s great achievements (4:20-34), saying ‘Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men ...’ (vv. 29-31a). Among his many remarkable achievements was the writing of 3,000 proverbs (v. 32). Exactly how these proverbs were numbered is not stated, though they likely were compiled into volumes of some kind for preservation. Nor is it stated how the proverbs mentioned in 1 Kings 4:32 relate to what we find here in the book of Proverbs, though, undoubtedly, many of those spoken of in 1 Kings would be included here. We should not, however, conclude that all of the proverbs of this book are from the pen of Solomon. Agur (Prov. 30:1-33) and Lemuel (31:1-31) both add theirs as well (cf. also the comments on Prov. 22:17). Presumably, all of this took place before Solomon turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-11).
What Solomon is said to have given to us are ‘proverbs.’ A proverb is a compactly constructed sentence packed with practical insight. It is a stubby sentence pregnant with meaning. It is college in a cup. It is wisdom that you can carry with you as you walk through life.
A proverb is a sentence constructed in parallel. See the introduction for how these parallelisms present themselves and what they mean. Proverbs presents us with divinely given nuggets of gold that will make rich the one who prizes them enough to understand and apply them at all cost.
1:2. To show wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding,
This begins a series of statements (running through verse 6) that delineate the purpose of this collection of proverbs. Verses 2-6 present ten words that summarize what Proverbs gives the person who heeds its instruction: ‘wisdom,’ ‘instruction,’ ‘understanding’ (v. 2), ‘instruction’ (v. 3), ‘prudence,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘discretion’ (v. 4), ‘learning,’ ‘wise counsel’ (v. 5), and ‘understand’ (v. 6). We will now consider each of these words individually and see what these proverbs are designed to yield in the life of the one who puts them into practice.
‘Wisdom’ is the first promised result. The basic meaning of the word is ‘skill’ in living. This skill brings its possessor into success.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:282.The Messiah, according to promise, possessed this wisdom (Jer. 23:5), as may the one who possesses ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16). The skill referred to may be in craftsmanship with the hands (Exod. 31:6), in organization (1 Kings 3:28), and in counseling others (2 Sam. 20:22). (Grand Rapids: Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 5:904-905. The root of this term is found forty-two times in the book of Proverbs.
‘Instruction’ is also guaranteed. An alternative translation is ‘discipline.’ This discipline is education through correction.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:386. Proverbs will step on your toes, but, in doing so, will discipline you and keep your feet in the right path when you walk in their light.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 5:905. Reading this book is profitable, but not comfortable.
‘Understanding’ refers to the knowledge of something and to the faculty that enables you to come to that knowledge. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, n.d.), 108. Proverbs can teach you things you will learn nowhere else. Additionally, ‘understanding’ may refer to the very object of knowledge.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:103-4. Job asked where the place of understanding is (Job 28:12, 20). Truth is not relative – there is right and wrong, truth and error, understanding and stupidity – and it may be discovered in these proverbs.
‘Discernment’ is the path to this understanding. Discernment is the ability to look at two things and see what God sees. These proverbs cut through the fog of human reasoning and throw the spotlight of God upon a given situation, revealing God’s verdict.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980),
1:3. To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity;
This verse provides the fourth of seven benefits delivered to the door of those who heed the proverbs of this book: ‘instruction in wise behavior.’ ‘Instruction’ is the same word as in verse 2. The Hebrew term behind ‘wise behavior’ is roughly synonymous with the word translated ‘discernment’ in verse 2. However, there is a distinction to be made. ‘Discernment’ means to distinguish between two things. ‘Wise behavior’ refers to an understanding of the reason for the distinction that is made. A good alternative translation may be ‘insight.’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:877. Feeding on the proverbs not only helps you distinguish God’s choice in any situation, but why it is His choice.
This insight is seen as it is actively revealed in ‘righteousness, justice and equity.’ See Proverbs 2:9 for another use of this trio of moral qualities. ‘... [W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things’ (Phil. 4:8). The wisest course of action in any circumstance is bringing your life into conformity with the character and actions of God. Insight is not given for the stuffy halls of academia, but for the trenches of daily life.
1:4. To give prudence to the naïve, To the youth knowledge and discretion,
The fifth item is ‘prudence,’ a Hebrew word which may be used negatively (‘craftily,’Exod. 21:14) or positively as here.The proverbs will make the gullible shrewd and able to avoid the pitfalls of life. The ‘naïve’ person is one who is open and vulnerable to any influence that the winds may blow upon him. The ‘naïve’ lack judgment. The proverbs will make them able to see these influences for what they are and to circumvent the disaster they would bring.
