Today we will start the book of Proverbs. As we are looking at the history of Solomon’s life, we will consider his writings about where he would have written them. Proverbs is the earliest of the books of Solomon. It is written in the genre known as “Wisdom Literature.” Wisdom Literature is:
A genre of ancient literature characterized by an emphasis on teaching its audience the things necessary to attain to virtue and obtain divine favor. This genre makes up a large portion of the Hebrew Bible and is well attested in other ancient literatures—especially Egyptian and Mesopotamian.Stephen J. Bennett, “Wisdom Literature,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
What is contained in this book are not absolute promises. Rather, they are general principles. That Solomon says:
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.Proverbs 3:9-10
does not mean that everyone who honors God by being a good steward of what they have will have barns full to the brim with produce and a lifetime supply of Cabernet. What is means is that, generally, those who use what God has given them to honor Him, He will provide for. It does not exclude God keeping a faithful servant poor to achieve His good purposes.
So with that in mind, we begin. The book first introduces the author (1:1).1 Solomon begins by extolling the benefits of wisdom, which he defines as having understanding and the ability to accept instruction (v. 2) for the purposes of living rightly, justly, and equitably (v. 3), and the ability to teach others (v. 4) without ever ceasing to learn (v. 5) so as to understand hard things (v. 6). Solomon then tells us what this is really all about; what true wisdom is and how righteous living happens: the fear of YHWH is the root – the first thing we need (v. 7). And those who fear YHWH are contrasted with fools who don’t fear God, which means they don’t just lack wisdom; they hate wisdom.
After encouraging learning from those older and wiser, like parents (vv. 8-9), Solomon talks about resisting enticements to sin (vv. 10-19). It is easy to sin in numbers. But the end of the sinner is sure. Birds will not get caught in a net they plainly see (v. 17), yet man will sin knowing full well the outcome (v. 18), usually because of greed or covetousness (v. 19). In contrast, there is the call of wisdom (vv. 20-21). Many have taken wisdom here to symbolize Christ. While heeding Christ is wise, I am not sure that is a valid correlation. It is fear of the Lord and obedience to His Word that is the essence of wisdom. And this wisdom cries aloud everywhere, because everyone knows that God is. Yet the fool chooses foolishness (v. 22). Wisdom calls for repentance (v. 23), foolishness resists God (vv. 24-25). Again, the fool’s end is sure (vv. 26-27), and it is what he chooses (v. 29-30), which is why he’s a fool. The wise, however, will not meet that end (v. 33).
Chapter 2 opens by taking this one step further. Don’t just passively listen to wisdom. Seek wisdom (2:3-4)! This will lead you to a fear of the Lord, and knowledge of Him (v. 5). It is His Word that provides the wisdom we need (v. 6) and obedience to His Word protects us (v. 7, 11), leads to righteousness, justice, and equity (vv. 8-9 – see 1:3), and keeps us from evil (vv. 12-15). Those enticements to sin from 1:10-14 are now likened to a forbidden (literally “strange”) woman (v. 16). This is comparing sin to adultery – one is a betrayal of your spouse and the covenant you both made, the other is a betrayal of God and His covenant (v. 17). And the end of sinners is sure (vv. 18-19 – are we seeing a theme forming?). Inhabiting the land or being removed from the land (vv. 21-22) is covenant language. This is the blessing and the curse of God (see Deut 28).
Chapter 3 encourages heeding Solomon’s instruction, which he correlates with the keeping of commandments (3:1). We can hear the divine voice behind the inspired Solomon here. In verse 3, we are encouraged to not let hesed love and faithfulness forsake us. This is talking about God. This is an encouragement to keep the covenant and receive the blessing (2:21), rather than breaking it (2:17) and receiving the curse (2:22). Obedience will result in God’s favor. And what is obedience? Trusting God Who has already given us His favor. We trust Him, not ourselves (v. 5 ,7). We acknowledge Him, we consider Him, in all that we do and we will find righteousness (v. 6) and life (v. 8).
Rather than greed or covetousness, we are to honor God with what we have (v. 9). This will result not in worldly riches, but satisfaction with God’s provision (v. 10). The wise also heed God’s loving reproof of His children (vv. 11-12). God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, so He will graciously discipline us when we stumble. And the wise will heed His warning.
Solomon then tells us that this wisdom (fear of the Lord and obedience to His Word) is its own blessing (v. 13); a greater blessing than worldly riches (vv. 14-15). Wisdom leads to life, which is the true riches we should seek (v. 16, 18, 22). Verses 19-20 show the power of Godly wisdom. This is the power of the Christian life, rooted in fear of the Lord and obedience to His Word. It means security (v. 23), peace (v. 24), assurance (vv. 24-25), and faith (v. 26). Verse 27 shows how this Christian life is lived: obey the great and first commandment by obeying the second that is like it (see Matt 22:37-40). We should love our neighbor and do good to him without delay (v. 28).
Wisdom does not take advantage of trust (v. 29), argue for no reason (v. 30), or envy the evil (v. 31). Verses 32-35 draw a contrasts between the wise and the foolish. Note that the difference is in what they receive from God. The fool receives the curse (v. 33), scorn (v. 34), and shame (v. 35). The wise receive blessing (v. 33), grace (v. 34), and honor (v. 35).
It seems so obvious what we should choose. What do we choose?
1 It is highly unlikely that Solomon wrote the whole of the book, especially considering the last two chapters claim two other authors. It is even likely that he wrote none of the book. Rather, it is likely that this is a collection of writings and sayings of the wise king that was put together after his death, and that the wisdom of others was appended to the book.