Introduction: Read text. Parked on the side of the road, waiting to catch speeding drivers, a state trooper sees a car puttering along at 22 mph. Thinking the driver is as dangerous as a speeder, the state trooper turns on his lights and pulls the car over.
As he approaches the vehicle, the officer notices there are five elderly ladies inside—two in the front seat and three in the back—wide-eyed and white as ghosts.
The driver, obviously confused, says, “Officer, I don't understand. I was going the exact speed limit. What seems to be the problem?”
The trooper, trying to contain a chuckle, explained to her that 22 was the route number—not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the woman grins and thanks the officer for pointing out her error.
“Before you go,” the officer says, “I have to ask: Is everyone in this car okay? These women seem awfully shaken.” “Oh,” she answered, “they'll be all right, sir. We just got off of Route 127.”
Submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky
Who would you like to fix your car? Let me give you two choices:
1. A young man who just graduated from mechanics school, knows all about car parts from book-learning, and is certified to the hilt
2. A man who didn’t even graduate from high school, but has been fixing cars for over 30 years
Biblical wisdom is practically applying in life what one knows to be true. It is doing so in the fear of the LORD. Wiersbe points out that Cervantes, the Spanish novelist, defined the word proverb as a “short sentence based on long experience” (Be Skillful, 12).
The Definition of a Proverb (1.1)
Proverbs 1:1 “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel…”
One man defined the concept of proverbs as “the child of experience.” This is how Proverbs meets human need. The world struggles with sexual immorality, poor financial management, dependency upon drugs and alcohol, and honesty. Proverbs is a collection of self-evident truths or maxims which are put together in such a way that we remember them. I might be able to preach a sermon on pride that exhausts everything the Bible has to say on the subject; however, you’re more likely to remember one proverb on the subject of pride. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16.18).
It might be good for us to think of Proverbs as God’s parenting book for His children. Only the children of God willing to obey truly profit from a study of the Book of Proverbs. The biblical proverbs are generalized maxims of life. This simply means that they are usually true but not absolutely true. They are proverbs not promises.
· So, a soft answer will not always turn away wrath, but generally it will (15.1).
· A friend doesn’t love us all the time (17.17), but generally they do.
· The godly generally live long, productive lives, but sometimes they die young.
· The wicked generally live short, unproductive lives, but sometimes they live to a very old age.
· You can train up a child in the way he should go and he may depart from it and die as an atheist (22.6).
Proverbs come in various categories which are helpful to understand in order to correctly interpret them:
1. Observational proverbs do not contain moral judgments. “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches” (13.7). The observation does not culminate in moral or ethical conclusion. It simply states that sometimes rich people make themselves out to be poor and poor people make themselves out to be rich.
2. Didactic proverbs do contain moral judgments. “Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but wickedness overthrows the sinner” (13.6). We must learn by the negative consequences of choosing the wrong way.
3. Admonishing proverbs command or prohibit. “Commit your works to the LORD, and your thoughts will be established” (16.3; command). “Do not malign a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be found guilty” (30.19; prohibition).
4. Numerical proverbs bind similar items together in a list for emphasis. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, ‘Enough!’: The grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water – and the fire never says, ‘Enough!’” (30.15-16).
5. Rhetorical proverbs cause us to pause and think. "Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know" (30.4)?
6. Lengthy wisdom poems are also found in Proverbs. Consider Proverbs 31 and its teaching on the virtuous woman. An added literary element is that this poem is an alphabetic acrostic in Hebrew.
7. Parental advice discourses in Proverbs are settings in which a parent exhorts a child to gain wisdom and keep from evil.
8. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs (1.20-33; 8.1-36).
9. Stories appear in Proverbs to reinforce a particular teaching (7.6-27).
10. Reflections and confessions appear in Proverbs in order to teach the reader from personal experience (4.3-9; 30.2-4).
These are the proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel. As one sun sets in David, another rises in the son called Solomon. Solomon acknowledged his responsibility as Israel's new king in prayer: "Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. and Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore, give to Your servant an understanding (literally, a hearing) heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil" (1 Kings 3.7-9).
The LORD answered Solomon immediately and verbally: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you" (1 Kings 3.12-13).
The Purpose of Studying Proverbs (1.2-4)
Proverbs 1:2–4 To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, 3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; 4 To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion—
1. To Know Wisdom (2) - wisdom here means more than accumulating facts or mental sharpness. Psalm 107.27 introduces us to a word picture that hones the idea of biblical wisdom. Sailors in this verse are said to reel to and fro on a ship like a drunken man. The text then states that these men are at their wits' end. The marginal note in our NKJ Bibles communicates the idea of the wisdom of these men being swallowed or used up. That is, they no longer have the skills needed to weather the storm. Wisdom is competence or skill to handle life.
2. To Know Instruction (2) – the disciplined process we go through in order to gain the skill set called wisdom is the process of knowing instruction.
3. To Perceive Words of Understanding (2) – perceptiveness is the ability to see and draw proper distinctions in life. It is the ability to do God’s will God’s way.