The sixth benefit is seen in the ‘knowledge’ derived from the Proverbs. This is offered to the immature ‘youth,’ just as ‘prudence’ is to the gullible. This ‘knowledge’ is something gained through the senses. The proverbs heighten every part of a person to the truth of God. The immature is given, through the proverbs, what normally only years of experience might grant to the aged.
‘Discretion’ is the seventh item listed as a benefit to the student of Proverbs. This term is used in the proverbs to describe wisdom’s ability to protect its possessor from the harm brought on by foolishly proceeding with an ill-advised plan (cf. Prov. 2:11; 3:21).,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:244. Positively, ‘discretion’ is the ability to form a practical plan of action and work it to its end. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 33. The proverbs instill common sense.
1:5. A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
Not only do the impressionable and immature (v. 4) benefit from the proverbs, but also the one already possessing a degree of wisdom. We are never fully wise.
Two more benefits will come to the one who seeks and keeps on seeking wisdom from God. The eighth is that they will gain additional ‘learning.’ The root of the word means to ‘take’ or to ‘seize.’ The mature person of wisdom gains an ever increasing ability to grasp with their mind the wisdom of God as it relates to their particular circumstances. They will receive ‘perception’into the affairs of life.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:482.
Also, they will lay hold of ‘wise counsel,’ the ninth benefit listed. The one who gets this is ‘a man of understanding,’ the participle of the word translated ‘discern’ in verse 2. The Hebrew behind ‘wise counsel’ is related to the word for rope or cord. A metaphor for what is intended comes from the world of sea navigation. Ropes were used to steer a ship, thus the sailor pulled on the ropes to steer a true course. The one who rightly discerns the things of God will, by continuing to study these proverbs, be able to steer a safe and true course through life.
1:6. To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles.
This verse ends the litany of benefits that come to the person who absorbs the content of this book (vv. 2-6). The tenth benefit of studying Proverbs is to ‘understand.’ This is the same word as translated ‘discern’ in verse 2. Four expressions are then used to describe what we find in this book. A ‘proverb’ is the term that heads the book (Prov. 1:1). A ‘figure’ refers to a saying that speaks indirectly to an issue. To the discerning of heart a ‘figure’ has a sense other than the obvious one.‘The words of the wise’ means that the discerning does not give heed to everyone, but only to those who have acquired God’s wisdom. The ‘riddles’ may refer to what is obscure or indirect in its statements, much like the riddles of Samson (Judg. 14:13-14) or the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1).
Instead of describing four different kinds of sayings, it seems rather that the writer is setting up a contrast of two kinds of sayings. The path of wisdom leads not only to understanding plain statements of truth (‘proverbs’ and ‘the words of the wise’), but also more enigmatic, indirect statements that carry a stream of wisdom that lies beneath the surface of the obvious (‘a figure’ and ‘riddles’) and is only tapped by the one who meditates upon them.
Let us, then, review what the opening purpose statement of the book reveals. If one considers the verbs of verses 2-6 we discover (1) that studying the proverbs enables one to ‘know’ certain things, v. 2, (2) to ‘discern’ God’s path, v. 2, (3) to ‘receive’ the knowledge of God’s ways, v. 3; (4) that they ‘give’ what the naïve and immature need, v. 4; (5) that they ‘increase’ what the wise have, v. 5; and (6) that they enable their reader to ‘understand’ God’s mind, v. 6.
If one considers the nouns, proverbs grants (1) ‘wisdom,’ v. 2; (2) ‘instruction,’ v. 2; (3) ‘understanding,’ v. 2; (4) ‘instruction,’ v. 3; (5) ‘prudence,’ v. 4; (6) ‘knowledge,’ v. 4; (7) ‘discretion,’ v. 4; (8) ‘learning,’ v. 5; (9) ‘wise counsel,’ v. 5; and (10) understanding,’ v. 6.
1:7. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
This verse expresses the substance of the entire book of Proverbs: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.’ The fear of the Lord is a repeated theme being found fourteen times throughout the book. The fear of the Lord is an inclusion wrapping itself around the first nine chapters (Prov. 1:7; 9:10), as well as the entire collection (Prov. 1:7; 31:30).
Being contrasted with the fear of man (Prov. 29:25), the fear of the Lord renders countless benefits for its possessor. It is not only the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7, 29; 2:5) and wisdom (9:10; 15:33), but it instills confidence (14:26) and makes rich (22:4). The fear of the Lord prolongs life (Prov. 10:27), is a fountain of life (14:27), leads to life (19:23), and is rewarded with life (22:4). The fear of the Lord is to hate the evil God hates (Prov. 8:13; 16:6, 23:17). Though you may lose all else, gain the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:16)!
