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.
Wisdom does not suddenly descend upon us. We gain wisdom and instruction in order to enable us to understand words of insight. That surely requires that we need to read. Reading is something that I emphasise because sadly many Christians do not read. I know of many Christian graduates who have not read a book since they left university. In fact, it is hard enough these days to encourage theological students to read a complete book. But the emphasis here is in the reading of the word of God. If we are not reading these words of insight that God has given us, we will miss out on the instruction on prudent behaviour. Prudent behaviour is doing what is right, just and fair. This is the standard for human action. This should not be dismissed as legalism. We could easily compare this with the very practical outcome of having the fruit of the Spirit.
The purpose of learning is to teach the simple (babes in Christ) what is right, just and fair. This person is not lacking in intelligence but lacking in instruction. In our daily lives we need more than rules. Wisdom fills in the blanks between the rules. But we need wisdom for another reason. It is possible to live by all the rules and be ugly about it.
Wisdom: She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.”(Prov. 4:9 NIV)
Many Christians remain simple, uninstructed. There is a challenge here for us to examine our lives to see if our words, actions and thoughts are right, just and fair. A very real question is, ‘how can we assess ourselves to know if we are really right, just and fair?’ The answer is to study the book of Proverbs, to meditate upon the proverbs, which will get us thinking about our behaviour and attitude.
Why tell the wise to listen? If they were wise would they not already know to listen? There is a little irony here. The wise are unlikely to claim that they are wise, because wisdom would have taught them humility. The wise who are addressed here are those who already think they are wise and that they have nothing new to learn. As I get older there is one thing that I want to make sure to maintain and that is a teachable spirit. The more we read God’s word, the more we will realise what we still need to learn. Wisdom is not so much a goal to be attained as a posture of humility. The humility of the learner allows life experience, illuminated by Scripture, to become one’s teacher.
The warning of wisdom literature is that the simple can easily be led astray. If we remain simple (untaught) there is a very real danger that we can be led astray.
The wise are those who choose to follow the path that is set out in God’s word. The fool is the person who despises wisdom and instruction. The simple is the person who is yet to pursue either the path of wisdom or the path of folly.
The Teacher then sets out the means of instruction, they are the proverbs, parables, sayings and riddles of the wise. It is not possible to take every instruction and show that it belongs to just one of these four categories as they overlap in their meaning. Each of them hides in order to reveal. Every pithy saying, every astute observation, every moral exhortation in the book of Proverbs is meant to lead us to awe-filled knowledge of God. The meaning is not always immediately obvious. The instructions cause us to pause and think. We live in an age where we want instant answers. Each of the instructions in Proverbs will require a little work on our part to be able to discern what is meant. I’ll certainly attempt to help show the meaning, but each of us will have to learn to apply these instructions to different circumstances in our lives. For example, I can explain what these two verses mean:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.(Prov. 26:4-5 NIV)
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
The explanation will show what you have probably already figured out – they appear to give opposite advice. As we learn wisdom ourselves, we will know when each piece of advice is appropriate and when it is not.
V1-7 form the introduction to the book of Proverbs and the Teacher has left the most important point to the end of his introduction:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.(Prov. 1:7 NIV)
The term ‘the fear of the Lord’ appears throughout the book of Proverbs. It reminds us that all these practical instructions have their foundation in a proper relationship with the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord there can be no instruction in wisdom, the wisdom that is from above. An increase in wisdom is not meant to help us outsmart others but to teach us to fear the Lord.
Lord help us to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we have a great deal to learn. Lord, no matter how many times we have been through Your word we still need that word to speak to us today. Silence in our hearts every voice but Your voice and help us to demonstrate our reverence and fear of Your great name by being obedient to all the words that You have spoken, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.