Main Idea: A relationship with the Lord will make you wise for everyday life.
People desperately want to “win” at life. They want to succeed in everyday life, and Christians are no different. They search frantically for tips from books, from “experts” on TV talk shows, or in magazines. The problem is that many Christians look everywhere but the Bible to learn how to “win” at parenting, finances, marriage, the workplace, and other areas of life. They look to Dr. Phil or Oprah or Dear Abby or Delilah After Dark or Intelligence for Life by John Tesh. If you have to look to John Tesh for intelligence on life, you’re in trouble!
Even Christians who want a “Christian” perspective on these topics are more likely to look to a Christian book than to the Book—the Bible! So often we don’t want the Word. Instead, we want practical tips and strategies that have been plucked from the world. Sure, we believe the Bible is God’s Word and it’s authoritative, but we somehow buy into the misconception that it doesn’t do a great job of addressing the nitty-gritty details of daily life. So Christians will do no more than skim the Word devotionally to get some helpful tips for their day. The philosophies of the world primarily shape and fashion their worldview.
However, the problem doesn’t stop there. The problem is that even if we do look to the Book, and even if we do somehow pull out some tips for how to live a better life, more often than not we don’t follow what we already know. Oftentimes we know what to do, but we can’t bring ourselves to do it. Think of how often we mess up. Think of the hurtful words you’ve said to a friend or your spouse or your parents. Think of the times you’ve said more than you should say. Think of the times you spoke too quickly and couldn’t get your words back. Think about the time someone confronted you with something you needed to hear, and in anger you blew them off with, “Who do you think you are?!” Think about the times you should’ve lovingly confronted someone and didn’t. Think about that person whose feelings you hurt. Think about that lie you desperately hope your parents won’t find out or your boyfriend won’t find out or your wife won’t find out. Think about those things you keep hidden from your parents. Think about that time you screamed, “I hate you!” to your mom. Think about that secret that you just couldn’t keep to yourself, and in a moment of supposed confidential privacy you whispered in someone’s ear, “Well, did you hear what happened to . . . ?” Think about the times you’ve bragged about yourself so others would think you’re something. Think about the mistakes you’ve made with your children. Think about the times you didn’t discipline a behavior that has now gotten out of hand. Think about the times your children saw you do something you had told them not to do or heard you say something you told them not to say. Think about that grudge you’ve held and refused to let go because someone really hurt you. Think about the times you’ve been stingy with your money instead of generous to a person with a real need. Think about the frivolous spending that got you in trouble. Think about the get-rich-quick scheme that ruined you. Think about the times you didn’t finish your job assignment on time because you got sidetracked by Facebook. Think about the people you’re jealous of because they got the promotion that passed you by. Think about the times you’ve nagged or ignored helping your spouse. Think about how you repeat the same stupid mistake over and over and don’t learn from it. On and on and on we could go.
What does all of this tell us? It tells us that we have a major problem that no amount of tips will solve. It tells us that we are not wise and are often foolish. It tells us that we are broken and don’t work right. It tells us that we are in desperate need of wisdom to make decisions and navigate our way through life. But we can’t just say that we need wisdom and then go after it. Since we are broken, we don’t even follow the wisdom we already know. We do things we know are hurtful and foolish. We just can’t help ourselves.
The Bible says at creation there was perfect harmony between people and God, between people themselves, and between people and the world around them (Gen 1–2). There was an order to things. Human sin—the fall—broke all of that because people sought knowledge and wisdom apart from God (Gen 3). That messed everything up. Once a man’s vertical relationship with God was out of whack, so were his horizontal relationships with other people and the world around him. Are we really surprised that the first murder in history (Gen 4) followed soon after the fall of humanity?
Because of sin, there are barriers now between us and God, between us and others, and between us and the world around us. We no longer rightly perceive the way the world works—we no longer recognize the order—so we can’t navigate through daily life. God created the world with an order to work in a certain way, and we must live according to that to be truly wise; but in our brokenness we don’t see it.