Isaiah echoes these remarkable promises: ‘He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; The fear of theLord is the key to this treasure’ (33:6, niv, italics mine). Oswald Chambers was correct: ‘The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.’ (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), 216.
This reverent awe is the ‘beginning’ of knowledge and wisdom in that it is the ‘first and controlling principle, rather than a stage which one leaves behind.’ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 59. The wise never graduate from the school of instruction and wisdom.
While the fear of the Lord is ‘the key to this treasure,’ the path of the fool is to ‘despise wisdom and instruction.’ For the first time, we are introduced to ‘the fool,’ a personage that will be mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. ‘Wisdom’ we have already met in verse 1 (and vv. 5, 6, ‘the wise’). ‘Instruction’ has been introduced in verses 2, 3. ‘Despise’ means to treat with contempt.
1:8. Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;
This begins the first major section of the book (Prov. 1:8-9:18). While most of the proverbs in the book are short, pithy statements of truth, this section is comprised of more extended discourses, each of which carries a protracted theme. These discourses prepare the reader to receive the proverbs that follow in Proverbs 10:1ff.
The exhortation ‘Hear, my son’ echoes an oft-repeated call in Proverbs. The word ‘son’ is used sixty times in the book, and the phrase ‘my son’ is used twenty-three times. This sense of filial exhortation permeates the entire book. It may apply not only to biological family lines, but also to the relationship of a wisdom teacher and his pupil. Here, however, the addition of ‘mother’ makes the biological family the primary reference. The home is the primary place for moral instruction. The weight of responsibility for moral instruction of children in wisdom falls upon the father throughout the Book of Proverbs, but here, as in Proverbs 6:20, the mother is also involved and must be respected by the children. See also Proverbs 31:1 for Lemuel’s praise of his mother’s instruction. With fifteen of the twenty-three occurrences of ‘my son’ appearing in chapters 1-9, perhaps this section originally served as a text for a father’s moral instruction of his son.
The father instills ‘instruction,’ a word we have already met several times (vv. 2, 3, 7). The primary sense of the word is instruction through correction. Additionally the ‘teaching’ of the mother is to be heeded. ‘Teaching’ is the Hebrew word torah and may be cognate to a verb meaning ‘to point or direct.’ Torah is also the Hebrew word used to refer to God’s law. It is possible that the verse means that mothers primarily point out the path of righteousness, but fathers are the primary disciplinarians. It seems more likely, however, that it means that both parents are God’s agents on earth to point their children in the right direction and to train them through correction to stay in that path.
Wisdom embraces both tables of God’s law and ties them together. To truly fear the Lord (v. 7; cf. the first four commandments) one must rightly relate to others (vv. 8ff; cf. the last six commandments). Likewise, to rightly relate to others one must first rightly relate to God.
1:9. Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, And ornaments about your neck.
To keep the fifth commandment is not only wise, but it adds honor, attractiveness, grace, and esteem to the life of the son or daughter who does so. God makes the honor of father and mother an honor to the child as they pass through life. The two-fold description is first stated as ‘a graceful wreath to your head’ (cf. Prov. 4:9). The picture is of a crown or wreath placed on the head by those who esteem this person’s life. Likewise such a life is adorned as ‘ornaments about your neck’ might be (cf. Prov. 3:3, 22; 6:21).
Submitting early to the refining process of instruction and discipline of parents removes many of the personal habits and qualities that could spoil relationships later in life. To heed the discipline of father and the instruction of mother yields a happy life full of fruitful and friendly relationships. People will be drawn to you and desire your company.
1:10. My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.
Having stated the benefits of heeding the counsel of parents (and perhaps of a wisdom teacher, cf. v. 8), now the instruction grows more specific. Verses 10-14 warn of the attraction of the sinner’s ways, but verses 15-19 describe the destruction walking with them brings.
The people bent on leading you astray are called ‘sinners,’ a word that describes those who make sin their habit.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:277-279. Their alluring call is described by the word ‘entice.’ The Hebrew verb means to ‘be open, spacious, wide.’ The resulting description is of one who is open to all kinds of allurements because of their immaturity.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:742-743. The intensive active form, piel, is used, rendering a meaning ‘when those seasoned in sin use every trick of their trade to pull you into their path ....’
The prohibition is ‘Do not consent.’ The Hebrew describes ‘the willingness (inclination) to do something under obligation or request.’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:4. Do not yield your will to anyone except God! When they do their best to seduce and lead you astray, keep your will bent away from their path.
1:11. If they say, ‘Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause;’
Verses 11-14 comprise the verbal enticement of the wicked that was warned of in verses 10. The young often grow weary of being in the place of learning. It is attractive to hear someone call you to take control of your circumstances and become a person to contend with.