4. To Receive the Instruction of Wisdom (3) – this is the discipline of working for insight on a matter.
5. To Receive the Instruction of Justice (3) – the discipline of righteousness; right behavior
6. To Receive the Instruction of Judgment (3) – the discipline of proper decision-making; discernment
7. To Receive the Instruction of Equity (3) – the discipline of a principled life; moral integrity
8. To Give Prudence to the Simple (4) – prudence is subtlety or craftiness. This means that even the simple (open-hearted; susceptible to external impressions of others; easily misled; childlike) can learn to detect craftiness and subtlety in others. “A prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (22.3).
9. To Give Knowledge to the Young Man (4) – information proven by experience
10. To Give Discretion to the Young Man (4) – the ability to think through a situation
The Benefit of Studying Proverbs (1.5)
Proverbs 1:5 A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.
Wise people are people who hear. They listen and learn. That is, they listen and hear in sense of obeying. That obedience opens new vistas of learning. There are wise people who fail to listen, and they become “wise in [their] own eyes” (26.12). There is more hope for a fool than there is for a wise man that will not listen.
People of understanding seek correction and the acquisition of wise counsel. This is why self-confidence and arrogance are deadly. People who are the masters of their own fate are beyond reaching when it comes to offering wise counsel. They simply feel as if they do not need it. A willingness to receive the counsel from others is a hallmark of true wisdom. “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (9.9).
A homeless man in New York City rebuked a pastor one day. The pastor found him going through a trashcan on the side of his Manhattan church building. The pastor was irritated, and said to the man, “Hey, when you're through with the can, put it all back, and make sure the lid is on.” The pastor started to walk away.
“Just a minute,” the homeless man called out. The pastor turned to face him. He said, “I'll be glad to do what you asked if you ask me respectfully.” Respectfully! The preacher learned a lesson about accepting a rebuke of wise counsel from an unlikely source. Even the homeless man knew disrespect when he heard it.
The pastor drew in his breath and said, “You're absolutely right, and I'm so sorry. Sir, when you're finished, it would mean a lot to me if you would please make sure the area is tidy.”
"I'd be glad to," he responded. The two shook hands.
Gordon MacDonald, "The Gift of Rebuke," Leadership (Fall 2002), p. 78
The Methodology of Proverbs (1.6)
Proverbs 1:6 To understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles
The method of our learning is advanced in v. 6: wise people understand…
1. Proverbs - thought-provoking maxims or comparisons
2. Enigmas - obscure things; complexity hindering meaning
3. Words of the Wise - the wisdom coming from Solomon primarily (literally God-breathed), but also from all wise and godly men
4. Riddles - the obscure things, the dark sayings; that which leaves one in the dark
Biblical wisdom, then, provides resolution to ambiguity and obscurity in life. The truly wise can understand that which has eluded many on the outside. This is why Jesus taught in parables. Those receiving biblical wisdom are given the ability "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (who won’t receive biblical wisdom) it has not been given" (Matt 13.10-11).
The Starting Point in Proverbs (1.7)
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge
· Beginning as the principal part
· Beginning as the foundational element
· Beginning as the initial step or starting point
Both Proverbs 1.7 and Proverbs 9.10 say the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom/knowledge.” The English word beginning means the starting point in 1.7, but in 9.10 it means that this is the priority or most important part.
The fear of the LORD is a willingness to see that God has all authority and we must submit to Him; it keeps us walking with the LORD and away from evil. The starting point of knowledge is the fear of the LORD. Before the acquisition of wisdom, the fear of the LORD must already be in place. The fear of the LORD is the fear generated by the idea of offending a holy God. Our love for God intensifies our fear of Him.
For years, the opening of ABC's The Wide World of Sports illustrated "the agony of defeat" through the painful ending of an attempted ski jump. The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the slope, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head-over-heels off the side of the jump and bounced off the supporting structure. I remember grimacing whenever I saw this.
What I didn't know was why the skier chose to fall. As he explained later, the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp he realized that if he completed the jump, he would land on the level ground, beyond the safe landing zone, which could have been fatal. As it was, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble.
The fear of the slope, the fear of flying too high, and the fear of the fall led him to change course. Fear led to life. The fear of the Lord likewise will turn us from the snares of death; it is the starting point for the acquisition of wisdom.
Jeff Arthurs, "Clearing the Debris," PreachingToday.com
But fools despise wisdom and instruction
There is no real wisdom without the fear of the LORD. Fools latch to godless philosophies and senseless suppositions. Wordy and heady scholars vainly grasp at the wind with their vain theorizing.
“A principle that believers must teach their children is that in their pursuit of wisdom they will be surrounded by others going the opposite direction who will be encouraging them to do likewise. In this fashion the polarity of the entire Book of Proverbs—the way of the wise and the way of the fool—is introduced. The reader faces the alternatives and is challenged to attain wisdom through the fear of God.” (NAC, Proverbs, 68)
So, we begin our study and pursuit of wisdom by understanding our alternatives – the way of the wise and the way of the fool – and our starting point: Living in the fear of God.