Proverbs is all about restoring that harmony through Jesus Christ. Proverbs is all about becoming wise in everyday life through a relationship with Jesus—through the gospel. It’s about the life of the kingdom that God always meant for humankind to live. When our vertical relationship with God is right through Jesus, we can be right with others and the world around us.
Proverbs chapters 1–9 are the introduction to the book. It’s a long introduction—like most preachers’ sermons. Proverbs 1:1-7 is the preamble, the introduction to the introduction. This section tells us what the book is about and the book’s purpose. These are the “proverbs” (v. 1). The proverbs proper are the sentences of wisdom found in the book. Primarily what we think of when we think of “proverbs” are the short, pithy sayings contained in chapters 10–31. Proverbs 1–9 sets those up and shows us how to interpret them. This word for “proverbs” in verse 1 of the LXX (the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) is a word sometimes used for the parables of Jesus (e.g., John 10:6). Indeed, Jesus is the one “Greater than Solomon” who instructs us in the wisdom of the kingdom.
These are the proverbs “of Solomon” (v. 1). Solomon is the main author of Proverbs, which means that he is responsible for the majority of it. There are other authors like Agur and King Lemuel, but it should be no shock that Solomon is the main author. Solomon was the wisest man in Israel’s history because the Lord granted him a wish for wisdom (1 Kgs 3). First Kings 4:30-34 states,
Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone. . . . His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations.
Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs numbered 1,005. He spoke about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing out of the wall. He also spoke about animals, birds, reptiles, and fish. Emissaries of all peoples, sent by every king on earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom.
There are basically seven divisions in the book of Proverbs: (1) The Introduction (1:1–9:18); (2) Solomon’s Proverbs (10:1–22:16); (3) The Sayings of the Wise (22:17–24:22); (4) Further Sayings of the Wise (24:23-34); (5) Solomon’s Proverbs Collected by Hezekiah’s Men (25:1–29:27); (6) The Sayings of Agur (30:1-33); and (7) The Sayings of King Lemuel (31:1-31) (Waltke, Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, 4).
Here, in the “introduction to the introduction,” Solomon tells us what wisdom is.
These are the proverbs of Solomon, “son of David, king of Israel.” Wisdom is royal because it’s how kings rule their people. In 1 Kings 3:9 Solomon asks God for wisdom, which was for him the ability to rule well as king of Israel. He says, “So give your servant a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of yours?” And in Proverbs 8:15-16 Wisdom states, “It is by me that kings reign and rulers enact just law; by me, princes lead, as do nobles and all righteous judges.” Immediately Proverbs connects wisdom with the kingship and with the Messiah. “Son of David” is a messianic title. The Son of David will establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth, but he can only do it through wisdom—through justice (see 2 Sam 7; Isa 11). In Proverbs, Solomon is training his “son” in wisdom so that he can establish the messianic kingdom. As we will see, he is also instructing the youth of the nation in wisdom in hopes of producing it in them as well. But the king embodies the nation and represents the nation. If the king is wise, the people will be wise; but if the king is unwise, the people will be foolish. There is a need for a wise king who can produce a wise nation—a wise kingdom. Throughout Israel’s history the foolishness of the kings led to the difficulties and ultimately the destruction of the kingdom. The kings were fools, so the people were fools. As a result, there was death and chaos.
What does this mean for us? We need to see that the Son of David—Jesus of Nazareth—has established the messianic kingdom by fulfilling the wisdom of Proverbs. He is the wise Messiah promised in Isaiah 11 who will reestablish the harmony forfeited at the fall. We need to submit to his loving and wise rule so that he can produce wisdom in us. That’s our only path to wisdom. Proverbs is laying out how kingdom citizens should live and what the wise King will produce in them. Also, in the consummated kingdom the saints of Christ will rule the cosmos with him by the wisdom of God. Therefore, we need to learn this wisdom so we can rule rightly. In the “already” of the kingdom seen in the church—the outposts of the kingdom—we are in an internship for eternity, ordered now by the wisdom of God.