The action called for is vicious, the verb ‘to lie in wait’ is used elsewhere of murder (Deut. 19:11), kidnapping (Judg. 21:20), or seduction (Prov. 23:28). This heinous action is exacted upon ‘the innocent’ (niv, ‘harmless soul’), showing that it is unprovoked and without cause. By and by, there will be a promise of material gain by these actions (vv. 13-14), but here it is done ‘without cause.’ The motivation is violence for violence’s sake, with the financial benefits of secondary concern. There is illicit pleasure in dominating and intimidating the innocent. How descriptive of the spirit of the age in which we live! We do well to remember it was violence that evoked God’s destruction in the days of Noah (Gen. 6:11).
How appropriate verses 8-19 are in the day when gangs seem to have taken over the youth culture of entire cities and, now, even of smaller communities. The call to take control of your life, to become a part of an extended family, to stop being used is an attractive one. How desperately our young people need to hear this wisdom.
Verse 18 contains the answer to this enticement – ‘They lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives.’ The treacherous and violent will taste of their own actions. ‘He has dug a pit and hollowed it out, And has fallen into the hole which he made. His mischief will return upon his own head, And his violence will descend upon his own pate’ (Ps. 7:15-16).
1:12. Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;
The taunting invitation to violence continues. Murder is the plot. ‘Sheol’ is here not a reference to the afterlife, but to the grave; ‘the pit’ is a synonym of ‘Sheol’ found often in Scripture. The two lines are parallel, with the second underscoring the point made by the first. The strategy is an overwhelming show of power and force incapacitating the victim before he can reasonably react to the attack. Confused and engulfed by an attack he did not expect and cannot control, the victim yields up what the attacker wants.
The invitation of the sinner is to lash out at anyone and everyone who comes in your path, then cover all evidence of the wrong. Beware of the one who promises ‘no one need ever know!’ You may attempt to bury the evidence, but remember: ‘There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Heb. 4:13).
1:13. We shall find all kinds of precious wealth, We shall fill our houses with spoil;
The illicit wooing continues. The promise is now that of material wealth untold. The lie is that, if we apply our God-given energies to ill-gotten gain rather than honorable labor, we will come out ahead. This is not the call of a renegade band, but of those who have settled lives in the community and possess their own ‘houses.’ The plot is to plunder their neighbors, to use them to make their lives plush. That the desired wealth is called ‘precious’ (‘precious, rare, splendid’),’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:398-399. underscores that they see no earthly way of acquiring it apart from taking matters into their own hands. When God’s wisdom is shunned, ever-advancing selfishness is the only path left open to us.
1:14. Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse,
Those whose actions are selfish at their core now promise that such selfishness will not rule among those who cast their lot with them. That is a silly promise, since sin is never so easily compartmentalized. ‘Come, let’s take advantage of others to our good fortune, but rest assured we will never do you wrong’ – This is the final call of the gang. The promise is of common commitment to one another; the reality is never so noble.
1:15. My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path,
Paternal wisdom now speaks to the ears in which still ring the tempting invitation of sinners. ‘My son’ echoes the call that began this section in verse 10. Its inclusion adds a tone of pleading seriousness, implying that to go the way of the sinner is to turn your back on family. ‘Do not walk in the way’ is the opposite of the invitation to ‘Come with us’ (v. 11). The youth is brought to a critical divide. He must choose between truth and error, light and darkness, righteousness and sin. To go one way is to reject its opposite. To delay decision is to decide. Blessed is the young person whose ears ring with his parents’ pleadings when temptation assaults. May the voice of wisdom never be drowned out!
‘Keep your feet from their path’ answers the first line by simple parallelism. The path of sin rarely looks dangerous at the outset, but it is exceedingly difficult to leave once the journey has begun. Walk a few steps in the path of sin and your life’s direction may be settled.
1:16. For their feet run to evil, And they hasten to shed blood.
The father now gives his son a rationale for his counsel. Two components stand out in this verse: their rush and the result. The result they desire is ‘to shed blood,’ which was their own clearly stated intention (v. 11). This is, as noted earlier, also the end they themselves will face (v. 18). The rationale, then, for avoiding their ways is that they are self-destructive. The very thing they seek to do to others happens to them. The end they design for others becomes their own. The consequences of sin often have a biting irony to them.
The second component of the rationale for not running with these sinners is the urgency they feel to finish their course of evil. Their feet ‘run’ to evil and they ‘hasten’ to shed blood. The latter term is in the intensive active form of the verb, adding an even greater sense of urgency and haste to it. While the wicked rush to sin, God is equally speedy when it comes time for judgment (Mal. 3:5). When urgently pressed with temptation, wisdom always asks: ‘What’s the rush? What will a moment or day of reflection reveal that they don’t want me to see?’
