Proverbs: Introduction – Proverbs 1
Read the Passage: Proverbs 1
Authorship and Date: King Solomon is noted as the main author of the book of Proverbs three times in this text (cf. Prov. 1:1; 10:1; 25:1). In fact, in the Hebrew Bible this book is titled “The Proverbs of Solomon.” Recall that God had granted Solomon unusual divine wisdom near the beginning of his reign (cf. 1 Kings 3:9–12; 4:29–34; 2 Chron. 1:8–12). 1 Kings 4:32 notes that Solomon “spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005” (cf. Eccl. 12:9). Since the book of Proverbs only contains only 513 proverbs, many of Solomon’s proverbs were not recorded, or at least not preserved. Furthermore, it is clear that Solomon is not the sole author of the proverbs in this book, as the text itself attributes some of the proverbs to others, including Hezekiah’s servants, Agur, and Lemuel, among others. Note that Solomon also wrote Psalms 72, 127, the book of Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. King Solomon ruled Israel from 971–931 BC, thus most of this book was written during this era, although it may not have been compiled until a later date. Contextually, observe that the wider genre of wisdom literature consists of the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.
Theme and Purpose: Proverbs are simple moral statements that offer practical teachings about life in the world. Areas of life addressed by the proverbs include marriage, family, finances, speech, business, wealth, and poverty, among other areas. The overarching theme of the book of Proverbs is the contrast between wisdom and folly. Wisdom entails knowledge, understanding, and obedience; all of which leads to life, prosperity, and joy. In contrast, folly entails ignorance, self-seeking, and rebellion; all of which leads to shame, misery, and death. In short, wisdom can be defined as the practical application of God’s Word to daily living. Jesus, who is the very Word of God (cf. John 1:1), is the epitome of wisdom, as He “became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). Indeed, in Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), for “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding” are upon him (Isa. 11:2) and He is “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42). A key to interpreting this book is to observe that proverbs are general, practical, principles about life, not specific, theological, laws such as are found elsewhere in the Bible.
Structure and Outline: Given that this text is a collection of short sayings that are oftentimes thematically unrelated, it is difficult to outline the book of Proverbs. A general, suggested, short outline that highlights the authorship of this text is as follows:
- Solomon’s Early Proverbs (chs. 1–9)
- Solomon’s Later Proverbs (chs. 10–22)
- Sayings of the Wise (chs. 23–24)
- Solomon’s Compiled Proverbs (chs. 25–29)
- Agur’s Proverbs (ch. 30)
- Lemuel’s Proverbs (ch. 31)
Purpose of Proverbs (1:1–6)
Proverbs 1:1–6 gives a prologue to the book, as it introduces the reader to the benefits of reading and studying the Proverbs. In these six verses the reader is promised: wisdom, instruction, discernment, understanding, training, justice, judgment, equity, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, and counsel. These themes will re-occur throughout the book of Proverbs, especially the idea of wisdom. Wisdom is spiritual prudence or the ability to see life from God’s perspective. As was previously noted, wisdom entails the skill of practically applying God’s Word to daily living. Someone who is wise is competent at making the right choice, at the right time, in regard to the complex realities of life. Negatively speaking, wisdom is not learning the hard way. James exhorts God’s people, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Jas. 1:5).
Beginning of Wisdom (1:7)
Proverbs 1:7 is a key verse for this book. Here Solomon writes, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7; cf. 9:10; 15:33; Eccl. 12:13). The term “fear” does not refer to terror, but to a reverential awe that produces submission and obedience. Note the phrase the “fear of the Lord” occurs 27 times in the Bible, 14 of which are in the book of Proverbs, with every occurrence of the phrase being related to mankind’s behavior stemming from knowledge of God. The two times the phrase “the fear of the Lord” appears in the New Testament are noteworthy. In Acts 9:31, Luke writes, “So the church [was] . . . walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, [and] it multiplied.” Similarly, in 2 Cor. 5:11, Paul addresses the church at Corinth, as he writes, “Knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Avoidance of Folly (1:8–19)
In Prov. 1:8–19 Solomon exhorts his readers to refrain from listening to and keeping company with those who are self-serving and who purposefully dis-love others. In this passage Solomon refers to these individuals as “sinners” (Prov. 1:10), although he will usually call them, along with those who follow them, “fools” in the rest of the book of Proverbs. The term “fool” occurs 66 times in this book. There are two important concepts here that should not be missed. First, the wise man is not contrasted with the ignorant man in Proverbs, he is contrasted with a fool. This shows that wisdom is not just knowledge; rather, it is the practical application of biblical knowledge. Second, to be foolish is not to be ignorant; it is to act in a self-centered and unloving manner. Therefore, one can lack general knowledge and be still be wise, or have specific knowledge and still be a fool.
- What is true wisdom? How does wisdom differ from knowledge?
- How can we get wisdom? Can an unbeliever gain wisdom or is it only for followers of Christ?
- Do most Christians fear the Lord? What does it mean to fear the Lord?
- What would happen if more believers exhibited a fear of the Lord?
- How can we resist fools—that is, those who teach and spread worldly wisdom?