So Solomon’s purpose is to give wisdom in order to bring harmony to the kingdom. Proverbs 1:2 clearly states the purpose of the book—to impart wisdom to the reader. But what is wisdom besides the necessary means to rule? Solomon uses several words to help us grasp all that wisdom entails.
Proverbs 1:2 says the purpose of the book is to know “wisdom and discipline,” or “understanding and correction.” Wisdom is the kind of knowledge that helps you know what is going on around you. Are you able to read situations and people correctly? If not, you need discipline., 416). This requires the humility to recognize that you don’t know everything and to receive counsel from another. How do you respond to correction, to teaching, to counsel? That has a lot to do with whether or not you are wise. The know-it-all is not as wise as he thinks; the Bible says he’s a fool.
This word correction or discipline entails a discipleship-type relationship where you can be warned about going in the wrong direction, rebuked when needed, corrected to go in a different way or to think differently, and punished if you do not listen. Do you have any relationship in your life right now where someone can correct you? Do you have any relationship in your life where someone can call you to account and say, “What do you think you’re doing?” We all need pastors or parents or brothers and sisters in Christ who can correct us. That’s wisdom.
Solomon says that wisdom is ethical. He says the purpose of the book is for you as the reader to receive correction in order to be wise “in righteousness, justice, and integrity.” Therefore, biblical wisdom is not intelligence or a high IQ; it’s the knowledge of good and evil. A wise person can tell the difference between right and wrong in the situations in which they find themselves.
The problem for us is that even in the church we so often think of foolishness and wisdom as morally neutral. Pastors will even say things like being wise or foolish is not about right and wrong so much as best and not best. So foolishness is when I break my hand by slamming it on the floor because Tony Romo threw another interception to cost the Cowboys a playoff spot. That’s not necessarily a sin; it’s just stupid, a pastor will say. No! That’s not what the Bible means by wisdom and foolishness according to Proverbs 1:3. Foolishness lacks the ability to discern good and evil. It is a sin to be a fool. If I were to ask most people who on the sitcom The Simpsons is a fool, almost everyone who has ever watched it would say Bart because he does dumb things that get him in trouble. If I were to ask who is wise on The Simpsons, many would say Lisa because she has her head on straight. According to Proverbs, Lisa is just as foolish as Bart because she treats her parents like idiots. Folly is sinfulness and wisdom is righteousness according to Proverbs.
Adam and Eve are prohibited access to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. Why? God forbids them to eat that fruit not because he’s giving them an arbitrary rule to break so that one day he can send his Son to die for sinners and save us from hell. He wants to teach humanity to depend on God for that knowledge instead of determining it for ourselves. God determines what is good and what is evil; that’s not for us to decide. So we fear him by submitting to his Word. However, humans decided to trust the voice of the serpent and what their “own eyes” said was best. Adam and Eve sought wisdom apart from God and his Word. That’s foolishness. The fruit appeared desirable “to make one wise”—it seemed right to them, but it was foolish, and foolishness according to Genesis and Proverbs always ends in death. Wisdom comes from the mouth of God (Prov 2:6), so submit to the Word of God and not what you think is right.
The chaos and confusion in our society is due to humankind doing what is right in our own eyes rather than what God has revealed in his Word. That’s not just true for those “outsiders” who reject a sanctity of life ethic and those who redefine marriage. Many of us in the church also have failed to submit to God’s way. We agree that wisdom is to be found in God’s Word. And we agree that we should submit to what it says in all things, except for our own situations, which for some reason we always think are the exceptions. “I know God’s Word says I have no grounds for a divorce, but I also know God doesn’t want me to be miserable.” “I know God’s Word says I should submit to my husband, but you don’t know my husband.” “I know God’s Word says I should be generous, but I also know that God realizes I just don’t have a lot right now.” We find all kinds of ways to evade God’s Word for what is better in our own eyes. That’s foolishness.