This verse is identical to the first two lines of Isaiah 59:7 and is partially quoted in Romans 3:15. The latter utilizes it in its litany of Old Testament quotations to prove the utter lostness of all men apart from Christ. As unwise as their course is, we all run it with them apart from Christ’s intervention.
1:17. Indeed, it is useless to spread the net In the eyes of any bird;
An illustration is now employed to make the point, the picture being given here and the point in the following verse. Birds, as well as animals, were caught by use of netting. But, a trap, by necessity, uses the element of surprise, for not even a dumb animal will knowingly place itself in harm’s way. This wisdom is not embraced by those provoked onward by their greed (vv. 13-14). ‘Those who want to get rich fall into ... a snare’ (1 Tim. 6:9). The sad irony is that the snare is of their own making. The one who rushes headlong in greed proves he is less than a bird-brain (Prov. 7:22-23)!
1:18. But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives.
What verse 17 sets forth in picture form is now stated plainly. All of verses 8-17 have been anticipating this. The ultimate reason not to fall in with the sinful and violent is that, what they plot for others (v. 11), becomes their own undoing (v. 18). Note, again, ‘lie in wait’ and ‘ambush’ in both verses 11 and 18. The very trap they set for others they spring on themselves.
Sin has a harsh irony to it. ‘He who pursues evil will bring about his own death’ (Prov. 11:19b). ‘In the work of his own hands the wicked is snared’ (Ps. 9:16b). ‘His own iniquities will capture the wicked, And he will be held with the cords of his sin’ (Prov. 5:22). ‘Those who sow trouble harvest it’ (Job 4:8b). ‘They dug a pit before me; They themselves have fallen into the midst of it’ (Ps. 57:6b).
1:19. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.
The one who cuts off a life in order to gain (the root meaning of ‘gains by violence’) discovers that he is cutting his own throat. The very thing you can’t live without is the thing you can’t live with. Yet how different for the wise: ‘He who hates unjust gain will prolong his days’ (Prov. 28:16b).
Lest we excuse ourselves because we have never killed another to take their things, we should note that ‘ways’ refers not simply to action, but also to the thoughts that lead to action. Also ‘possessors’ refers not simply to possessing unjust gain, but also to being possessed by thoughts of covetousness. (three volumes in one) in C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, vol. 6, Commentary on the Old Testament (in ten volumes), (1872; rpt. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 1:66-67. Few may carry their thoughts to the extreme of acting them out, but many have secretly nurtured a covetous heart. ‘For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?’ (Luke 9:25).
1:20. Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square;
Sin has had its say (vv. 8-19), now wisdom is allowed to raise her voice. Verses 20-33 find wisdom personified as a woman who invites all to listen to and heed her call to life. Wisdom is similarly personified in Proverbs 3:15-18; 8:1-36; 9:1-12.
The word for ‘wisdom’ is in the plural ‘... to signify the intensity and comprehensiveness of it all – the “all embracing, eloquent, veracious, and elevated wisdom” ...’ Note where she makes her appeal: ‘in the street’ and ‘in the square.’ These were public places where the ordinariness of life found its daily expression. ‘The square’ was the open space inside a city’s gates where people gathered to conduct their public business. It was a safe place to seal contracts and close deals because witnesses were readily available. Women did not play a prominent role in public life and for one to raise her voice in a public cry was highly unusual. She must have something urgently important to say! Wisdom is not merely for the haughty halls of academia, but is for life in the streets. Wisdom works in the everyday world of home, work, play, and the struggles of life. Her call is universal; all may come and embrace her.
1:21. At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city, she utters her sayings:
This verse, coupled with the previous one, speaks of the Woman Wisdom in the third person and form the introduction to her extended invitation. Wisdom makes her appeal in ‘the noisy streets.’ These streets are full of commotion, noise, confusion, and unrest with people shouting and hollering, as they go about transacting their daily business.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:219-220. This is the place that Lady Wisdom speaks her invitation to us. We must tune our ears to hear her voice above the cacophony of life’s voices and noises. We must discern the call of wisdom from among a myriad of invitations. What wisdom offers is not for the ivory tower, but literally for the push and shove of life.
The city gate was the place where business was transacted, city affairs were conducted, and people made social interaction. It was the strategic center of the city and its life.,’ New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:209.Whatever people needed to do in public life, it could be, and probably would be, done at the city gates. The popular attempt by some to shut out the voice of ‘religion’ from the public arena is wrong and will ultimately prove vain. They might silence individuals, but wisdom will continue to lift her voice in the most public of places.
