The Way of Wisdom
Sunday School Lesson for January 4, 2004
The Book’s Purpose (1:1-6)
The book of Proverbs, part of the
wisdom literature of the Bible, commences with the identification of the
one credited with the authorship of the book. Though there are a number of
individuals who contributed to its contents, “Solomon, the son of David,
The Hebrew word translated “proverb” presents a variety of possible meanings such as “ethical teaching,” “comparison,” or even “taunt” [Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Vol. 14, TNAC, 66, n #1]. However, it is best to take it as an indication of a divinely inspired saying that provides practical wisdom for living a Godly life. As Duane Garrett explains, from this book one can learn “the principles that determine success or failure in the major arenas of human activity, including business, personal relationships, family life, and community life” .
The purpose for the book of Proverbs comes to the surface in this section. The chief focus is upon the acquisition and maintenance of “wisdom” (v. 2). The linkage of the words “wisdom” and “instruction” (v. 2) makes it clear that the author’s intention is to provide the teaching necessary for the development of Godly wisdom among the immature or uninitiated (note the use of terms such as “youth” and “my son” in the lesson passage).
Key to mastering the book of Proverbs is understanding its repeated use of the concept of “wisdom.” Tremper Longman provides a definition of wisdom that takes into consideration its various nuances as developed throughout the book:
It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us. [How to Read Proverbs, 14-15].
As we will soon discover, biblical wisdom is not necessarily intellectual in nature (though it certainly does not exclude the intellect). Rather, it springs from one’s relationship to God and, therefore, possesses both an ethical and spiritual dimension.
In verses 2-6 several characteristics of biblical wisdom are presented:
· Discernment (vv. 2, 6)—One of the purposes for this book is that the reader will learn to “discern the sayings of understanding” (v. 2). That is, that he will recognize and appreciate that which is both true and good, especially with reference to words (either written or spoken). This idea is essentially repeated in the line from v. 6 where the reader is to be equipped to grasp the meaning of “a proverb and a figure” as well as “riddles.”
· Teachability (vv. 3, 5)—Note that wisdom is also associated with the reception of “instruction in wise behavior,” particularly in matters of “righteousness, justice, and equity” (v. 3). This is emphasized even more clearly in v. 5 where the man of wisdom is said to be one who “will hear and increase in learning” and will “acquire wise counsel.” The wise man, then, is described as one who always stands ready to learn and to grow both in knowledge and in its practical application to life’s varied circumstances. However, it is critical to see that the knowledge gained by the wise man is to be reflected primarily in ethical conduct or “wise behavior” (v. 3).
· Prudence (v. 4)—This is the interesting Hebrew term translated “shrewdness” or “craftiness” (cf. Gen. 3:1). Here it is employed in the sense of gaining insight or keen understanding in a matter. According to Longman, it depicts one’s ability to use the powers of reason to “navigate the problems of life,” carefully thinking before acting, and manifesting “cool-headedness” in all situations . According to this verse, it is the “youth” or the “naive” who are in particular need of this quality.
One: At this stage, a picture of biblical wisdom should be developing in your mind. Based upon what we have observed thus far, how does biblical wisdom differ from its more secularly oriented counterpart?
Two: Note the characteristics of the genuinely wise that have either been explicitly stated or implied in the first section:
The Book’s Premise (1:7)
This verse represents what might be described as the heart and soul of the book of Proverbs. This simple statement supplies the reader with the only source, or “beginning,” for real wisdom and knowledge. The secret to wisdom lies within the framework of the “fear of the Lord.” The ancient Hebrews typically understood the word translated “fear” in two senses. It could, on one hand, denote one’s dread of punishment or divine retribution. Yet, it also could reflect a humble sense of awe and reverence in the presence of the Lord. It is this second sense that is most likely intended here.
Wisdom, then, is inseparably connected to one’s relationship to God. Those who know, love, reverence, and worship the Lord for who He is are wise. Those who do not know and honor Him in this way are “fools.” Whereas the wise man loves God and, as a consequence, loves knowledge, those who are fools literally “despise wisdom and instruction.” With hearts and minds that are not in subjection to God, foolish men conduct their lives according to their own whims and desires and function as if they are not accountable for their actions. As we will see below, this ultimately leads to destruction.
One: We are now able to develop a comprehensive picture of biblical wisdom. Using verses 1-7 as your guide, see if you can construct a definition of this term.
Two: Using a concordance, trace the use of the word “fool” in the book of Proverbs. You will discover additional characteristics of a foolish man that will help you better understand the biblical categories of wisdom and folly.
Three: Compare and contrast Proverbs 1:1-7 with Romans 1:18-32 (note especially vv. 22-23). What do these passages have in common? What key truths are asserted in both texts?
The Book’s Approach (1:8-9)
Here we discover that the book of Proverbs calls upon the young and inexperienced to heed the counsel and instruction of father and mother. That is, it summons children to submit to the structures of authority and teaching that have been divinely ordained for their benefit (cf. Ex. 20:12). Note that the context of this summons is the ever-present danger of seduction by ungodly forces (vv. 10ff). Since young people, generally, are less stable and secure and more prone to deception, there is the constant need for the “father’s instruction” and the “mother’s teaching.” Positively, the child should “hear” and act upon parental guidance. Negatively, the child should not “forsake,” or disregard as insignificant, the instruction of their parents.
Submission to this structure of authority/instruction provides incredible benefits and blessings for the child. The “graceful wreath” and “ornaments” around the neck were ancient symbols of success, responsibility, and even power. The point is that obedience to God and conformity to His Word and His will (as mediated through parents) results in manifold joys and spiritual blessings.
One: This passage assumes that in the voice of the Godly parent, the child actually hears the voice of the Lord Himself. What responsibility(s) does this place squarely upon the shoulders of all parents?
Two: What about those who do not have Christian parents or parents at all? To whom should they listen? Are there other Scripture passages that provide additional insight on this issue?
Three: Ultimately, this passage teaches us that the
Godly life—the Christian life—is one lived under authority, particularly, the
authority of God’s Word. In what ways is
The Book’s Guidance (1:10-19)
The section from 1:10 to 1:19 sets forth two major truths about life, particularly, life as a wise person. The first is that “sinners” will always be enticing the “wise” to join them in their folly (1:11, 14). It will often be the case that those who seek to follow the way of wisdom will travel alone. There will be the constant drone of seductive voices calling the believer to abandon his quest for true wisdom—a wisdom found only in submission to the voice of God. In other words, the Bible assumes that the life of wisdom—what we would call the life of discipleship—will be lived out in enemy territory. This being the case, the wise man must be prepared to fight.
Secondly, this passage calls the wise man to chose the right “path” (v. 15). This rich Hebrew metaphor implies “a current point of origin (where you are in life right now), a destination, and key transitional moments (forks in the road)” [Longman, 25]. The child of God and student of wisdom must diligently guard his “feet” from the alluring pathway of death and destruction (v. 15). This implies constant discipline, determination, and submission to the Word of God.
One: This passage calls for a ‘reality check.’ The life of wisdom—that of the Christian disciple—is not easy or without seasons of intense conflict. The believer is called to live under God’s authority in the midst of a hostile world where temptation lurks around every corner. Any illusions of trouble-free sailing must be put away.
Two: For the wise man or woman, every day is about choices. There are always two paths from which to choose. Those who are wise will, as empowered by God’s grace, walk the narrow road of obedience and submission (see Titus 2:11-14).