Instead, we need to submit to the wisdom—the knowledge of good and evil—that God gives us clearly in the Word. The Lord reveals to us wisdom in his Word through the law. The law tells us right from wrong. Deuteronomy 4:6 says that Israel’s wisdom is to be found in keeping the law. Parents are instructed to teach the law to their kids so that the nation can remain in the land and not die in exile (Deut 6). The king was to be a man of the law so that his kingdom would be secure (Deut 17). In the book of Proverbs, Solomon is obeying both Deuteronomy 6 and 17 by instructing his son in the wisdom of right and wrong (Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation, 290). This is exactly what Solomon asked the Lord for in 1 Kings 3:9—the ability to “discern between good and evil.” What was denied to humanity in the garden is now given to humanity through the wisdom of Proverbs—the fear of the Lord!
Proverbs 1:4 says that wisdom is shrewdness and discretion. Wisdom is the ability to read a situation and make the right decision. That’s the point of the book. Solomon wants to give this discernment to the inexperienced and the youth. As we will see, Proverbs gives categories of people (inexperienced, mocking, foolish, wise, etc.). Inexperienced people are not wise or foolish yet; instead, they are open to instruction in wisdom or folly. They are gullible and usually believe the most recent thing they have heard. They are easily enticed or persuaded (see the discussion in Longman, Proverbs, 96–97). This is the audience that Solomon is going after because there is still hope. Inexperience and youthfulness often go hand in hand, and that is why Solomon is so concerned (as is Moses in Deut 6) with parents teaching their children right and wrong. Proverbs tells those of us who are parents (and grandparents) that it is our task to instruct our children in wisdom. Those who are young and those who are inexperienced need to acquire the ability to perceive what’s going on, make the right decisions, and avoid the bad ones.
Solomon says that a wise man will listen and increase in learning; a wise man will acquire direction and guidance. This is interesting. The audience that Solomon refers to in this verse is “a wise person.” He says that the wise need to grow in learning and get direction. Huh? Doesn’t being wise mean that you’ve arrived at the place where you don’t need to learn anymore? Solomon says that’s a foolish outlook on life. The truly wise will have the humility to know that they still need to listen to counsel instead of having the arrogance to think they have arrived. The wise recognize that no one graduates. We all need to hear the wisdom of Proverbs again and again throughout our lives. Wisdom is not a goal to attain; it’s a pursuit that you spend your whole life on.
Solomon says the point of the book is to help you understand these wise sayings so you can be wise and make wise decisions in your daily life. He’s laid out in this preamble the multifaceted nature of wisdom. Wisdom is being corrected and disciplined. Wisdom understands and reads situations. Wisdom is godly morality. Wisdom is justice. Wisdom is discretion and discernment of right and wrong, stupid and smart, what path to take and which one to avoid. Wisdom is listening to instruction and receiving guidance. But now that we know what wisdom is, the question remains, “How can we get it?”
(What Is the Key to Being Wise Like This?)
How can we be wise like this? How can we learn to read situations and make wise decisions? How do you get this multifaceted wisdom? As we will see throughout the book, Solomon says that all wisdom is “religious” or spiritual in nature because it’s only through a relationship with the Lord that one can be wise. The fear of—the reverence for—Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and discipline, but the wise person is the one who fears, trusts, and reverences Yahweh. This is the first step and the essential component in gaining wisdom—the fear of the Lord. Proverbs is quite clear that the way to get wisdom is to depend on God rather than on yourself (cf. 3:5-6). The everyday, nitty-gritty details of your life are to be lived in fear of God. There is no sacred and secular divide in your life. We so often think that “going to church” and mission efforts and quiet times are the godly things we do in life. Other things like our work, our kids’ soccer teams, or how we spend our money are the secular or neutral parts of our lives. Solomon crushes that. The everyday decisions that we make are to be done in fear of the Lord, and the everyday decisions we make reveal whether or not we fear the Lord. God is concerned with your whole life. The everyday decisions we make are indicators of whether we fear him or not. How you eat dinner, how you finish tasks assigned to you, how you spend money, how you parent your kids, and how you respond to your parents are all before the Lord. Every nook and cranny of your life is to be governed by God.