1:22. ‘How long, O naïve ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?’
Now, after two verses of preparation, at last we hear the appeal of wisdom. She addresses three different groups. ‘Naïve ones,’ or the ‘simple’ (petî) are those who are gullible, silly and naïve (Prov. 14:15; 22:3). They love to exercise their willfulness and act irresponsibly (Prov. 1:32). They tend to be thoughtless toward others (Prov. 19:25). Indeed, their folly is a source of pleasure to them (Prov. 15:21). They waste their lives chasing after what does not matter (Prov. 15:21). We all begin in the naïveté of the simple. Left undirected and unrestrained, the power of the vortex begins the downward tug of rebellion that will destroy our lives (Prov. 22:3). At this stage the simple are still reachable and able to be rescued from the current of their foolishness (Prov. 19:25).The second group wisdom addresses are the ‘scoffers.’ The scoffer despises being amended in his actions or thinking (Prov. 9:7, 8; 13:1; 15:12). His independence makes movement toward wisdom impossible (Prov. 14:6). The scoffer is no longer a simpleton who curiously investigates folly here and there, but is one who has become confirmed in his reviling of all authority (Prov. 21:24; 22:10; 29:8). The sad verdict awaiting the scoffer is that the God whom he has scoffed will, in the end, return the favor back upon his head (Prov. 3:34). The third group is the ‘fools.’ This is the most common term referring to the fool in Proverbs. It indicates one who is thick-headed and stubborn. It is not that the fool is stupid, but rather that he has, by his refusal to listen to the wisdom of his parents, chosen a resolutely self-destructive outlook on life. The source of his problem is a spiritual, not a mental, deficiency. He has no place for truth in his life and no time for the fear of the Lord (Prov. 14:8; 1:29). The kesîl brings agony, bitterness and catastrophe to his parents (Prov. 10:1; 17:21; 17:25; 19:13). Not only does he bring his parents ruin, he despises them (Prov. 15:20).
The problem lies in our affections. We ‘love’ what ought to frighten us, we ‘delight’ in what should repulse us, and we ‘hate’ what should be most cherished. Wisdom rightly queries: ‘How long?’
1:23. ‘Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.’
The first verb is not an imperative (as per the nasb), but an imperfect. It is used conditionally: ‘If only you would respond to my reproof’ (neb). The response to reproof is to ‘turn’ or perhaps better ‘turn back.’ This is the Hebrew word for repentance. ‘For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:909.
While reproof is distasteful, it can be liberating if embraced. What we turn from is surpassed by what we receive as we turn to God. Here God’s Spirit and word are promised to those humble enough to turn toward wisdom. The nasb does not see this as a reference to God the Spirit, but compare this with Isaiah 11:2: ‘The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord’ (nkjv). God promises to ‘pour out’ His Spirit when we turn to Him. The picture is of the ‘uncontrollable or uncontrolled gushing forth’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:548. of a spring (cf. Prov. 18:4). ‘He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke of the Spirit ...’ (John 7:38-39a).
Wisdom also promises ‘I will make known my words to you.’ The Spirit and the word always together and always in harmony! ‘It is the Spirit who gives life ... the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life’ (John 6:63). Never object that you can’t change – of course you can’t! But, once your will is turned toward God, He will enable you by His Spirit and His word to walk in the liberty of His wisdom.
1:24. ‘Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention;’
This begins a series of four lines describing the rejection of wisdom. Apparently the offer of wisdom has been extended for some time, and rejected all along the way (cf. ‘How long?,’ v. 22). A final offer has been made (v. 23). Time has been given, but the stubborn refusal to heed wisdom’s voice has set in (vv. 24-25), and thus the doom of walking in foolishness appears inevitable (vv. 26-33).
Sometimes the refusal is conscious and calculated: ‘I called, and you refused.’ Other times it is indifferent and inattentive: ‘I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention.’ Whether through conscious rejection or distracted indifference, the rejection of wisdom is costly. The voice of God is heard but not heeded and the providential actions of God are not noticed. Cf. Isaiah 65:1-2.
1:25. ‘And you neglected all my counsel, And did not want my reproof;’
The rejection of wisdom begun in verse 24 is matched by two more lines here. The action of wisdom is described as ‘counsel’ and ‘reproof.’It is one thing to spurn the temporal counsel of man, but ‘the counsel of the Lord stands forever’ (Ps. 33:11a). This counsel is given us in the word of God (Ps. 119:24), and the purposes of God found there will never fail to be accomplished (Isa. 46:10). ‘Reproof’ describes the correction, rebuke or chastisement God gives to one whose steps lead them from these safe paths of God and into danger.
