The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young –
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance –
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,(Prov. 1:1-7 NIV)
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The first seven verses form the introduction to the whole book. The importance of the fear of the Lord is stressed in the structure of the book. 1:7 mentions the fear of the Lord at the end of the introduction and the fear of the Lord is mentioned again at the end of the book 31:30.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.(Prov. 31:30 NIV)
The next section 1:8- 9:18 ( A descriptive section on wisdom preparing us for the proverbs or sayings that will be listed from ch 10 to the end) ends in
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.(Prov. 9:10 NIV)
The Proverbs are described as the proverbs of Solomon. They are the proverbs of Solomon in the sense that Webster’s dictionary is today the dictionary of Webster. Others have come along and edited and compiled the proverbs, but they still are called the proverbs of Solomon. Examples of other contributors are named, such as the sayings of King Lemuel in Prov 31 and the sayings of King Agur in Prov 30. Some have argued that Lemuel and Agur are pseudonyms for Solomon but that appears to be inconsistent with the internal text. (That is all I will say about authorship. I read what the commentators say about authorship and composition and any documents that might lie behind the book. But I am always more interested in the final form of the book, its place in the canon and the literary structure and the literary devices that are used in how God says what He says. As was mentioned yesterday I will refer to ‘the Teacher’ throughout the book.)
The Bible is the voice of God inviting us into His eternal life. During the OT era God channelled His speaking to us into three ways. The priests taught the law, the prophets declared His word, and the sages, or wise men, gave His counsel. Both the commands of the Law and the warnings of the prophets spread out great truths of God, the grand story (metanarrative) that makes sense of everything. But we need more. We live day to day in a world where there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the warnings of the prophets. So God has given us the wisdom of the Teacher.
The proverbs are for gaining wisdom and instruction. This instruction is about the fear of the Lord and godly character. The evangelical church has lost its sense of godly character. As long as the Gospel is preached, some people seem happy to be as rude and angry as they want. Of course, the evangelical church today is not the first generation to have this problem. Proverbs drills down into this very practical way of living, very much like we saw in the book of James. If you are always rude and angry, we don’t have to explore any further to enquire about godliness. The fear of the Lord is so very closely associated with the respect that we have for our neighbour. The fear of the Lord and respect for our neighbour doesn’t come as second nature to us, we have to learn proper fear and proper respect. One commentator says, ‘We must ask ourselves whether our churches are becoming communities of character where truth is spoken, power politics rejected, generosity practiced, and peace maintained. It should not surprise us that the church becomes more conflicted as our culture becomes more contentious.’ We have seen over Brexit debates and much of the debate over Covid how rude and angry the politicians are, and how disrespectful the politicians are towards each other. The church needs the book of Proverbs so that we can gain wisdom and instruction. Before I can show respect to my neighbour, I need to learn to fear the Lord. But before I can exhibit the fear of the Lord, I will first exhibit the respect of my neighbour. (Remember when the Lord was testing whether the ruler loved God and loved neighbour in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He tested on whether he loved his neighbour. We can fool ourselves and others about our love for God. But our love or lack of love for our neighbour is usually the tell-tale sign that we lack love for God.)
To acquire wisdom is to acquire learning that helps one know what to do in a given situation. It includes knowledge and skill, whether that skill is applied to craft work or to the business of right living. The role of learning was from the older to the younger. We should learn wisdom from those who are older. Having experience is not the same thing as having wisdom. Many have experience but have never learned from that experience. They leave a catalogue of broken relationships behind them. We should learn by choosing the best role models. But that learning process must begin with the fear of the Lord and a right relationship with God.
In order to acquire wisdom, we must submit to instruction, especially instruction in the sense of correction and discipline. We must learn to correct our behaviour, our speaking and our thinking. In order to master life, one must learn first to master self.
Make me a Channel of Your peace:
Lord as we approach Your word about learning wisdom we fear that at our stage in the Christian life we have not learned all that we should have. Lord we thank You that though we have these great challenges ahead of us we have hope because Christ is our wisdom. We thank You that we are resurrected people and there is always the possibility of redemption for us. Help us to redeem the time that we have before us and sit before the Holy Spirit that we might learn wisdom and instruction because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.