We all view the world in a certain way—through a certain lens. However, the fall of humankind into sin has assured that we do not see the world rightly. As an analogy, I ( Jon) am colorblind. I can’t tell the difference between red and green and a whole host of other colors. I don’t see the world the way it actually is. As a result, I make poor decisions with regard to fashion. In a very real way, that’s what is true of all of us in our sin. We don’t view the world the way it really is, so we make wrong decisions that go against the grain of how the world really is. However, if we will observe the world through the lens that God has given in fear of him, we can start perceiving how things really are. And once we start living according to that pattern, we will walk in wisdom.
The only way to be wise is to trust in the Lord and be in a relationship with him. Wisdom comes from Yahweh (2:6), so we are taught in the Bible to ask him for it (e.g., Jas 1). According to Proverbs, this wisdom is filtered through receiving instruction from a human mediator like a sage or a parent. In our context that might mean a parent, a godly and wise friend, a Bible teacher, or a pastor.
Fools are arrogant and refuse correction (Prov 1:7). They are worse than the inexperienced because they aren’t open to changing their minds. This means that really, really smart people can actually be fools. The question we all need to ask ourselves is, what category am I in? Am I one who is open to the instruction of the Lord? Am I one who is humble enough to seek counsel? Or am I a know-it-all? Am I a person who always thinks I’m right? Foolishness is doing what is right in your own eyes instead of what God has revealed. Disney says to “follow your heart,” but the Bible says those who are left to themselves and to their hearts will choose the wrong path. Following our heart is foolishness because we are broken people. Doing what is right in our own eyes is a recipe for disaster. Just read the book of Judges. There was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and the result was chaos (see esp. Judg 17–21). We need a loving and wise King who can rule over us. Proverbs reveals that Solomon is training a Son of David to do just that, and in the fullness of time we see that his name is Jesus of Nazareth. You see, Solomon fails to live out the wisdom of Proverbs, and so does his son King Rehoboam, who shows his foolishness by listening to his peers rather than the elders of Israel (see 1 Kgs 12). But Isaiah 11 promises that the Messiah will be the embodiment of the book of Proverbs. In fact, he is described with the words of Proverbs. Isaiah 11:2-3 states,
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight will be in the fear of the Lord.
And when Jesus of Nazareth bursts onto the scene, he grows in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people (Luke 2:52). He’s called greater than Solomon (Matt 12) and the “wisdom of God” for us (1 Cor 1:24,30). “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).
Getting wisdom is important because it will help you make decisions in everyday life. It will help you “win” at life. But failing to get wisdom will wreck your life. The problem for all of us is that we have failed repeatedly because even when we know what to do, we often don’t do it. This reveals our brokenness. Where do we turn? What’s the answer for us? How can we become wise when we are so broken we can’t even do what we know is right?
What if wisdom wasn’t a concept or an idea or a set of ideas you had to learn at all? What if Wisdom was a person you could know and have a relationship with? What if Wisdom was a person you could love and walk with, and just by knowing, loving, and walking with this person it would actually make you wise? What if Wisdom was a person who spoke to you, and by listening to Wisdom’s voice you could actually grow in wisdom? Proverbs will teach us that Wisdom isn’t an Israelite Dear Abby” from Russell Moore’s messages on Proverbs.; it’s not a bunch of tips you learn to live out. Wisdom is a person—Jesus of Nazareth. Through a relationship with him you can be reconciled to God, to others, and to the world around you. Through a relationship with him, he will begin to produce in you the wisdom he lives out—the wisdom of Proverbs!