In March of 2004 I began a 31-day study in Proverbs I entitled “31 Days of Wisdom.” I thoroughly enjoyed this study and benefited from it tremendously. Having been challenged recently to do more writing of an expository nature, I have decided to begin this study anew, and will perhaps even make it a March tradition. Thus I present to you, “31 Days of Wisdom 2005.” I trust that we will be edified together as we wade through this book of wisdom. If you are not currently engaged in other Bible study in your personal study time, I would invite you to join in.
In terms of “ground rules,” there are few. I will be reading one chapter per day from the English Standard Version for the next thirty-one days and will be posting some reflections right here. You are more than welcome to join in on the forums and to share what the Holy Spirit has been teaching you through His Word. I will be posting a separate “introduction to Proverbs” which will introduce the author and major themes of the book. I will focus on only a few of the themes or proverbs in each chapter, for time would fail me to write thoroughly about each of the hundreds of pearls of wisdom. I will generally not be referring to last year’s study as I write, for I want to ensure my thoughts are fresh this year. And now, with no further ado, let’s take a look at the first chapter of Proverbs. May the Spirit illumine His Word to our hearts, for without His guidance, this is merely an exercise in human wisdom.
The first chapter of Proverbs contains three distinct sections. The first provides the authorship, purpose and thesis of the book, the second warns of the enticement of sinners and the third speaks of wisdom’s call.
Purpose & Thesis
There are not many books of the Bible that so clearly lay out their purpose.
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth–
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
From the outset, Solomon defines the purpose of this book. It is a book of learning and instruction that will teach all who desire wisdom and understanding. It seems appropriate to define some of these terms before we continue further.
Wisdom – Wisdom relates to the mind, the intellect and the control of behavior. Wisdom is a way of thinking about life and reality that enables someone to appreciate and pursue what is good in life while avoiding what is evil. God reveals life’s values and how humans can achieve what is important to Him.
Instruction – Instruction is the learning of wisdom through moral and intellectual discipline. This book promises to be able to provide instruction, and hence, wisdom.
Insight – Insight is synonymous with discernment and understanding. It represents the ability to make distinctions between good and bad, better and best.
Prudence – Prudence is shrewdness, cleverness or astuteness.
Discretion – Discretion is the application of insight in making good decisions.
We see a progression through these definitions. Wisdom, which we learn through instruction, impacts our intellect, giving us a godly outlook on life and a control of our behavior in a way that brings honor to God. Insight allows us to use wisdom to make wise decisions and these decisions are often based on prudence. Discernment is the practical application of wisdom in moral decisions.
Following this statement of purpose, the author provides what is really the thesis of this entire book; the principle that controls everything else. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (verse 7). This same principle controlled all of Israel’s understanding of God. The fear of the Lord is not a terror brought about by distrust of God’s character or purposes, but is an understanding of His awesome perfection, grace and holiness that manifests itself in a life of praise, thanksgiving and worship. We can see that a prerequisite to being wise and to receiving the Lord’s instruction is to know and to fear Him. The unbeliever, while he may glean some pearls of wisdom from this book, will not be able to be wise in this biblical sense of the word, for his heart is set against God. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for this study.
The Enticement of Sinners
Verses 8-19 speak of the enticement of sin in the form of a warning from a father to his son. The author exhorts his son to heed the instruction he has provided and not to turn his back on the teaching of his mother, showing the value of instruction by both parents. Wisdom is compared to a graceful garland on his head and a pendant on his neck. Wisdom glitters like gold, and is both precious and valuable.
The father warns about how sinners will entice his son to come with them to engage in all sorts of mischief and evil deeds, and in particular, in dishonest gain. The language is darkly poetic: “let us lie in wait…let us lurk…let us swallow them alive.” The enticement of this sin is in having all sorts of precious possessions and in having houses filled with spoil. In short, the enticement is greed at the expense of others. But the father warns, “do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths.” The father warns his son that greedy gain will “take away the life of its possessors.” Greedy gain is no gain at all.
This passage is built as an “if…then” construction whereby if the son is enticed to sin, and if they ask him to join in their sinful activities, he must not join them, for if he does, the penalties that apply to them will apply also to him. They lie in wait for their own blood, and if he joins them, his blood will be on his own hands. He will have willfully rejected the wise instruction of his parents.
Verses 20-33 represents one of several instances in Proverbs where wisdom is personified as a woman, crying out in the public places. She cries out in all the busiest places in the city, asking how long the simple will love their simplicity, how long the scoffers will delight in scoffing and how long the fools will hate knowledge. She offers herself to any who desire her, promising to pour out her spirit on whoever desires her.
But she will not offer herself forever. If wisdom is continually rejected, she will offer herself no more. There is a point of no return, after which she turns her back, laughing at calamity and distress brought about by foolishness. She offers herself, but when we willfully reject her for too long, she gives us up to our foolishness. “they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.” This passage reinforces the fact that wisdom is of God and foolishness is of men. If we do not accept God’s wisdom and instruction, He will not increase our folly, for He has no need of doing this. Instead He will give us up to our own folly, which comes naturally to us. “The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” The foolishness that dwells in each of us is sufficient to destroy us and our decision to reject wisdom is the ultimate cause of our destruction. Conversely, if we heed wisdom’s call, and turn to her, we can be “at ease, without dread of disaster.”
This chapter contains strong and sobering words. From the outset it gives us a strong contrast between the value of wisdom and the horror of folly. We see the unsurpassed value of wisdom and the natural human desire for folly. God offers us wisdom, but this offer is time-sensitive. He will not offer His wisdom forever, for after some time, He will give us over to the folly that dwells within us. We see, then, that it is our responsibility to heed wisdom’s call, and to give ourselves to her instruction so that she can pour out her spirit on us. We do this by constantly returning to the Source of all wisdom – God Himself. He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, the Bible, and this book is the source for all wisdom. We need to study, learn and apply all that the Scriptures contain, so that we can be wise. All wisdom starts with Him.
Over the next 31 days I pray that I (and any who likewise choose to study this book) will surrender to wisdom’s call, allowing God to build, mold and shape us as He sees fit.