How foolish, then, when wisdom is ‘neglected.’ The Hebrew word originally meant to loosen, to release, or to set free. Here it refers to willfully ignoring instructions that are offered and thus coming into the negative consequences of not following them (cf. Prov. 13:18; 15:32).,’ New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 3:690. What may appear as ‘neglect’ of wisdom is in fact simply that we ‘did not want’ it, i.e. we willfully rebel against it (Deut. 1:26). The picture is of one blindly marching toward a precipice, yet resolutely refusing all offers to help him turn back from his impending doom.
1:26. ‘I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes,’
At first appearing heartless, this verse rather describes the retributive justice of a God who Himself has been mocked by sinners and fools. God laughs at the calamity of the wicked (Ps. 2:4; 37:13; 59:8), but only because they have first laughed at His wisdom (Prov. 29:9). The laughter should not be interpreted as calloused indifference, but as the tragic laughter of the One amazed by such foolish choices. Similarly, those who mock God and His ways (Prov. 14:9; 17:5; 19:28; 30:17) in the end will be mocked by Him.
This verse and the next introduce four words describing the judgment that falls upon those who spurn God’s wisdom. ‘Calamity’ describes the culmination of accumulated judgment as it breaks upon the head of the rebellious (Prov. 6:15; 24:16, 22; 28:14). ‘Dread’ is the realization of your worst nightmare. It refers both to the overwhelming terror that paralyzes and the person or thing that incites the panic.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:721. Such is the lot of those who spurn wisdom, but those who embrace her live securely (v. 33; 3:24, 25).
1:27. ‘When your dread comes like a storm, And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come on you.’
The list of words describing the judgment that befalls those who spurn wisdom continues from the previous verse. ‘Dread’ and ‘calamity’ are repeated from verse 26. ‘Distress’ and ‘anguish’ are new terms. ‘Anguish’ carries the idea of overwhelming external pressure that hems in and crushes. ‘Distress’ describes the anguish that comes from being so crushed. This (the combination of the four) ‘comes on’ the fool. Two of the terms have similes attached to heighten the effect, both giving the same effect but through different pictures. The overwhelming pressure of ‘dread’ comes upon the fool ‘like a storm.’ The land of Israel was familiar with the sudden thunderstorm that sent a downpour of rain, overwhelming the dry ground and turning dry river beds into swelling torrents. Suddenly without expectation a wall of water could be upon you. Similarly ‘calamity’ comes on ‘like a whirlwind.’ We might call it a tornado. With sudden, unannounced fury, winds of unmanageable speed and power whisk away what was considered secure.
The fool snubs wisdom to his own destruction. The Bible assures that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7) and that we will reap more than we sow: ‘They sow the wind, And they reap the whirlwind’ (Hosea 8:7).
1:28. ‘Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me,’
Calamity makes one wish for the security of wisdom, but the time for seeking her is then past. Wisdom implored them to come, but they had refused (v. 24). Now it is ‘they’ (all three times in the emphatic form) who beg for wisdom’s help, but she turns a deaf ear to them in their distress. Both ‘wisdom’ (Prov. 8:1, 4; 9:3) and folly (9:15) call out to us. Likewise, both ‘wisdom’ (Prov. 8:1-3) and folly (7:15) earnestly seek us. In their own good time, the foolish will reciprocate wisdom’s invitation and search. Indeed, we are to ‘call’ on God for wisdom (Prov. 2:3; 1 Kings 3:9; James 1:5) and we are to ‘seek ... diligently’ for wisdom (Prov. 2:1-5; 8:17). However, it is their timing that is the problem. They wanted to go their own way and God has granted them their wish. The life and blessing that wisdom bestows on those who have honored her (Prov. 1:33; 3:13; 8:17, 35) must appear a mocking thing (v. 26) to those who have waited too long to embrace her and are suffering the consequences.
1:29. ‘Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord.’
This judgment of silence (v. 28) may appear severe. Here, however, the truth of its cause comes out. They ‘hated’ knowledge (Prov. 1:22; 5:12; 8:36; 12:1; 15:10). Hate is ‘... an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship. It is therefore the opposite of love. Whereas love draws and unites, hate separates and keeps distant. The hated and hating persons are considered foes or enemies and are considered odious, utterly unappealing.’’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:879-880. Some things should be hated; indeed, even God hates some things (Prov. 6:16; 8:13)! We ought to hate as He hates. The fool, however, has embraced what should have been shunned and shunned what should have been embraced.
