Proverbs and Wisdom

The purpose of Proverbs—to gain wisdom

The Proverbs are written, “…for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young…” (pr. 1:2-4)

Three kinds of people in Proverbs   

  1. Naive ones/simple ones or youth (people who lack the knowledge and experience for making wise decisions and who have not yet made a clear commitment to wisdom or folly).
  2. Scoffers/mockers who ridicule God’s will and ways — and delight in doing it.
  3. Fools: the most well-known group.  They hate knowledge and reject the fear of the Lord.

The most important thing to obtain

Solomon’s primary concern is not for his son’s economic prosperity, nor for his educational accomplishment, nor for his attainment of social status. His primary concern is for his son’s moral integrity (cf. Better than sayings, Proverbs 19:1,22; 28:6). To safeguard this, his son must gain wisdom.

“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (pr. 3:13-15).

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (pr. 4:7; cf. Eph. 5:15-17).

Wisdom personified

Throughout chapters 1-9, wisdom is personified in a variety of ways. In 1:2 wisdom is an abstract quality to be attained, in verses 20-33 wisdom is a person who makes appeals— who commands, promises, warns, rebukes and makes claims for herself. In chapters 1-9 wisdom is presented as a woman, a sister, a prophet, a teacher, a beloved one, and a hostess.

The most intense example of the personification of wisdom is Chapter 8.

Wisdom speaks in first person

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary, so that the water should not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.”

“Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways.  Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord. But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death” (pr. 8:22-36).

Wisdom and God

For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverbs 2:1-7).

Wisdom is not merely street smarts or shrewdness based on self-interest. We know this because, “…the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), wisdom cannot be attained where God is not honored. This emphasis is what distinguishes biblical proverbs from other ancient proverbial literature.

As our children grow older, they begin to formulate goals and ambitions. When their goals are good ones, parents are wise to support them in them. But the best goals, devoid of deep devotion to God, are empty paths away from the rich wisdom God offers to those who seek him in all things. Remember also that in Jesus “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Wisdom and the fear of God

In Proverbs, a choice for wisdom is a response to the Lord, (i.e. a choice to fear the Lord). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). A person who fears the Lord accepts wisdom and instruction; takes advice; trusts in the Lord with all his heart; and acknowledges the Lord in all his dealings. This person does not see himself and his own opinion as the primary basis for what he believes and does.  He recognizes his own inadequacies and God’s superiority.  Therefore he is teachable and accepts counsel.

In contrast, the fool despises wisdom and instruction; scoffs at rebuke; his way seems right to him; he is wise in his own eyes; he does not fear the Lord; and he does not accept advice and counsel unless it agrees with what he already concludes— he thinks he knows better.

“The beginning,” is not meant to imply that this is the first step and after taken you move on to other matters. It is “the beginning” in that it is the primary and controlling factor in the pursuit of wisdom. To profit from proverbs and gain wisdom you must start with an attitude that recognizes God’s superiority, especially over your own opinions.

The fear of the Lord is the pre-requisite to every right attitude. “This truth keeps the shrewdness of proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair” (The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner).


Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) 

Relate: Genesis 22:12; Deuteronomy 5:29

Questions for discussion:

1. What does Proverbs 2:1-5 reveal about the task of obtaining wisdom? (see also: Pr. 11:2; Ps. 25:9; Ja. 3:13-17)
2. How does Proverbs 2:6 direct our pursuit of wisdom in relation to II Timothy 3:15-17?
3. How do the following verses shape the definition of wisdom: Proverbs 8:13; 9:10; Job 28:28?
4. What do the following verses teach about the fear of the Lord:

      • Proverbs 14:26
      • Proverbs 14:27
      • Proverbs 16:6
      • Proverbs 19:23

5. How should we define wisdom and relate it to other words like understanding, prudence, knowledge and discretion? Wisdom and understanding are different from knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge applied. It is along the lines of perception and discernment. It requires knowledge to a degree but it handles knowledge the right way. It is possible to have vast knowledge and still be a fool.

6. Eve chose what appeared promising “to make one wise”(Genesis 3:6) but in that choice what did she deny? (See: Proverbs 1:7). What type of wisdom did she desire?

7. How do I Kings 3:5-13 and James 1:5 relate to wisdom?

8. Have you ever witnessed the description in Proverbs 14:9? How?

Reflection:  From Dr. Warren Wiersbe

“Obtaining spiritual wisdom isn’t a once-a-week hobby, it is the daily discipline of a lifetime. But in this age of microwave ovens, fast foods, digests, and numerous other ‘made easy’ books, many people are out of the habit of daily investing time and energy in digging deep into Scripture and learning wisdom from the Lord. Thanks to television, their attention span is brief; thanks to religious entertainment that passes for worship, their spiritual appetite is feeble and spiritual knowledge isn’t ‘pleasant to [their] soul’ (Prov. 2:10).  It’s no wonder fewer and fewer people ‘take time to be holy’ and more and more people fall prey to the enemies that lurk along the way . . .People are willing to work diligently in their jobs because they know they’ll earn a paycheck, but what about applying themselves diligently to God’s Word in order to gain spiritual riches that are more valuable than gold and silver and jewels, riches that will last forever? (See 2:4; 3:13-15; 8:10-21; 16:16). There’s a price to pay if we would gain spiritual wisdom, but there’s an even greater price to pay if we don’t gain it.”

Steve Cornell

See also: Does Proverbs promise too much?

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Christian worldview, Fools, Proverbs, Wisdom, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink.

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