Likewise they did not ‘choose’ the fear of the Lord. ‘... the word is used to express that choosing which has ultimate and eternal significance.’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:100. How powerful simple choices can be! How sad, considering the wealth to be had in the fear of the Lord (cf. v. 7). They brought this judgment upon themselves. They exercised their God-given volition to reject God’s wisdom. It is not God who is to blame, but themselves.
1:30. ‘They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof.’
Like verse 29, this verse presents two reasons for the non-response of wisdom (v. 28) when called upon. The fool did not ‘accept’ counsel and he ‘spurned’ reproof. This failure to ‘accept’ refers to an unwillingness to bend the will to an obligation or request.,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:4. The fool declares, ‘No one is going to tell me what to do!’ ‘Spurned’ (Ps. 10:13; 107:11; Prov. 5:12; 15:5; Isa. 5:24) describes the action of one who ‘... not only “deprecates God’s power and ability to carry out his threats,” but his contemptuous view of God leads him to prefer sin to God and to express this contempt in conscious contempt of God ...’,’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:543. The scoffer disparages not only God’s commands, but God Himself.
1:31. ‘So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices.’
‘Fruit’ is a metaphorical reference to the consequences of one’s choices (Prov. 8:19; 11:30; 12:14; 13:2; 18:20, 21; 27:18). Experiencing the negative ramifications of one’s actions is often referred to as eating the fruit of one’s actions (Prov. 4:17; 18:21; 31:27). ‘Satiated’ represents a word normally reserved for describing the healthy and pleasurable satisfaction of food or the blessings of God (Prov. 3:10; 12:14; 13:25; 19:23; 20:13). However, it also is used negatively, almost satirically, as a reference to being stuffed on the repercussions of sin (Prov. 14:14; 18:20). Temptation creates an appetite for sin that seemingly cannot be satisfied (Prov. 27:20; 30:15, 16), but when the backlash of its ways catch up with us we despise the very thing we once craved (25:16; 27:7).
The worst judgment God may ever pronounce this side of eternity is to allow us to have the full impact of the ways we choose (Rom. 1:24-28). The guarantee of God is that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).
Note what caused this: ‘their own way’ and ‘their own devices.’ ‘Devices’ refers to counsel, advice, plans and input. The fool does not receive the counsel of others, and especially of God. Rather he blindly assumes the correctness of his ways and plunges headlong into ruin.
1:32. ‘For the waywardness of the naïve shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them.’
This verse and the next summarize and bring to a close the entire treatise on wisdom (vv. 20ff). This verse sums up the end of the fool and the next the security of the one who embraces wisdom. ‘Waywardness’ and ‘complacency’ are the choices that condemn the fool. The first is used elsewhere always of apostasy from Yahweh. Here the fool turns his back on wisdom and walks away, not realizing his defection leads to death. ‘Complacency’ describes an attitude of carelessness and false security.,’ New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:117. The fool assumes his security right up to the moment judgment breaks upon his head. Such was the attitude of Sodom right up to the day God obliterated them (Ezek. 16:49).
The character of those leading themselves to judgment is seen in the names given to them: ‘naïve’ (cf. v. 4) and ‘fools’ (cf. v. 22). Their ways ‘kill’ and ‘destroy’ them. One’s attitude toward God and His wisdom is not a simple matter of preference, but an eternal matter of life and death. To spurn wisdom is spiritual suicide.
1:33. ‘But he who listens to me shall live securely, And shall be at ease from the dread of evil.’
How different is the outcome of the one who embraces wisdom! In contrast to the self-destruction of the foolish (v. 32), here we meet the security of the one who heeds wisdom’s call. The difference is that the discerning one ‘listens’ to wisdom. To listen to wisdom was the opening call of the book (v. 8) and is her sustained cry throughout not only this first chapter, but the entire book (e.g. Prov. 4:10; 8:34; 23:19). Contrast the way the fool responded to the invitation to wisdom (vv. 29-30).
The reward is to ‘live securely,’ a phrase describing ‘... that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.’,’ Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:101. The wise man has not trusted in self and has found the peace of mind that comes from resting his lot with God. Likewise the prudent live ‘at ease from the dread of evil.’ ‘Evil’ here is not used in an ethical sense, but refers to misfortune or harm. ‘Ease’ translates a word that can mean everything from arrogance to complacency to peaceful ease. Here the idea is clearly positive and it is a peaceful freedom from worry that is intended (Isa. 32:18, 33:20; Jer. 30:10, 46:27).,’ New International Dictionary of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:10. ‘And the peace of God ... shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:7).
Wisdom’s opening invitation has been issued. The contrasting ways and outcomes of wisdom and folly have been established. The remainder of the book of Proverbs will further develop what has been so powerfully introduced to us in this opening chapter. May we now take wisdom’s hand and learn from her!